The Terracotta Warriors

Photo of the Terracotta Warriors

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There are wonders of the world and then there are wonders of the world. And then there are the terracotta warriors. The latter being far beyond any wonder of the world that you could imagine!

Oh sure, everyone has seen photographs of the terracotta warriors, but to actually see them in person, in their original setting, in their original poses, you will understand what I mean about them not being just an ordinary wonder of the world.

I won’t go into too much detail about what you will see when you visit the terracotta warriors. You will learn a lot when you go there, or you can find a more detailed history by searching the internet. What I would really like for you to do is look closely at each photograph. Then think about what it must have taken to make these magnificent terracotta statues. Each one is different, each one is the actual size of a human, and each one was fully painted at one time. Imagine how many people it took to make them and what other resources it took.

When I first entered the excavation pits (there are three in total with pit 1 being the largest with over 6,000 terracotta warriors and horses including infantry, cavalry and chariot warriors arranged in battle formation), all that I could think about was how much forest was cut down in order to fire up the high-temperature ovens that it took to bake the terracotta material.

Qin Shi Huang (18 February 259 BC – 10 September 210 BC) was the founder of the Qin dynasty and was the first emperor of a unified China. His public works projects included the unification of the many state walls into a single Great Wall of China as well as a massive national road system. He was responsible for the enormous mausoleum that is guarded by the life-sized Terracotta Army. He was China’s emperor until his death in 210 BC while on his fourth tour of Eastern China. His achievements made him one of the most respected and influential individuals in world history, and a legacy among the Chinese people.

The Terracotta Army remained buried until they were discovered on March 29, 1974, by farmers digging a water well in a village of Lintong county, Shaanxi province, near Xian, China. The three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.

In 1974, in Lintong county, the weather was very dry and the crops, mostly grain, were dying in the fields. The farmers in the region decided to dig a well in order to establish a new and better source of water at a lower point in the terrain. As they dug they came across a very hard red earth about a meter down and then, on the third day, they dug out something resembling a clay jar in the form of a head that one of the villagers wanted to take home to use as a container.

The villagers were also very superstitious and initially thought that the numerous terracotta fragments of heads and other body parts were actually ghosts of long ago deceased ancestors.

Prior to the discovery in 1974, the farmers in this area had routinely come across terracotta clay fragments as they worked their fields and had sold many bronze arrowheads they had discovered to the recycling station. In the past, when fragments were uncovered, many times these terracotta fragments and heads were reburied.

Sometime after the 1974 discovery, a Lintong county official responsible for cultural relics learned about a large number of terracotta fragments that had been found. He assembled a small investigation team and rushed to the site. Once there he instantly knew that this was a significant discovery and asked the farmers to gather the numerous terracotta fragments that they had recovered. They piled the fragments of heads, torsos, arms, and legs into three trucks, where they were taken to the Lintong Museum.

It wasn’t long before excavation at the initial discovery site began and along with the unearthing of thousands of warriors, numerous terracotta horses and other animals were discovered to be buried on the site.

Not long after the site was discovered and confirmed to be of significant historical and cultural importance, the Chinese government took control of the area and essentially relocated all of the farmers. The three farmers who had initially made the discovery of the terracotta warriors, now deemed as the eighth wonder of the world and designated as a UNESCO world-class cultural site, were also stripped of any recognition for their magnificent discovery.

It was not until many years later that the American President Bill Clinton implored the Chinese government to formally recognize the three farmers for their contribution to what is perhaps the greatest discovery in Chinese history.

Don’t let the large crowds who visit the terracotta warriors at pit 1 discourage you. The site of the terracotta warriors complex is massive and doesn’t feel crowded at all. You can walk around the entire enclosed perimeter and enjoy unhurried, splendid views from the front, sides, and back.

How the Terracotta Warriors were Made

1. Make the figure’s torso from the pedestal to the collar;

2. Make the head, arms, and hands;

3. Dry in the shade and assemble the arms and hands;

4. Carve the body parts in detail;

5. Install the head to complete a terracotta warrior;

6. Fire the warrior in the kiln;

7. Paint the figure with colored pigments.

Above: Courtesy of

Firing in Kilns

The figures of the terracotta warriors were fired in high-temperature kilns. For even heating, the Qin artisans left small holes in appropriate places on the figure. For example, in the terracotta figure’s neck, there were holes through which flames could evenly enter the figure’s body cavity. During the firing, artisans paid special attention to the degree of heating which was maintained at around 1,000 C (1,830 F). The figures were actually placed in the kiln upside down during firing. This was because the upper part of the figure was heavier than the lower part. It was more stable to put the figures in this way, which shows that Chinese workers had mastered the concept of center-of-gravity as early as two thousand years ago.

It is understandable how the villagers who first discovered the site might have thought that the warriors were phantoms, ghosts, or zombies!

Only a small portion of the site has been unearthed and many thousands of objects still remain buried and unrestored.

Inside the museum, some of the more significant relics are displayed so that you can get a close-up view of their fine detail and workmanship.

Yang Zhifa was one of the three farmers who had discovered the terracotta warriors as they dug a well. He and the rest of the villagers were stripped of their property and relocated. Yang received 5,000 yuan in compensation for his 167 square meters of land and was given a tiny three-room flat. The other relocated villagers received similar meager compensation for their now very valuable land. This made the villagers very angry with Yang: if they had had to leave their homes it was “because of him.” To get away from their hostile looks and remarks, he moved away from the village.

Above, very rare photos of Yang Zhifa, signing my book. The Chinese government discourages the taking of his photo.

The Chinese government eventually relented and encouraged the museum to give Yang Zhifa a job, signing autographs for visitors. “At first I was earning CNY300 (about US$44.00) a month. By the time I retired it was CNY1,000.” said Yang. His time of honor and glory came when President Bill Clinton visited the museum and asked for his autograph.

Have you given any thought to how these objects were made? Have you given thought to what a Herculean effort it must have taken to construct them? Can you even comprehend the great effort that it has taken so far to restore them to their former glory?

If you are going to China, you should most certainly visit the site of the terracotta warriors. Considered by many to be the eighth wonder of the world, it should be near the very top of your bucket list.  It will be an uncomparable drop in the bucket.

All photographs are the copyright of Jim Jackson Photography and Nida Jackson Photography. Please contact me for authorization to use any photos or for hand-signed, high-resolution copies.

Certain excerpts courtesy of

























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