Underground lay one of the most consequential leaders of China, and he will remain there for hundreds of years undisturbed. He is protected in both the physical and metaphysical world by his Terracotta Army, which is an estimated 8,000 lifesize clay soldiers that were buried with the emperor to protect his spirit. During his reign, in early 220 BCE, he and other royal figures were consumed with immortality and the preservation of royalty in the afterlife. Lavish graves were customary but the emperor’s reign specifically drove him to paranoia concerning his passing to the afterlife (Eyres, 2007).
The emperor, Qin Shi Huang, is a greatly debated figure who inspired modern-day China’s ideology, and his strong leadership led to the creation of the Terracotta Army. The recent discovery of this monument has the public infatuated and since then the Terracotta Army has been transported internationally and in a sense disarmed.
The Terracotta is one of the grandest forms of funerary art and is often compared to Egyptian tombs.
Though contrary to the conspicuous Pyramids, the grave of Qin Shi Huang was not accidentally discovered until 1974 by a couple of farmers digging for a well in Xi’an, China. The enormous tomb even contains rivers of mercury, a believed elixir of life, and is a town of clay figures. To be precise it is estimated that there are “over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum” (Emperor Qin’s TerraCotta Army: A Place That Will Blow Your Mind, 2011).
Julia Dawson writes in “The Life and Afterlife of China’s First Emperor at the British Museum” of its massive size and that only “…56sq km has been uncovered containing 600 pits. With only 20 percent of the site excavated, thousands of figures are still buried there (Dawson, 2008). As seen in Figure 1, the small section that has been excavated is massive and is only for the First Emperor. These statues were not merely mass-produced and carbon copies of one another. It is said that none are identical, differing in military rank, height according to their roles, and even hairstyle which varies according to region. The precision of design is mind-blowing, especially on such a massive scale. Figure 2 depicts the faces of some of the soldiers who appear to be personal portraits of actual people.
The First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, achieved a great deal during his short dynasty, one of the reasons why he seemed so deserving of a giant tomb. He successfully unified China after years of civil war between the informal states within it. After doing so he established trade between them and his mercantilism made his state and the six others very wealthy. With the end of the constant civil war, ex-soldiers and other able-bodied men were drafted to continue work on the Great Wall (Man, 2009). The emperor ruled with an iron fist and it was extremely effective, similar to how Hitler was effective. In his mission to achieve great success, he developed several enemies from neighboring states as well as within his kingdom. Because of this, three attempts at the assassination were made by other rulers and began his fascination with immortality.
Ceremonies and rituals focusing on life after death had already been common for centuries before Huang’s time, but nothing to this scale or accuracy had ever been done before. The Chinese believed in both an ‘earth soul’ and ‘spirit soul’ and to protect both, one would need to be buried with items and people that could be used in the real world and spirit world. This would include jars of food and wine, luxury goods, and objects to ward off evil spirits. The Terracotta Army’s physical presence in the tomb act as an obstacle between a person and the emperor’s ‘earth soul’ and the replication of the army would cross over with the emperor’s ‘spirit soul’ into the spirit world (Man, 2007).
As aforementioned, Similar to the Pyramids, tombs of the wealthy often included gifts and objects from their everyday life so they could be used in their afterlife. Additionally, the pharaoh’s tombs contained idealized wall reliefs of everyday tasks meant for no one except the spirit of the pharaoh. Tombs were a parody of life, almost like a dollhouse; and in the First Emperor’s time, they maintained the same rituals but more tangibly and permanently.
Buried with gifts and things needed in the afterworld was traditional, but the ‘parodying of life’ led to replications of everyday objects, such as carriages, but deliberately made unusable. In previous years, royalty was buried along with their servants, concubines, and distant relatives; the necessary entourage for royalty in their next life. These dead bodies would decay over time and thus be unable to protect the ‘earth soul’, and so, replication of these people and objects was necessary to achieve this permanence they were after. The same went for people, hence the Terracotta army who would be able to forever stand their ground. Hence, the realistic representation of the soldiers was key for them to amount to anything in the spirit world, without the personal details of each soldier, they would lose their authenticity as true soldiers that would be able to fight in the spirit world (Man, 2007).
The Terracotta Army is unquestionably monumental in its expansive size and impact on viewers. But monuments are works of art that are made for the public eye, usually displaying some type of agenda. Millenniums ago, when the Terracotta Army was created and organized, that was not its original intention. The Qin Dynasty was not defined by the progress of the humanities, but rather by its militant force that led to the standardization and unification of China. This was an era of power and the Terracotta Army reflected that since it served as “a practical attempt by the emperor to secure his position of supremacy in the afterlife’ (Paludan, 2007). In retrospect, the emperor’s need to prove his power was done accidentally since audiences now can see how important the emperor was, or at least how important he thought of himself. Though the Terracotta Army was made with great artistic talent, it was never meant to be admired by an audience. The artistry can be found more so in the concept of the Terracotta Army. Their purpose was to protect and ensure this megalomaniac emperor’s power in the afterlife. Indirectly, he has achieved this. Though much of the literature focuses on the Army itself since the emperor was controversial, current society understands the power he wielded with the magnitude of his grave.
The Terracotta Army was meant to replicate the actual army that carried out Emperor Qin’s goal of unifying China (Man, 2007). This somewhat defies the Terracotta Army’s original purpose since transporting them around is essentially kidnapping and making them ‘prisoners of war’.