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Click to enlargeThe Terracotta Army of Qin Dynasty

People from all over the world who know even a little about Chinese culture, all admit that Emperor Qin Shi Huang was one of the most famous emperors in the 5,000-year history of China. He was born in 259 B.C., when China was undergoing a period of political reform and cultural prosperity. Showing his ambition when he was still a child, he succeeded to the throne of the State of Qin at the age of 13, and quickly threw himself into the work of reform. According to historical records, he was determined to unify China, a country divided into several rival states. He first turned Qin into a state of great prosperity and strength. Then, he led the powerful military forces at his disposal in a series of wars. It was not until 221 B.C. that he succeeded in wiping out the last of six rival states and establishing the Qin Dynasty, the first feudal dynasty in Chinese history to rule the entire country. He set up his capital, Xianyang, in Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, the center of the Central Plain culture. There he constructed the luxurious Epang Palace. Qin Shi Huang, like many other emperors in Chinese history, dreamed of immortality. He sent people across the East Sea in a vain effort to seek the fabled "elixir of eternal life". Immortality being beyond his grasp, in order to have a better life in the next world after his death, he started the construction of a stupendous mausoleum - a project that took 37 years to complete. It was a firm belief among the ancient Chinese that there was life after death in the nether regions, just as in the human world. The dead, therefore, were to be treated in the same way as the living. Emperor Qin Shi Huang was regarded as the supreme ruler of this world, and so he would remain in the next world. For this reason, his mausoleum, with its mountain-like tumulus and underground palace, was designed after the palace in Xianyang, where he lived and reigned. In addition, he was fully aware of the importance of armed force. He had images made of his troops and had them buried near him to guard his soul. The terracotta army was thus formed.

The Epang Palace was destroyed long ago, and we can only imagine the magnificence of the Qin Dynasty from historical records. However, archaeological finds help us to "go back in time". In March 1974, several of China's leading archaeologists gathered at a place 1.5 kilometers east of Qin Shi Hung's Mausoleum in Lintong County, Shaanxi Province, to excavate a 14,000-square-meter vault in which thousands of terracotta warriors and horses had remained entombed for over 2,000 years. Thus, the terracotta army, known as another "Wonder of Ancient Civilization," was brought to light.

When these warriors and horses were shown to the world, everybody was impressed by the fact that they were life-size as well as by their huge number. Subsequent excavation of the first, second and the third vaults made clear their formation and battle array. The first, second and third vaults are magnificent, covering an area of 20,000 square meters. They mainly contain infantry, cavalry and war chariots, serving as life-size reproductions of the Qin army of ancient China.

Most Western people wonder at the great numbers of the Qin warriors, and they feel puzzled at their stylized shapes. Actually, Qin figures are of high artistic value as sculptures of human figures, and are a landmark in the historical development of ancient sculpture in China. Although they may not be as vivid as the sculptures of the same period in the West, they emphasize the revelation of the subjects' inner world through their facial expressions and in a simple and vigorous style, characterized by a sense of a powerful internal force. The large numbers reflect the centralized authority in China's feudal society, serving as a typical example of different art of sculpture between East and West.

It is worth mentioning that there is individuality in the costumes and expressions of the warriors and horses. The Qin warrior figures show distinctive individual personalities, with different facial expressions. For instance, a face with a broad forehead, high cheekbones, thick brows, large eyes and stiff beard is the face of a hardy and fearless man, whereas a round face with regular features reveals a frank and open-hearted character. An oval face with fine features shows a genteel disposition. Then there is a square face with honest simplicity clearly written all over it. The young soldiers generally have chubby faces, and are smiling naively. The older soldiers, with lined foreheads, appear to be weather- beaten veterans who have seen much of the world.

Different costumes and hair accessories serve as distinctions of rank and position, including those of senior, intermediate and junior officers, as well as of soldiers with various arms and duties. In addition, the stances assumed by the men of different branches of the army are also different: Some are standing infantrymen, some kneeling archers, some standing archers, and some cavalrymen. All in all, they portray the military power of the Qin Dynasty, and are invaluable material for the study of the history, military affairs and culture of China over 2,000 years ago.

Qin Shi Huang, a great emperor in Chinese history, made a magnificent contribution to the development of the Chinese nation and its culture, and his underground army remains as a testimony to the splendor of ancient civilization in East Asia.

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