Monday, 5 March 2018

China's Terracotta Warriors


The main purpose of my recent visit to Liverpool was to see the exhibition of China's Terracotta Warriors, at the World Museum. I'm sure most people have heard of these incredible treasures, first discovered by chance in 1974 when a farmer, Yang Zhifa, discovered pottery fragments when digging a well in Xi'an. For over 2200 years, the figures have secretly guarded the tomb of China's First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang. There were no historical records pointing to them, so their discovery was a complete surprise and the scale of the find is astonishing: more than 2000 warriors and horses, each unique, have been excavated, with another 6000 estimated still to be buried. The burial site covers 56 square kilometres and was intended to provide the Emperor with everything he needed in the afterlife - palaces, an army for protection, horses, chariots, food and entertainment (terracotta musicians and acrobats have been uncovered - and some of the Emperor's concubines were slaughtered and buried with him). 

The jury is out as to whether Qin Shi Huang was a far-sighted and innovative ruler or a brutal tyrant. He followed a philosophy of Legalism, bringing in standardisation, rules and laws and appointing officials on merit rather than hereditary right. He united China after many years of war by defeating the various other warring tribes. He built the original defensive wall along the Northern border that eventually became the Great Wall of China. He is viewed by some to have exhibited tyrannical eccentricities and extreme paranoia. (Remind you of anyone?....)

There are ten life-sized figures from the Qin dynasty (221-206BC) in the display, along with 180 other objects, including jewellery, weapons, armour and other artefacts, covering 1000 years of Chinese history. 


This figure is a terracotta horse-keeper, one of eleven found in an area of the First Emperor's Mausoleum believed to represent the royal stables. They were found with coffins containing the remains of real horses, ritually slaughtered.

The cavalry horse is one of the terracotta army protecting the First Emperor. Cavalry was lighter and faster than horse-drawn chariots in battle and was an important military force in the Qin Dynasty.


The figure below was perhaps my favourite, touching in its simplicity. It is a terracotta kneeling figure of a stable boy, buried alongside the dead horses' remains, together with pottery basins and hay, presumably to care for the horses in their afterlife. 


9 comments:

  1. You explain this fascinating Chinese history very well, Jenny.

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  2. They are so beautifully proportioned, true works of art.

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  3. What a great show...and an amazing artifact from ancient history. I'm so glad you got to see it. It's interesting that it was completely lost to history. I've heard many people were killed who knew about it.

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  4. Outstanding shots! I'd love to see them at their location, but even a small group is quite a sight to see.

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  5. Hi Jenny - amazing photos ... I saw an earlier one in London when I was at the end of my tether with exhaustion re caring for my mother and uncle ... but am so glad I've seen some. That exhibition looks extraordinary ... so glad you were able to go - cheers Hilary

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  6. What amazing creations! Thank you for the fine pictures!

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  7. And re you "remind you of anyone" yes, indeed! But our homegrown egomaniac isn't likely to be responsible for such enduring art. His legacy will be a depleted environment and gold-plated tackiness.

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  8. Wow. Repeat, wow. It must have been awe-inspiring to see this exhibition. Can you imagine the shock of finding all of this as recently as 1974?

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