The Terracotta Warriors

The World Museum in Liverpool have pulled off a major coup.  They have successfully arranged with Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau and the Shaanxi History Museum and a range of other Chinese institutions to bring a small selection of the World-famous terracotta warriors from China to Liverpool.

Liverpool was selected as host due to its standing as the home of the oldest Chinese communities in Europe.  This exhibition is a major part of Liverpool’s 2018 celebrations marking ten years since the City of Culture and Liverpool will be embracing its Far East links during the exhibition’s run.

The Exhibition ‘China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors’ is on from 9 February to 28 October 2018.  I managed to get along this month and take a few photographs.

It’s a very intriguing story; for over 2,000 years, an underground army of life-sized terracotta warriors secretly guarded the tomb of China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, until a chance finding in 1974 made one of the world’s greatest archaeological discoveries.

The exhibition spans almost 1,000 years of Chinese history; from the conflicts of the Warring States period to the achievements and legacy of the Qin and Han dynasties.

Many objects have never been on show in the UK before.  The material from museums and institutes from across Shaanxi Province have been excavated over the last 40 years from the Imperial Mausoleum and other tombs.  The artefacts show how the Emperor pursued immortality and how he prepared for the afterlife.  The 10 Warriors making up the centrepiece of the display are the highlight of the 180 artefacts that are on the show.

The team at the World Museum have completely transformed the existing gallery into a dark, dramatic space with the Chinese artefacts displayed in light and temperature-controlled conditions.

A life-size terracotta horse welcomes you as you enter the exhibition together with a middle ranking officer from the Terracotta Army.  It is part of the collection first discovered by chance in the burial complex of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor, in 1974 with further pieces still being unearthed to this day.  The burial mound had been deliberately hidden unlike other mausoleums which were built as a statement such as the Taj Mahal and the Pyramids.  Once all the artefacts had been placed into the tomb which would enable the Emperor to continue into eternity the artisans and craftsmen were locked inside with him and the site was planted over and remained hidden for centuries.  The discovery was made in 1974 by local farmers digging a well who broke into a pit containing 6000 life-size terracotta figures. Further excavation in 1976 revealed two further pits both filled with terracotta warriors.

The terracotta army was guarding the tomb of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang who lived over 2200 years ago. He became famous for unifying the warring states into what is now China, and for becoming the country’s first emperor. He is remembered for instigating the building of the Great Wall of China, as well as for his fanatical fear of death and an obsessive quest for the secret of immortality. This craze for life and the fear of death ultimately has given us the legacy of the terracotta warriors.

Each terracotta warrior is unique they are life size standing up to 2 metres tall and weigh up to 300 kilograms.  They are individually modelled in clay and the detail of the figures is astounding.  We can observe the construction of body armour and clothing and their hair and facial features.  The hands and the heads of the terracotta warriors were made separately, and each head is reputed to be different and individual.  Originally, they were painted with bright pigments in line with their uniforms and general attire  They were then placed in the pit in military formation and equipped with bronze weapons.  Each one bears the stamp or the carved name of their maker.

Although all the warriors were in the pits they had been buried in, many of them were in pieces and have had to be restored. The technicians and craftsmen who undertook this work often had to remodel parts to restore areas of the figures that were too badly damaged to be reconstructed.

The Terracotta Warriors discovered number almost 8,000 figures which include both warriors and horses. The warriors comprise of various types including crossbowmen, charioteers, officers, stable lads and generals.

The Terracotta Warriors form an army whose purpose was to protect the Emperor and his 300 wives and concubines who followed him to his tomb. The army was made to accompany the Emperor in his last journey and to help him rule the new empire in the afterlife.

The construction of Emperor’s tomb and Terracotta Warriors began around 247 BC, that is – when the Emperor came to power aged 12 years old and finished shortly before his death in 210 BC aged 49 years.  It took 37 years and 700,000 workers and craftsmen to accomplish this work.

After the death of Qin Shi Huang a peasant uprising and civil war ensued which were finally quelled in 206 BC and a new emperor was proclaimed in the Han dynasty which lasted for a further 400 years.  The second half of the Han dynasty is considered a golden age in Chinese history.

Whilst quite a small display it is purported to have cost the World Museum in Liverpool over £5m to stage the exhibition.  It has been sold out on most days attracting visitors from far and wide and is predicted to cover its costs and make a surplus.  It is certainly well worth a visit!

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