Terracotta warriors are an overwhelming display of workmanship

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Terracotta warriors, lined up and ready for battle.

I heard a lot about China's first emperor, Ying Zheng, who united China in 221 B.C. However, it was only during my recent trip to Xi'an, China that I really experienced his ancient glory and power, and saw his magnificent kingdom. Yes, I visited his burial site and his army of thousands of warriors, the famous Terracotta warriors.

Though overjoyed that I would get to view what is regarded as one of China's most amazing discoveries — the remarkable craftsmanship of clay statues frozen in time as shown in travel journals — I did not know what to expect. Thinking I was going to be taking pictures of dried lumps of mud and clay, I entered the doors to the main exhibition entrance.

To get to the warriors display, we first had to travel through a small exhibition of chariots, armor and weapons. The museum was a mausoleum; living dead artifacts lay frozen in time behind gleaming glass cases. I was instantly captivated as each blade and barrel, chip and crack, screamed their stories to me through the sightless glass. I had to tear my eyes away from each artifact to absorb more history of others. As I reached the exit of this first exhibit to enter the actual warriors display, I was bursting with excitement to see what more ancient China had to offer.

Mountain men

When I finally stepped inside the warriors display, a huge map spanned out the entire tomb area for us. Peering at the map, I learned that the tomb is in the heart of a mountain, called Li Mountain.


The first emperor, Ying Zheng, also known as Qin Shi Huang, chose this place because the north side of the mountain was rich in gold and the south side was rich in jade, thus he was buried among two of China's most valuable resources. I learned from the map notes that over 700,000 workers had been forced to build, dig and furnish the entire tomb that was bigger than 12 football stadiums.

Every nook and cranny of the map had chariots, horses, and warriors placed inside it. As I walked around the large map, the huge field of warriors finally came into view. An entire battlefield-sized plain stretched out before my eyes, dotted with human sized clay soldiers, molded so delicately and skillfully that each soldier's facial expression and body posture were distinct. Every warrior was molded separately in parts before being assembled. There were eight different face molds, but clay was added over the molds to create different facial features for each and every one of the 8,130 soldiers.

The chariots were molded after the Emperor's own fleet. The horses have spectacularly braided tails and the everyday items such as pots and pans were covered in unique and intricate engravings of dragons, tigers, heaven, and earth. With primitive tools they had in the 200s B.C., no wonder they started early, when the emperor was only 13 years old.

Important discovery

Though the warriors were amazing and historically important, without Mr. Yang's surprising discovery they would have been still hidden underground. In 1974, Mr. Yang Ji De was digging a well with several other farmers. Their land had been barren for no apparent reason. They decided to dig a well, hoping to find more water to grow crops. As they dug, they hit something hard and pulled it out of the ground. It was a head made of clay. They didn't know it was one of the heads of the Terracotta warriors that had broken off.

Yang's friends were so scared they ran, but Yang stayed, picked up the head, and took it to a local archaeological team. For years, archaeologists have been excavating and discovering legs, arms, torsos, and heads and taking them to a lab for repair. Not only did the archaeologists discover warriors and artifacts, they discovered that there were four pits in the ground where the soldiers were placed. After fixing the broken warriors, they would place them back in their pits.

Though all warriors went back to their correct pits, Pit 4 remained empty due to the fact that the first emperor died in 209 B.C., before the tomb was actually finished. It has been said that the workers who buried him were killed by being buried in the tomb with the emperor, so that the secret of the grave would be concealed forever.

Emperor's tomb


After everything that I have told you now, you may be wondering if the scientists have ever found the body of the first emperor. Well, scholars from the time the tomb was being built had written documents on this. It was said that after the army was built and the emperor died, the emperor's body was enclosed in an airtight casket, which was afloat on a sea of mercury under the warriors to preserve his body.

We don't know if this legend is true, but scientists have found traces of mercury in the ground, which may be the reason why the farmers' crops didn't grow.

After our tour guide told us this story, our journey was drawn to a close. As she led us into the gift shop, she told us that Mr.Yang Ji De sometimes stops by and greets visitors in the shop. She told us that if we were lucky, we might get to meet him and maybe even take a picture.

I dashed into the store to see if good luck was on my side, and sure enough, Mr. Yang Ji De was sitting behind a desk, and signing books on the Terracotta warriors. Getting into line, I finally took a picture with the man who discovered this all. I smiled at the camera with indescribable joy — the joy of such an amazing journey, the joy of such an experience of ancient history and civilization, and the joy of feeling the inner connection to the rich culture and my roots in China.

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