A remarkable sight appeared in 1974, near the ancient capital of Xi’an. Some Afarmers happened to dig up what turned out to be a large-scale pit with terracotta soldiers and horses, belonging to the Emperor Qin Shi Huang, or the Founding Emperor of the Qin. After 2,200 years, the Emperor’s tremendous army stood as though living again before people’s eyes.
The figures that the farmers found were around the size of real people. The pit was in Shaanxi Province, Lintong County, Jiangzhai xichang Village. It was around three Chinese li, or roughly one mile, from the east side of the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s tomb mound. The Chinese Cultural Relics Administrative Department immediately organized its forces and carried out an investigation. After further excavation they actually found that the area of the discovery was a great deal larger and that inside this area were buried some 6,000 terracotta figures of horses and soldiers. After this, archaeologists discovered a second and third pit of horses and soldiers: the first discovery was called #1 pit, nearby in test excavations they discovered pits #2 and #3. Linked together, the three pits covered an area of 20,000 square meters and included around 8,000 figures.
To bury an entire army of individual soldiers under the ground was unheard of in the world. This ancient phenomenon gave evidence to the world of the Chinese people’s sophistication and rich cultural heritage. It is no wonder that the former French Premier expressed amazement when he saw it, ‘The Qin terracotta pit is one of the marvels of the world. To go to Egypt and not see the pyramids is not really going to Egypt; to go to China and not see this sight is not really going to China.’
In order to better protect this historical treasure house, a building was put over the #1 pit which has a bow-shaped steel framework, to form a vast exhibition hall. The building is 230 meters long, 72 meters wide, and 22 meters high. It can hold two football fields inside. The Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum was officially inaugurated and opened to the public in 1979.
Standing inside the hall over #1 pit, people can see over 1,000 of the horses and soldiers that have been excavated and cleaned up; the rest of the 5,000 are in the process of being cleaned, one by one. The army is arrayed in a rectangular formation, all facing east. In front are three rows each with 210 warriors making up the front ranks, after them are marching soldiers and horses drawing war chariots, making up the main body of this army. The two sides of the army and the rear each have a line of warriors, divided to face south, north, west – this was perhaps to maintain a contingent for the sides and the rear of the hall, to guard against rear attack.
The terracotta statues, horses and people, are roughly the same size as real horses and people, the proportions are extremely accurate. This reflects the high level of sculptural arts at the time of the Qin dynasty. From the placement, the hair and clothing styles and glance that they are seasoned older generals. In addition to foot soldiers there are also some cavalry members leading horses or driving chariots. Some of the soldiers are kneeling, ready to shoot their arrows: each has a special posture according to his duties.
In terms of finer features, the statues are remarkably lifelike. The head and facial expression of each soldier is different, so that clearly each was the work of a sculptor and they were not produced from a mold. Through fine detail on the eyebrows, face, mouth and nose, the internal character and rich expressions of each soldier are expressed. Some of the statues were clearly northwest minority peoples, which also shows the origins of the Qin-dynasty soldiers.
The cavalry and war chariots had an extremely important place in ancient armies. Those examples excavated from the pit included steeds that were vigorous and fat. Their ears were erect, their eyes wide and mouths open, they were generally 1.5 high, with smallish heads and relatively short legs. Some people say that these horses seem to resemble the Hequ Horses found in Gansu today or the Hetian Horses found in Xinjiang, which are excellent racehorses, good at climbing slopes, and also are excellent warhorses with great strength.
During the Warring States period, seven powers were at continual war with each other and the competition among their leaders led to a great advances in weapons’ design and production. By the time of the establishment of the Qin dynasty, weapons were quite sophisticated. Before this pit was discovered, when people saw only single examples of Qin weapons, this was not believed to be the case. Once the pit was uncovered and a large number of actual weapons were unearthed, people began to recognize the martial and organizational capabilities of the Qin-dynasty army. Every one of the statues unearthed in the pit had a weapon, and all were actual weapons made of bronze. At the time, the three great weaponry of the statues, one can generally understand their rank and position. Some wear tunics, some carry shields, some have their hair tied in a bun, some wear footwear while others do not, some have armor breastplates, some have fishscale armour. Soldiers with relatively long beards are placed towards the rear, and one sees at a kinds of cold weapons (as opposed to what Chinese call hot weapons which came only after the invention of gunpowder) were distant firing weapons, such as bows and arrows, weapons for close-in combat and longer weapons for less close combat. All of these were represented in the pit.
What is most amazing is that these weapons were still sharp and shiny after being excavated. Having been buried over 2,000 years, they had not rusted, except for those that had been crushed and damaged. After rubbing away the mud and dirt one could see that they were shiny, making one think they had just come from a Qin-dynasty craftsman’s hands. The production of these weapons was very careful, including cold-casting treatment added to the surface. The weapons were of an alloy made of copper, tin, and lead but the percentages were different for different categories of weapons and there were microquantities of different elements to allow for different hardnesses and elasticity needs. Qin-dynasty craftsmen were in possession of very high metallurgical technology. The blades of the weapons had an oxidized layer and after scientific evaluation it was seen that they were put through a salt oxidizing process. This treatment of the surface is a modern technology that was already in use in Chinese weapons production some 2,000 years ago. This thin layer of protection is what kept the weapons from rusting despite being buried for so long.