Friday, October 23, 2009

Terracotta Warriors

My friend rachsticle just got back from a trip to China. I am really, REALLY jealous that she got to see the terracotta warriors at Xi'an. These warriors are placed to protect the tomb of the emperor Qin Shi Hugandi, who proclaimed to be the first emperor of China in 221 BC.

So, what's the big deal about these warriors? Well, first off, it's estimated that there are about TEN THOUSAND of them. These warriors were discovered in 1974, and over the past thirty-five years only about an eighth of the warriors have been excavated. Some of these underground vaults and pits are very hard to access (there are around 600 pits that cover a 22 square-mile area), but excavations are still in progress.

Huangdi arranged a mass-production project to create all of these warriors. Almost in assembly line fashion, artisans cranked out bodies and then customized them with ears, mustaches, hats, shoes, etc. Many of the figures appear strikingly individualized, but it's not likely that they were modeled after real people. Instead, it's more probable that the workers were instructed to represent different regional types of Chinese people.

If you don't have plans to go to China soon, you could still see some of these statues in Washington DC. Next month, terracotta warriors will be on display in the National Geographic Society Museum, as part of an exhibition series which features the largest collection of these statues to ever leave China. You can read more about these statues and the upcoming exhibition in this Smithsonian article.

Sadly, I don't have plans to go to China or DC in the near future. If you're like me, then feel free to content yourself with some of rachsticle's pictures (thanks, friend!):

It appears that the artisans had different molds for body types.
Look at how some of the bodies are skinnier than others.