Located at the northern foot of Lishan Mountain, 35 kilometers northeast of Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, Qinshihuang Mausoleum is the tomb of Emperor Qinshihuang, founder of the first unified empire in Chinese history during the 3rd century BCE. Begun in 246 BCE the grave mound survives to a height of 51.3 meters within a rectangular, double-walled enclosure oriented north-south. Nearly 200 accompanying pits containing thousands of life-size terra cotta soldiers, terra cotta horses and bronze chariots and weapons – a world-renowned discovery – together with burial tombs and architectural remains total over 600 sites within the property area of 56.25 square kilometers. According to the historian Sima Qian (c. 145-95 BCE), workers from every province of the Empire toiled unceasingly until the death of the Emperor in 210 in order to construct a subterranean city within a gigantic mound.
As the tomb of the first emperor who unified the country, it is the largest in Chinese history, with a unique standard and layout, and a large number of exquisite funeral objects. It testifies to the founding of the first unified empire- the Qin Dynasty, which during the 3rd BCE, wielded unprecedented political, military and economic power and advanced the social, cultural and artistic level of the empire.
The Qinshihuang Mausoleum features a high level of integrity; the grave mound, mausoleum constructions, burial pits, sites of ritual construction and overall setting in the property area and the buffer zone are well preserved, and fully reflect the structure and ritual system of the whole mausoleum.
The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE with the purpose of protecting the emperor in his afterlife.
Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits near Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.
The Terracotta Army was discovered on 29 March 1974 by farmers digging a water well approximately 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) east of the Qin Emperor’s tomb mound at Mount Li (Lishan), a region riddled with underground springs and watercourses.
The construction of the tomb was described by historian Sima Qian (145–90 BCE) in his most noted work Shiji, written a century after the mausoleum’s completion. Work on the mausoleum began in 246 BCE soon after Emperor Qin (then aged 13) ascended the throne, and the project eventually involved 700,000 workers.
Sima Qian wrote that the First Emperor was buried with palaces, towers, officials, valuable artifacts and wondrous objects. According to this account, 100 flowing rivers were simulated using mercury, and above them the ceiling was decorated with heavenly bodies below which were the features of the land.
Later historical accounts suggested that the tomb had been looted by Xiang Yu, a contender for the throne after the death of the first emperor.
Four main pits approximately 7 metres (23 ft) deep have been excavated. These are located approximately 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) east of the burial mound. The soldiers within were laid out as if to protect the tomb from the east, where the Qin Emperor’s conquered states lay.
Pit 1, which is 230 metres (750 ft) long and 62 metres (203 ft) wide, contains the main army of more than 6,000 figures. Pit 2 has cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots and is thought to represent a military guard. Pit 3 is the command post, with high-ranking officers and a war chariot. Pit 4 is empty, perhaps left unfinished by its builders.
The tomb appears to be a hermetically sealed space roughly the size of a football pitch (c. 100 × 75 m). The tomb remains unopened, possibly due to concerns over preservation of its artifacts. For example, after the excavation of the Terracotta Army, the painted surface present on some terracotta figures began to flake and fade. The lacquer covering the paint can curl in fifteen seconds once exposed to Xi’an’s dry air and can flake off in just four minutes.
The terracotta figures are life-sized. They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. Their faces appear to be different for each individual figure; scholars, however, have identified 10 basic face shapes. The figures are of these general types: armored warriors; unarmored infantrymen; cavalrymen who wear a pillbox hat; helmeted drivers of chariots with more armor protection; spear-carrying charioteers; kneeling archers who are armored; standing archers who are not; as well as generals and other lower-ranking officers. There are, however, many variations in the uniforms within the ranks: for example, some may wear shin pads while others not; they may wear either long or short trousers, some of which may be padded; and their body armors vary depending on rank, function, and position in formation. There are also terracotta horses placed among the warrior figures.
Originally, the figures were painted with bright pigments, variously coloured pink, red, green, blue, black, brown, white and lilac. The coloured lacquer finish and individual facial features would have given the figures a realistic feel. However, much of the colour coating had flaked off or become greatly faded.
The terracotta army figures were manufactured in workshops by government laborers and local craftsmen using local materials. Heads, arms, legs, and torsos were created separately and then assembled by luting the pieces together. When completed, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty.
Most of the figures originally held real weapons, which would have increased their realism. The majority of these weapons were looted shortly after the creation of the army or have rotted away. Despite this, over 40,000 bronze items of weaponry have been recovered, including swords, daggers, spears, lances, battle-axes, scimitars, shields, crossbows, and crossbow triggers. Most of the recovered items are arrowheads, which are usually found in bundles of 100 units.
In 2007, scientists at Stanford University and the Advanced Light Source facility in Berkeley, California reported that powder diffraction experiments combined with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and micro-X-ray fluorescence analysis showed that the process of producing terracotta figures colored with Chinese purple dye consisting of barium copper silicate was derived from the knowledge gained by Taoist alchemists in their attempts to synthesize jade ornaments.
The grave mound, sites of constructions, burial tombs and burial pits in Qinshihuang Mausoleum truthfully maintain their original location, material, formation，technology and structure, which authentically reflect the constricting regulation of the Mausoleum and palace life and military systems of the Qin Dynasty. The numerous unearthed cultural relics reflect the highest technical level of pottery, chariot assembly, metallurgy and metal processing in the Qin Dynasty.
As a UNESCO heritage, the Qinshihuang Mausoleum has been listed a State Priority Protected Site and thus is under the protection of the Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics.
Edited by staff