TERRACOTTA ARMY OF QIN

Terracotta Army of Qin
Terracotta Army of Qin

Terracotta Army of Qin

Introduction

The Terracotta Army is a funerary art which portrays the armies of the first Chinese Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. In 1974, some Chinese peasants discovered an old pit that contained the clay warriors in Shaanxi Province, northwest of China 1. They alerted the authority and excavation begun immediately. It is argued that the clay soldiers were modeled to protect the emperor in his afterlife 2.

The more than 2200 years old models are considered by many historians to be a splendid archeological site in the world and have been defined as one of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century. The warriors were both beneficial and detrimental to the ancient Chinese social-political life, and it is easy to compare the cultural values of the Terracotta Army to other Chinese historical sites such as the Great Wall.

The figures depict the nature of the old Chinese government, people’s way of life, religion, their values and a true depiction of the real army of Chinese emperors of the third century BC. The statues were created under the supervision of the emperor who imposed harsh measures and suffering to the ordinary citizens.  Despite the oppression faced by the Chinese of the time, the artists managed to create splendid sculptures that explain the creativity, skillful and effectiveness of common citizens of ancient China 3.

The Terracotta Army is neither an admiration of real soldiers that it tries so much to reflect, nor the authoritative nature of the tyrant who commissioned the creation of the clay soldiers, but rather a celebration of the poor artists who have managed to preserve ancient Chinese culture through the models.

Depiction of the Political Structure

The position of the clay soldiers explains the military organization of ancient Chinese army. Arguably, Emperor Qin organized his army in a manner illustrated by the clay soldier’s formation. Each of the clay soldiers has a unique facial expression and they are positioned according to rank 4. The soldiers have varying height conferring to their role in the army, with the tallest ones being the generals.

They were initially painted and armed, but with time most of these artistic depictions have been lost. Not only do they have varying heights and facial expressions, but also have different roles in the Qin’s army.  The commanders are also distinct from the normal infantry, with unique uniforms and hairstyles 5. These soldiers are seen to be organized into three separate pits, with the largest being the main battle army.

This pit contains foot soldiers and horses, and it can be deducted that the ancient Chinese military at the time of Qin was structured in a similar way. The second pit is smaller from the first one, and is considered a flanking army; this is a military tactic where soldiers move around a flank to gain a better position against an enemy and presents an offensive power that can be concentrated in the army’s front 6. The Chinese flank army composed of archers and chariots, while the third pit represented the headquarters.

The Chinese people at the time appear to have possessed some of the best military technology of their time. The figures not only depict warriors but also chariots and horses; it is estimated that the sculptures contain 130 chariots, 150 cavalries and about 520 horses 7. The excavation of the pits has brought to light the presence of 40 000 bronze weapons, ranging from crossbows, spears, arrowheads and axes.

These weapons have remained intact after more than 2 000 yeas of potential vandalism 8.  The designers used chrome plating technology to protect the weapons, a technique first used by the Germans in 1937 and Americans in 1950 .This indicates that the Chinese had access to complex military technology unparalleled at that time, and reveals their mastery of ancient Chinese metallurgy.

The swords and crossbows found at the tomb are believed to have been new when they were buried. The blades signpost evidence of sharpening on a spinning whetstone. An analysis of the heads of arrows and crossbows further indicate use of bronze alloy and tin 9.

Social Structures

There is currently no written primary source that talks directly about the Terracotta Army structures. While excavation has not been fully done to establish any writings, inscriptions or eyewitness accounts of the warrior sculptures, historians are still looking for better technology to examine the tomb of Qin. The only existing information about Emperor Qin, although not directly related to the clay statues artifacts, comes from one of the advisors of the emperor, known as Wei Lao.

He was one of his closest advisors and offers description that can help tourists viewing the soldier figures develop a clear visual illustration of the first ruler of a united China. Lao states that “his chest is like that of a bird of prey and his voice like that of a jackal. He is merciless, with the heart of a tiger or a wolf.” 10. It is perhaps the fear of death that not only made him a staunch believer in life after death, but also coerced him to oppress common Chinese into building the clay structures.

The funerary statues have gained a wide range of social-economical applications, and continue to serve as a fundamental Chinese heritage 11. Their usage in advertising campaigns endorsing a wide range of goods and services elaborate their social cultural places in the Asian hemisphere. Companies dealing with alcohol, computer accessories and museum quality reproduction of the soldiers in different positions and poses are common in the global marketing world. 

The Warriors appear in covers of tourist’s media channels to tell the world about the social-political life of ancient china people of the second century BC. However, the Terracotta Army of Qin fails to provide sufficient information about the Chinese past that they seem to depict. There is no mention of the buried Qin’s army in ancient Chinese recordings, despite that fact that China boasts of thousands of years of written history. The only thing that links the statues to Emperor Qin is their proximity to his tomb, and historians like Chen Jingyuan have stated that the figures may not be related to the first emperor 12.

Given that the soldiers in the funerary tomb have no known history; their social meanings in the Chinese culture have been defined via narratives of memories and practices 13. This does not imply a person’s actual recall of the meanings of the soldiers, but rather the collective expression of significant representations of the ancient China was felt as a personal encounter. Images of the soldiers ready to guard Qin in the afterlife portrays the ruling class of the 2nd century China as revolutionaries and progressive people, lively and with high spirit of that time.

The most spectacular thing is not with the soldiers themselves, but the artists of the time who crafted the figures, and the normal soldiers that each model takes after. The collection of the figures is a real representation of the artists skills during Qin Dynasty. Therefore, the clay soldiers have a fundamental value- they are aesthetic objects. Their connection with the real armies of the past and their responsibility towards the emperor is partly misplaced 14.

The models do not just serve to tell visitors of the ancient political ways of Qin Dynasty, but are a creation of the Chinese artisans. People should therefore look at the soldiers with a multi-dimensional perspective when trying to understand the social-political life of ancient China. This is because the figures have little connection with politics of Qin, but are a true cultural delineation of the skills and innovative nature of common Chinese men and women of the time. It’s not the emperor or the ruling members that made the clay models we have today, but Chinese of humble backgrounds.

The figures symbolize dissatisfaction with the government of Qin, and are a reflection of the social contradictions of the empire. The exploitative character of the Emperor towards the normal Chinese is a lesson visitors can decipher from the statues. These were models designed to sacrifice their lives protecting the emperor in the afterlife. Even though the emperor did not use living soldiers to take care of him during the afterlife, the thought of having model warriors after his death is a concise reflection of his disregard for other people’s lives.

Furthermore, the look on the soldier models is clear illustration of unhappiness, dissatisfaction and anger of the common Chinese citizens 15. The director of the Terracotta Army Museum, Yuan Zhongyi, describes the value of the soldier’s figures and their impact. He talks about the humble and oppressed people in the lower social classes during the Qin Dynasty, who were the creators of the warrior figures.

He notes that “It was said that severe and hard labor, including forced military service, had been imposed on the people during the first emperor’s reign. The severe punishment meted out to those who disobeyed brought untold suffering to the people” 16

On the contrary, some historians argue that the soldier models portray people’s willingness to serve and protect strong leaders and policies that result to development. One such is who believe that Qin Shihuan was a mighty military strategist who united China during the ancient feudal society 17. He established social political measures that eventually made the Dynasty prosperous. His actions led to the establishment of united China, and Qing is described as a reformer who put much emphasis on agriculture.

The emperor implemented policies that ensured smooth farming and demarcation of counties. He unified six large Chinese states into one nation, and introduced joint laws in his empire. He further standardized measurements, currency, and weight while putting emphasis on a single way of writing. He succeeded in joining together older defenses in the northern and western borders, leading to the formation of the initial Great Wall of China.

But this view has been challenged by the fact that Qin Shihuang was a tyrant despite his contributions to china’s economy and politics. Li Si, an official for the Kingdom of Qin, presents a primary source of the life at the courts of the empire. He was a prime minister to the emperor and was one of the leading proponents of a legalist political structure that resulted to oppression of citizens.  In support of burning of books and execution of scholars against his policies, Li Si wrote to the emperor urging to take action.

…Your servant suggests that all books in the imperial archives, save the memoirs of Qin, be burned. All persons in the empire, except members of the Academy of Learned Scholars, in possession of the Classic of Odes, the Classic of Documents, and discourses of the hundred philosophers should take them to the local governors and have them indiscriminately burned. Those who dare to talk to each other about the Odes and Documents should be executed and their bodies exposed in the marketplace 18

He therefore burnt many scholarly books to prevent people from thinking freely, fearing opposition and rebellion. He torched 460 scholars alive after they learnt of his arrogance. Subsequently, he commissioned building of luxurious structures through hard labor, heavy tax and unbearable military supervision. It was these harsh measures that resulted to rebellion after the emperor’s death in 210 BCE.

The army sculptures suggest that ancient China of Qin dynasty had established foreign relations with Western people. There is a theory that claims the artists responsible for designing Terracotta Army were under the stewardship of European foreigners 19. Writing for National Geographic, William states that the Terracotta acrobats and the bronze statues of ducks, cranes and swans at the tomb of Emperor Qin exhibit Greek influence.

The skeletons have been examined and scientists have confirmed European presence through  DNA tests. These Greek artists could have traveled long before Marco Polo from the Hellenistic areas of Western Asia and arrived in China where they trained the local population. Mitochondrial DNA indicates that Europeans intermarried with Chinese during the reign of Emperor Qin, who possibly brought the skills of life-size sculpture making. 

The Chinese did not have life-size sculpture making skills before the unification of China, and that they only begun the technology  at the time of Qin. This is enough reason to make some scholars purchase the idea of western influence in the funerary tomb making. To supports this theory, some people claim that the reign of Alexander the Great, whose empire stretched to the present day India, made it possible for Chinese artists to encounter Greek arts.  The DNA test this confirms that Chinese and Europeans encountered each other at an earlier date.

The Chinese were religious people who put much emphasis on life after death. This can be deducted from one of the emperor’s main reasons for commissioning the construction of the soldier models- to protect him in the afterlife. The Chinese did not only try to experience life after death, but also sought ways of achieving immortality. They made bronze objects representing immortals, in the hope that these objects would attract the immortals to visit the people.

These religious beliefs were in part influenced by the advancement of legalism philosophy 20. This view holds that people are inclined to do more wrong than right given that they are motivated by self -interest desires.  It can be argued that this philosophy was a contributing factor to the harsh treatment of citizens by the Qin rulers. Immediately after rising to power, the emperor made legalism the official philosophy of Qin Dynasty and banned all other religions 21. Confucianism was highly condemned due to its insistence that human beings are basically good and that people need to be channeled to right to live a good life.

Like many ancient societies of the time, Qin Dynasty was a male dominated society where women’s role in government was highly limited. 10 bones of young were buried with precious jewelry of Gold and Pearl has been discovered at the site 22. It is argued that these women were the emperor’s concubines, who were murdered and mutilated as part of his funerary protocol. They were to accompany him after death.

The role of women in Qin dynasty was to stay at home, take care of men and children and perform household chores. There are no female soldier in the Terracotta Army figures, suggesting that women had no place for politics and other sensitive matters. Male dominance at this time ensures that women had no voice in decision making process.

Conclusion

The Terracotta Army of Qin not only depicts the ancient Chinese culture in a register of history, but also illustrates the past society in a manner that people can create memories related to the past from a social experience. The sight at the museum can be remembered as real-life experiences with the ancient warriors and the past Chinese culture. The museum lets tourists experience and understands the daily life of the past Chinese society, and how political and social structures influenced people’s lives.

Largely a legalist society, the government had total control over the lives of its subjects. This can seen by the suffering of creators of the statues who were normal citizens committed to the will of their master. While the reason for making the pottery figures has always been believed to protect the emperor, the real purpose has remained a mystery.

Qin was a tyrant, and even if he united China and reformed many sectors of the society, his obsession with power and misplaced desires to continue ruling China after his death resulted to  suffering of millions of people.  He managed to establish the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall through brutality and execution of opposition. In pursuit of power after death, Emperor Huangshi embraced legalism and forced Chinese artist to prepare way for his afterlife command center.

Endnotes

1. Bonaduce, Ilaria, Catharina Blaensdorf, Patrick Dietemann, and Maria Perla Colombini. “The binding media of the polychromy of Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta Army.” Journal of Cultural Heritage, (2008): 103-108.

2. ibid

3. Davies, David J. “Qin Shihuang’s terracotta warriors and commemorating the cultural state.” Places of Memory in Modern China (2011): 17-49.

4. Liu, Z., A. Mehta, N. Tamura, D. Pickard, B. Rong, T. Zhou, and P. Pianetta. “Influence of Taoism on the invention of the purple pigment used on the Qin terracotta warriors.” Journal of Archaeological Science, (2007): 1878-1883.

5. Ibid

6. Davies, David J. “Qin Shihuang terracotta warriors and commemorating the cultural state.” Places of Memory in Modern China (2011): 17-49

7. Pruitt, Sarah. “5 Things You May Not Know About the Terra Cotta Army”(2014), http://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-terra-cotta-army

8. Pruitt, Sarah. “5 Things You May Not Know About the Terra Cotta Army”(2014). History. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-terra-cotta-army

9. Ibid

10. Portal, Jane. “The first emperor: China’s terracotta army”. (Harvard University Press, 2007).

11. Davies, David J. “Qin Shihuang terracotta warriors and commemorating the cultural state.” Places of Memory in Modern China (2011): 17-49.

12 Matten M. “Places of memory in modern China, history, politics, and identity”(2011)

13 Davies, David J. “Qin Shihuang terracotta warriors and commemorating the cultural state.” Places of Memory in Modern China (2011): 17-49.

14. Ibid

15. Bevan, Andrew, Xiuzhen Li, Marcos Martinón-Torres, Susan Green, Yin Xia, Kun Zhao, Zhen Zhao, Shengtao Ma, Wei Cao, and Thilo Rehren. “Computer vision, archaeological classification and China’s terracotta warriors.”  (2014): 249-254.

16. Yuan Zhongyi ,. “The Funerary Statues of Emperor Qin’s Mausoleum”. (1983).

17. Wang, Chongren. ” Gudu Xi’an The Ancient Capital of Xian” (1981).

18. Theodore, W. and  Bloom, Irene. “Sources of Chinese Tradition” (New York: Columbia University Press, Columbia University Press; 1999).

19. Williams, R. “Discoveries May Rewrite History of China’s Terra-Cotta Warriors”.(National Geographic, 2016).

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/china-first-emperor-terra-cotta-warriors-tomb/

20. “Leadership and Management in China: Philosophies, Theories & Practices” (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

21. ibid

22. Carelli, Francesco. “The terracotta army, London journal of primary care” (2007): 56-57.

Bibliographies

Bevan, Andrew, Xiuzhen Li, Marcos Martinón-Torres, Susan Green, Yin Xia, Kun Zhao, Zhen Zhao, Shengtao Ma, Wei Cao, and Thilo Rehren. “Computer vision, archaeological classification and China’s terracotta warriors.” Journal of Archaeological Science 49 (2014): 249-254.

Carelli, Francesco. “The terracotta army.” London journal of primary care 1, no. 1 (2007): 56-57.

Davies, David J. “Qin Shihuang’s terracotta warriors and commemorating the cultural state.” Places of Memory in Modern China (2011): 17-49.

Ilaria, Bonaduce, , Catharina Blaensdorf, Patrick Dietemann, and Maria Perla Colombini. “The binding media of the polychromy of Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta Army.” Journal of Cultural Heritage 9, no. 1 (2008): 103-108.

Leadership and Management in China: Philosophies, Theories & Practices. (Cambridge University Press, 2008).

Liu, Z., A. Mehta, N. Tamura, D. Pickard, B. Rong, T. Zhou, and P. Pianetta. “Influence of Taoism on the invention of the purple pigment used on the Qin terracotta warriors.” Journal of Archaeological Science 34, no. 11 (2007): 1878-1883.

Matten M,. “Places of memory in modern China, history, politics, and identity”(2011). Vol. 5

Portal, Jane. The first emperor: China’s terracotta army. Harvard University Press, 2007.

Pruitt, Sarah. “5 Things You May Not Know About the Terra Cotta Army”(2014). History. Retrieved from http://www.history.com/news/5-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-terra-cotta-army

Theodore, W. and  Bloom, Irene. “Sources of Chinese Tradition“,(1999).  2nd ed., vol. 1 (New York: Columbia University Press, Columbia University Press).

Wang,.  Chongren. ” Gudu Xi’an The Ancient Capital of Xian” (1981).

Williams, R. “Discoveries May Rewrite History of China’s Terra-Cotta Warriors”.(National Geographic, 2016). Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/10/china-first-emperor-terra-cotta-warriors-tomb/

Yuan Zhongyi ,. ” The Funerary Statues of Emperor Qin’s Mausoleum”. (1983). Beijing

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