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Terra cotta warriors go to Washington

Even in his wildest dreams, China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi (Chin She-hwong-dee), could never have imagined that terra cotta warriors made to guard his tomb in the afterlife would travel the world as ambassadors of friendship between nations.

Those were the thoughts today of Xie Feng, minister and deputy chief of mission of the Chinese Embassy in the U.S. He made the observation at the official opening at the National Geographic Museum of the exhibition “Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor.”

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Caption: Terra cotta figures on exhibition at the National Geographic Museum, Washington, D.C. The average terra cotta warrior is 6 feet tall and weighs 300-400 lbs. Craftsmen sculpted individual facial features for each figure by hand. Many of the faces are thought to resemble the artists themselves or some real person or military figure. It is believed that no two faces are identical.

Photo by David Braun

Auspicious sign

Minister Xie also observed that while President Obama was in Beijing today, visiting the Forbidden City and holding talks with China’s President Hu Jintao, the terra cotta warriors were in Washington–a coincidence that was “an auspicious sign” of the improving relationship between the two countries.

obama-at-forbidden-city-photo.jpgCaption: President Obama at the Forbidden City today. The Forbidden City was the official residence of many of China’s emperors.

White House photo by Pete Souza. 

The National Geographic Museum is the final venue of the terra cotta warriors’ four-city U.S. tour. The largest number of terra cotta figures ever to travel to the United States for a single exhibition includes more than 100 artifacts from the tomb of Qin Shihuangdi, who ruled from 221 B.C. to 210 B.C.

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Caption: A view of reconstructed warriors, on exhibition in China.


Originally, the soldiers were painted with pigments made from minerals mixed with either egg white or animal blood.

Photo by Wang Da Gang

“The First Emperor’s magnificent terra cotta army is one of the great wonders of the ancient world,” said Terry Garcia, National Geographic’s executive vice president for Mission Programs. “Visitors to the National Geographic Museum will have the rare opportunity to experience one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of the 20th century as they stand face-to-face with the terra cotta warriors,” he added.

Qin-Shihuangdi-exhibition-portrait.jpgCaption: Portrait of the First Emperor of China as it appears in the exhibition “Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor.” It is how Qin Shihuangdi is imagined in an 18th-century album of portraits of 86 emperors of China.

Born in 259 B.C., Ying Zheng became king of the state of Qin at age 13. In 239 B.C. the king began to rule in his own name and shortly thereafter he sent his armies to conquer the surrounding states. By 221 B.C. a vast empire was under his control. He renamed himself Qin Shihuangdi, First Emperor of the Qin.

Portrait © The British Library Board

Level 1 artifacts

More than 96,000 tickets have been purchased in advance for the Washington venue of the exhibition, which offers an in-depth look at the First Emperor’s enormous tomb complex that contained thousands of terra cotta warriors intended to protect him in the afterlife. The exhibition showcases the life-size terra cotta figures and other objects, including 20 “Level 1″ artifacts–China’s highest possible ranking in terms of rarity and importance.

 

Caption: Albert E. Dien, Ph.D., professor emeritus, Stanford University, is guest curator for the “Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor” exhibition. In this video he explains why the terra cotta warriors are the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Video by David Braun

Secrets of the Qin

Discovered after being buried for more than 2,000 years, the terra cotta warriors reveal secrets of the Qin dynasty, a National Geographic statement about the exhibition explains.

“The warriors were found in 1974 by a group of farmers digging a well near Xi’an in China’s Shaanxi province. When archaeologists began excavating the area, they uncovered a subterranean vault containing fragments of thousands of terra cotta figures in four pits.”

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Caption: Terra cotta warriors and horses found in the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang, located north of Xi’an in China.

Photo by Wang Da Gang

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Caption: There are four pits of varying sizes, three of which contain warriors, filled with an estimated 7,000 figures along with hundreds of horses, chariots and weapons. Pit 1 (in the illustration above) is the largest at 203 feet x 755 feet, roughly the size of two and two-thirds football fields, and was the first to be discovered. Ranks of terra cotta warriors, horses and chariots were placed in formation throughout this space.

“More than 1,000 life-size figures have been unearthed as part of the site’s ongoing excavation, with estimates of 6,000 more remaining in the known underground pits,” National Geographic’s statement says.

“Construction of Qin Shihuangdi’s tomb took 36 years to complete, and the tomb complex is estimated to extend more than 19 square miles.”

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Caption: An illustration of what Qin Shihuangdi’s actual tomb might look like. While the location of the tomb is known, there are no plans to open it. By one account the emperor is buried in an extraordinary chamber that contains many artifacts and even rivers made out of mercury. Soil tests in the vicinity of the tomb have been found to contain concentrated traces of mercury.

NGS illustration by Hsien-Min Yang

Warrior assembly line

“The terra cotta figures were created in assembly-line fashion, and molds were used to mass-produce hands, heads and ears. Craftsmen sculpted individual armor details and facial features by hand. It is believed that no two faces are alike,” National Geographic said.

The 15 terra cotta figures in “Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor” consist of nine warriors–two infantrymen, a chariot driver, two officers, an armored warrior, two archers and a cavalryman–as well as two musicians, a strongman, a court official, a stable attendant and a horse. The exhibition showcases 100 sets of artifacts, including weapons, stone armor, coins, jade ornaments, roof tiles and decorative bricks, and a bronze crane and swan.

Two replica bronze chariots are also on display.

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Caption: One of the replica bronze chariots on exhibition at the National Geographic Museum. All figures are life-size.

Photo by David Braun 

Caption: National Geographic Museum Director Susan Norton and her staff worked for more than two years to bring “Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor” to Washington, D.C. In this video she talks about the planning and challenges of moving and exhibiting 2,200-year-old artifacts.

Video by David Braun

The objects in the exhibition are drawn from 11 different collections in and near Xi’an, including the Museum of the First Emperor’s Terra Cotta Army and Horses, Shaanxi Provincial Institute for Archaeological Research, the Zhouzhi Museum, Baoji Museum, Xianyang Museum, Lintong Museum, Fengxiang Museum, Chencang Museum, Xi’an Institute for Archaeological Research and Protection, Baoji Archaeological Excavation Team and Xianyang Institute for Archaeological Research.

terra-cotta-warriors-picture-4.jpgCaption: Terra cotta figures on display at the National Geographic Museum.

Photo by David Braun

The Washington exhibition is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with extended hours on Wednesdays until 9 p.m. The National Geographic Museum is closed on December 25. The exhibition will be open to the public from November 19, 2009 until March 31, 2010.

Tickets are timed and dated and can be purchased online at the Buy Tickets page of the exhibition Web site www.warriorsdc.org, by phone at (202) 857-7700 and at the National Geographic Museum ticket booth located at the exhibition’s entrance or at the National Geographic ticket office, 1600 M Street, N.W., Washington, D.C.

terra-cotta-warriors-photo-f.jpgCaption: A standing archer.

The warriors’ hands are positioned to hold weapons, many of which were stolen during the rebellions that followed the emperor’s death.

Photo by Wang Da Gang 

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Caption: A detailed look at one of the terra cotta warriors found in the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang, located north of Xi’an in China.

Photo by Wang Da Gang

terra-cotta-warrior-photo-3.jpgCaption: Warrior armor on exhibition at the National Geographic Museum.

Photo by David Braun

The exhibition is co-organized by the Bowers Museum, Houston Museum of Natural Science and the National Geographic Museum, and is guest curated by Dr. Albert E. Dien, professor emeritus, Stanford University.Support for the exhibition was given by American Airlines; Amtrak; Washington, D.C.’s Loews Madison Hotel; P.F. Chang’s China Bistro; The PIMCO Foundation; UPS; Viking River Cruises; and WTOP.


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Terra Cotta Warriors Exhibition Fact Sheet

Emperor Qin Shihuangdi

In the long history of China, the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty stands out for his accomplishments and the controversy that surrounds his rule. He ruled a unified China for only 11 years, but many of his reforms have lasted as long as his warriors have stood guard — more than 2,200 years.

Born in 259 B.C., Ying Zheng became king of the state of Qin at age 13. In 239 B.C. the king began to rule in his own name and shortly thereafter he sent his armies to conquer the surrounding states. By 221 B.C. a vast empire was under his control. He renamed himself Qin Shihuangdi (Chin She-hwong-dee), First Emperor of the Qin.

The emperor instituted a series of ambitious reforms, creating a centralized administration to consolidate his power. He is credited with unifying seven warring states; building an extensive network of roads; standardizing weights, currency and measures; establishing Qin writing as the official language, which became the basis of the written script now known as Simplified Chinese; beginning construction on the Great Wall of China; and pioneering the use of mass production.

In 210 B.C. Emperor Qin fell ill and died unexpectedly. He is believed to have been interred beneath a large man-made hill in an elaborate chamber that has not yet been excavated.

Records written nearly 100 years after Emperor Qin’s death show that succeeding dynasties defined the Qin period as a time of draconian enforcement of harsh laws. However, recent discoveries of Qin laws indicate a less severe administration than previously imagined, and the emperor’s reputation is being reevaluated. Regardless of how his legacy is ultimately judged, the impact of his rule and the grandeur of his tomb set a standard that has not been surpassed.

The tomb complex and pits

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Photo by Wang Da Gang

As was customary, Emperor Qin began work on his tomb complex when he ascended the throne at age 13. After conquering the neighboring states, he expanded the plans in keeping with his new title of First Emperor. The tomb complex covers 19 square miles and includes a man-made earthen mound rising above his underground burial chamber.

Providing for the emperor in the afterlife meant filling his tomb complex with a wide range of items to serve his needs. The emperor’s tomb mound sits at the center of what was once a walled area. Outside the walled tomb area in pits three-quarters of a mile to the east are the warriors, standing ready to defend the emperor.

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Photo by Wang Da Gang

The army faced east, towards a pass in the mountains through which enemies might approach.

There are four pits of varying sizes, three of which contain warriors, filled with an estimated 7,000 figures along with hundreds of horses, chariots and weapons.

terra-cotta-warriors-picture-n.jpg

Photo by Wang Da Gang

Pit 1 is the largest at 203 feet x 755 feet, roughly the size of two and two-thirds football fields, and was the first to be discovered. Ranks of terra cotta warriors, horses and chariots were placed in formation throughout this space.

Pit 1 was dug to a depth of about 15 feet, with walls of pounded earth dividing the interior into 11 corridors. The floors were paved with bricks. A framework of wooden pillars and beams covered with planks, matting and a plaster shell formed the roof. The whole area was covered with earth mounded about 6 feet above the original ground surface. Pits 2 and 3 were constructed in similar fashion.

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Photo by Wang Da Gang

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Photo by Wang Da Gang

The figures contained in the smaller Pit 2 are more varied. The ranks include cavalrymen, chariots and 160 standing and kneeling archers.

Pit 3 is even smaller and is the only one to be completely excavated. This pit was meant to serve as a command center for the underground army. It contains just 68 soldiers, most of them guards with a few officers stationed behind a single chariot, perhaps meant for the supreme commander.

Pit 4 is incomplete and contains no figures, suggesting that work ceased in the rebellions following the death of Qin Shihuangdi.

The warriors

terra-cotta-warriors-photo-s.jpg

Photo by Wang Da Gang

The average warrior is 6 feet tall and weighs 300-400 lbs.

Craftsmen sculpted individual facial features for each figure by hand. Many of the faces are thought to resemble the artists themselves or some real person or military figure. It is believed that no two faces are identical.

Originally, the soldiers were painted with pigments made from minerals mixed with either egg white or animal blood.

The legs and feet of each warrior are solid clay to support the weight of the figure. To create the torso, artisans built up coils of clay; the hands, arms and head were molded separately and then attached.

terra-cotta-warriors-photo-q.jpg

Photo by Wang Da Gang

When a figure was complete, a layer of fine clay was applied to the entire sculpture so individual details could be incised by hand. After this was completed, the statues were fired at high temperatures.

The warriors’ hands are positioned to hold weapons, many of which were stolen during the rebellions that followed the emperor’s death.

The warriors were discovered in March 1974 by a group of men digging a well along the Wei River near the city of Xi’an. The tomb complex of the First Emperor has since been dubbed the Eighth Wonder of the World.

To date, only 1,000 figures have been excavated and restored.

All information is drawn from exhibition text and the “Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China’s First Emperor” exhibition e-Guide, available for download at www.warriorsdc.org

More photos from the the Terra Cotta Warriors exhibition at the National Geographic Museum:

Photos by David Braun


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Comments

  1. worksheet
    December 19, 2013, 12:02 am

    You could possibly unquestionably go to your excitement inside work you’re posting. The whole world wants all the more zealous internet writers such as you exactly who usually are not frightened to cover that they feel. Always abide by the soul.

  2. Swami Hamsananda
    Buckingham, VA
    June 14, 2013, 10:02 pm

    Is this exhibit over or is it coming to D.C. Nov. 2013? Are advance tickets necessary? Is there an admission fee?