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Elaine Olelo Masters

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CHINA Terracotta Warriors
by Elaine Olelo Masters   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Saturday, May 20, 2006
Posted: Saturday, May 20, 2006

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The terracotta warriors did not disappoint. Amazing!

CHINA Terracotta Warriors


As our tour bus sped the 25 miles from Xi’an City in Shaanxi Province (North-Central China) to the site of the terracotta warriors, Paul, our Xi-an tour guide, filled us in on must-know and fascinating tidbits: “The terracotta warrior vaults were discovered in 1974 by a farmer digging a well.”

Wow. I bet he was surprised! And maybe a bit spooked, too, as a head, an arm, then a leg, appeared in his shovel.

“Knowing he had found an artifact of probable value, he reported it to local authorities. They rewarded him with something like $25, and they eagerly took over the excavation. Meanwhile, the farmer relocated and went on farming.”

Paul continued: “Some years later, after the site had become world famous and was listed as a world cultural heritage site by UNESCO, a couple of tourists began to wonder about that farmer. Where was he? Did he realize the importance of his find?

“They tracked him down and hailed him as a hero. Then the Government of China realized they were onto something good. They brought him to the newly-erected terracotta warrior museum, gave him a salary, taught him to write his name and the date of the discovery (he had been totally illiterate) and set him to work autographing copies of souvenir books for tourists. Now the farmer is well off and China is reaping loads of tourist dollars, euros, and yen. If he’s there today, you can buy a book from him.”

That would be so cool!

Before arriving at our main destination, however, we visited the ruins of Huaqing Hot Springs. These were a series of spas built by various emperors, some for their own enjoyment, some for use by their army officers, government officials, and concubines. (The smallest pools were always for the concubines, of course.) They were deep enough to allow some swimming, but shallow enough that no one was going to drown. Fed by hot springs, they were a favorite winter haven for the favored few.

Emma and I got bored looking at empty swimming pools and made our way back to the bus ahead of the group. As we rested on a shady bench, I spied a sign by a doorway: “One of the farmers who discovered the terracotta warriors is here today.” Aha! We lucked out!

Inside, we found a sturdy old Chinese man dressed in rough peasant clothing sitting behind a table with books piled to one side and brush and ink in front of him. A young woman stood to one side. “Would you like?”

Oh, yes. We would like. Definitely. He signed our book in Chinese and in western letters, “Yang Xin Man”, dated it 2006.4.18, and put a large red chop beside it. I was ecstatic.

Back in the bus, we told everyone, “The farmer is in that building over there. We got an autographed book.”

“Oh, no!” Paul remonstrated. “That’s an imposter. When his neighbors saw what a cushy life the farmer had, they decided to cash in on it. They learned to write a few words and set themselves up selling books, too.”

I should have been suspicious. The sign did say “one of the farmers.” Ah, me. The book is not half bad, though, with great photos and text in Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and English. And that bogus signature and chop do make for an intriguing anecdote.

The terracotta warriors did not disappoint, however. We first went in a stuffy museum (I almost passed out from the press of people and lack of oxygen), went to a 360-degree movie-in-the-round about the Qin dynasty and the discovery and restoration of the terracotta warriors, and at last entered the huge airport-hanger-like building housing the dig.

Before us were row on row of pottery men, each with a distinctive face, said to be modeled after Emperor Qin’s real army. Someone asked if the clay was molded onto living people, and Paul said, “That’s the legend that’s grown up, and we did find bones in a few of the statues.”

He continued, “They say the emperor convinced some soldiers that he could give them life everlasting with a magic formula. They drank something that paralyzed them but left them conscious. The artisans began slapping on the clay and the terrified soldiers, being paralyzed, couldn’t protest. We don’t know if they suffocated from the clay modeling or if they died in the 1800-degree kilns, either way it was horrible! But at least it didn’t happen to many of them. Most the statues contained no bones. Maybe the emperor realized that if he used thousands—archeologists estimate there are 8,000 clay figures--of his soldiers in the mausoleum for his future life, he would deplete his army in his present life.”

Eerie. The faces looked so life-like, each one unique.

In another vault still being excavated, pottery horses stood before chariots. Archers knelt, their hands grasping air, their bows and arrows long gone--stolen or decayed. Higher-ranking soldiers wore clay armor or led horses while enlisted men wore only robes.

Archeologists from several countries are working at putting the shards together, the ultimate 3-D jigsaw puzzle.


Who was this emperor, anyway? He was the First Emperor of China. He “united” six other kingdoms the same way King Kamehameha “united” the kingdoms of Hawaii—mostly he defeated them in battle. A few Qin Shihuang had murdered.

This is the same dude who conned the other kings to join their sections of the Great Wall to his, then got rid of them. (See CHINA The Great Wall). Nice guy, yeah?. Cruel, but clever.

Rumor has it that he was born in 259 B.C. to a woman who was already pregnant by a merchant when she married his supposed father. The boy was named Ying Zhen and crowned emperor at the age of 22. He became Qin Shihuang, which translates to First Emperor of China. He immediately began his grandiose building schemes and conquests.

He did do a lot of valuable things. He standardized the written Chinese language, established standard weights and measures for the marketplace, and promulgated official coinage, a great boon for commerce and the daily life of the empire.

Too bad he didn’t always concentrate on the positive. His conscription of laborers to build the Great Wall and his monstrous underground mausoleum placed a heavy burden on the peasants, bringing hardship and at times starvation. His subjects evidently didn’t have the courage to rebel while he was alive, but soon after his death they staged a Peasants’ Uprising. looted the terracotta warriors, and raised cain in general.

Much is still to be uncovered in the various mounds bumping up like giant pimples on the surrounding countryside, but no one is in a hurry to do it. When the painted statues, brocades, and other treasures, buried 2200 years, are exposed to air, they quickly deteriorate. Paul said China will be more enthusiastic about further excavations when better methods of preservation are available.

An historian writing in 90 BC says one large mound conceals an elaborate underground city with a river of mercury. The topsoil of that mound does test very high in mercury. No one is willing to dig into it for fear of releasing the fumes and killing the countryside, one last conquest of Qin Shihuang.
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Reviewed by Chrissy McVay 5/21/2006
This sounds like such a fun and educational trip!
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