The Terra-Cotta Warriors of Xi'an

So I have seen the Eighth Wonder of the World. And the title was aptly bestowed – it was magnificent, a wonderful experience. You can check out the photographs I took here.

Terra-cotta Warriors
Terra-cotta Warriors

I’m not going to give a detailed account, but there were a couple of interesting moments:

  • While we were driving out of Xi’an to get to the Museum, there was a M5.0 earthquake not far away. I didn’t notice it, though.
  • Having seen so many pictures of grey figures, I hadn’t realized that when the army was created the soldiers were all painted in bright colours. The museum had some photographs of fragments which had retained their (mineral) pigments, and gave a vivid impression of what the warriors might have looked like. I was, of course, reminded of early Christian church buildings: today we admire the pure beauty of the marble and stone, even though they would have originally been a riot of colour
  • I resisted the temptation to buy a replica of one of the figures, and instead bought a coffee-table book about the warriors. After I had done so, a wizened old man behind an adjoining counter offered to sign it for me. He was one of the farmers who discovered the figures back in 1974; he now lives in an apartment near to the museum.
  • When the army was created in 210 BCE, all of the figures had weapons. Most of them were stolen soon after the death of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang (presumably weapons were more valuable than statues), and wooden pieces like spear shafts rotted away long ago, but many weapons have been discovered. I was surprised to see that some the generals’ swords had been “chrome plated”, and that other pieces were stamped with the manufacturer’s name and batch number.
  • I hadn’t realized that every figures was designed individually. These were not stamped out in cookie-cutter style. The detailed work – the patterns on the soles of the shoes, or the way that the fabric of a tunic folded and hung, or the facial expression – was simply amazing.
  • And finally, the museum structures themselves are wonderfully laid out. Yes, the big (“Pit 1”) building was bitterly cold, but the environmental controls seem perfectly suited to the preservation of these extraordinary pieces. Of course we saw it all at the best time: mid-winter, with no crowds. In the summer the place must be a zoo.

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