Culture

Brush Up On Your History With These 8 Amazing Facts About China’s Terracotta Army Before You See It In Melbourne

Brought to you by Qantas

This feature is brought to you by Qantas, who are proud to play a part in bringing travellers together with the people they love from around Australia and across the globe.

The discovery of the Terracotta Army was one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century. Now, the sculptures, which are widely regarded as the eighth wonder of the world, are coming to the National Gallery of Victoria for its 2019 Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.

The Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality exhibition features eight terracotta warriors, two full-sized horses, and two replica bronze chariots pulled by four horses each, as well as objects selected from museums and archaeological in China’s Shaanxi province, including priceless gold, jade, and bronze artefacts.

The collection is a fascinating insight into the history of the terracotta warriors and ancient Chinese culture. Before you see the exhibition, read up on these eight amazing facts about China’s ancient terracotta army.

#1 The Terracotta Army was built to protect the Emperor

The Terracotta Army was constructed for Qin Shihuang, the first Emperor of China. It’s thought he ordered them to be built shortly after he became ruler of the Qin state, as part of the mausoleum complex that he would one day be entombed in.

After his death, he was entombed in a subterranean palace with the Terracotta Warriors 1.5km away to watch over him in the afterlife. They stand guard at the east of his tomb, as if to protect him from retribution from the lands that he conquered during his reign.


#2 It was only discovered in 1974

terracotta warriors

A Chinese armoured general from the Qin dynasty, 221–207 BCE. Currently held at Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in Xi’an, China. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria

China’s ancient Terracotta Army dates back to approximately the early third century BCE, but it was only discovered 45 years ago. Before their physical discovery, nobody knew they existed.

More than 2000 years after their creation, farmers unearthed one of the warriors by chance, which saw archaeologist Zhao Kangmin undertake an official investigation. Excavation work is ongoing and archaeologists say the complete army may never be found.


#3 It’s only a small part of something much larger

terracotta warriors

A Chinese door ring holder in the form of a mythological beast from a Pushou Han dynasty, 207 BCE – 220 CE. Currently held at Maoling Museum in Xingping, China. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria

The emperor’s mausoleum is just one part of a much larger necropolis, which was designed as a microcosm of the emperor’s imperial palace compound. Buildings like halls, stables and offices have also been uncovered – everything he’d need in the afterlife.

The Terracotta Army isn’t the only treasure buried there. Archaeologists have also found bronze statues and carriages, burial sites, and statues of civilian figures like singers, musicians, and acrobats.


#4 It’s divided like a real army

terracotta warriors

Chinese Chariot #1 (replica of a Qin dynasty chariot). Currently held at Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in Xi’an, China. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria

Warriors in the Terracotta Army stand upright in three pits inside the necropolis area. Each pit holds a different section of the army in formation, just like a real army at war.

Pit One is the largest and holds infantry and chariots. Archers and melee units make a fierce vanguard for the emperor’s army for the afterlife.

Pit Two is filled with archers who would have been armed with crossbows and longbows, although the wooden parts of the crossbows have long since decayed. They’re backed up by cavalry units – war chariots and life-sized horses who each carry a rider.

Pit Three is the army’s command post, watched over by an honour guard. A fourth empty pit was discovered, suggesting that the emperor died before the last units could be finished.


#5 There are Terracotta Warriors that we may never see

terracotta warriors

A Chinese kneeling archer from the Qin dynasty, 221–207 BCE. Currently held at Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in Xi’an, China. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria

Archaeologists still haven’t excavated the emperor’s tomb itself, and there are other areas in the necropolis that we’ve never seen. Experts are worried that the excavation techniques currently in use are more likely to damage undiscovered objects than preserve them.


#6 The Terracotta Army is a formidable force

terracotta warriors

Qin Shihuang’s terracotta warriors, Pit 1, at Shaanxi History Museum and Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria

Although this exhibition will bring 10 of Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta Warriors to Melbourne, it’s estimated that the Terracotta Army in China contains more than 7000 soldiers, 150 horses, and 130 chariots with an additional 520 horses drawing them.


#7 No two terracotta warriors are alike

terracotta warriors

A Chinese armoured military officer from the Qin dynasty, 221–207 BCE. Currently held at Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in Xi’an, China. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria

Like snowflakes, no two Terracotta Warriors are the same. The soldiers’ height, hairstyles, moustaches and beards, weapons, and uniforms are all different.

Even more impressive is the fact that the faces of the 7000 warriors are so varied that some experts believe they may have been modelled after the emperor’s real-life soldiers.


#8 This isn’t their first visit to the NGV

Bell of Duke Wu of Qin

Bell of Duke Wu of Qin, Qin gong bo, Spring and Autumn period 771–475 BCE. Currently held at Baoji Bronze Museum, Baoji. Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Victoria

The first-ever exhibition of the Terracotta Warriors outside of China was at the NGV in 1983. This time around, the exhibition will be a lot bigger, featuring more than 150 exquisite treasures of historic Chinese art and design, showcasing the customs, rituals, daily life, and burial practices of ancient China.

It will be presented in parallel with Cai Guo-Qiang: The Transient Landscape, an exhibition of new gunpowder and porcelain works created especially for the NGV exhibition by Cai Guo-Qiang.

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality will be showing at the National Gallery of Victoria from May 24 to October 13, 2019. Tickets can be purchased through the website or at the door.

NGV International, Ground Level, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne

The exhibition is organised by the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, in partnership with Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau, Shaanxi History Museum, Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Centre, and Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum of the People’s Republic of China.

Lead image courtesy of Shaanxi History Museum, Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, and the National Gallery of Victoria