The Terracotta Army – Shihuangdi’s Amazing Legacy


The creation of the Terracotta Army, one of the most astonishing tourist attractions in the world, is examined and assessed.

In 1974, farmers were digging for a well in Lintong, which is close to the city of Xian in Shaanxi Province. They did not find water but they did strike one of the most astonishing archaeological finds in all history. Beneath the ground there was an enormous and enormously complex three dimensional representation of the empire of the Qin Emperor Shihuangdi. In a series of subterranean chambers, more than 6,000 life-size and perfectly lifelike representatives of the Emperor’s infantry are drawn up in strict military formation, together with more than 1,400 cavalry and chariot riders. The detail achieved by the creators of this Terracotta Army is quite amazing, with accuracy extending to the faces of the warriors, each one of which is unique and demonstrates the range of ethnic types contained within the empire. Their clothes and armour are fully articulated and even the studs on the soles of the shoes of the archers, to prevent their feet slipping at the moment of release, are modelled.

To create this army would be difficult enough today, since a large number of trained and skilled workpeople would have to be assembled, together with kilns, clay, all kinds of tools and provisions to support the undertaking. Somehow, all of the individual troops would have to show themselves to the artisans so that their exact representation could be made. How much more difficult must this task have been 2,400 years ago when infrastructure and communications were so much more limited? One single bronze chariot, for example, was constructed of more than 3,500 separate pieces and weighs more than 1,200 kg. In some ways, it is the organisational ability of the Qin state which is the most remarkable achievement of all. However, who the people were who managed this is not known and their names are lost to history, as the names of so many workers slip away from notice. Instead, people can at least acknowledge the beauty of their efforts and the reminder that it is through the labour of individuals that great states and emperors could enjoy their pomp and glory.

Today, the Terracotta Army is one of the most important tourist attractions in all of China. Xian has been opened up to foreign tourists with flights from several countries. Interestingly, this has also made it much more possible for the people of Xian to travel overseas and to gain more knowledge and experience of the world.