The Terracotta Army Essay

The Terracotta Army is one of the most well-known works of Chinese art. In actuality, the Terracotta Army is as well-known all over the world and it is almost as recognizable as the Great Wall in China. In this regard, it is possible to compare the artistic value of the Terracotta Army to the Great Wall, whereas, in certain aspects, the Terracotta Army outpaces the Great Wall and many other works of art created in China as well as worldwide. In such a situation, it is important to dwell upon the fact that the Terracotta Army depicts real army of Chinese emperors of the third century BC and the detailed description of each monument and sculpture makes each unit of the Terracotta Army unique and original. In such a context, the mausoleum seems to be perfectly balanced with the surrounding army as if it is a real palace of the Chinese emperor in the afterlife. However, researchers still argue concerning the purpose of the creation and significance of the Terracotta Army for China and Chinese people in that time, although specialists basically agree on the political significance of the Terracotta Army, which stresses the supremacy of Qin Dynasty that ruled in China in that time.

The discovery of the Terracotta Army was sensational in 1974, where its further studies keep revealing more and more unique and scientifically important artifacts. No wonder, researchers debate concerning the significance and purpose of the creation of the Terracotta Army, which is lined up to protect the mausoleum. 8,000 warriors protect their emperor even in the afterlife. At the same time, specialists point out that “The first indication that the Terracotta Army might contain a secret message came when the archaeologists noted that the shape of the soldiers” faces corresponded with just ten characters in the 10,516-long Chinese alphabet (Kinoshita, 210). On a cold day in early spring, three young farmers drilled their field to sink a well. The next moment all that remained of them was their steaming breath on the icy air as the earth seemed to swallow them up – breath that was rapidly blotted out as a cloud of dust rose in the air. When the men reappeared, they talked excitedly of falling into an ancient passageway which collapsed around them. As the dust and debris of their fall settles, they found themselves staring at a life size army of terracotta soldiers.

But the purpose behind the burial in 220 BC of more than 8,000 intricately carved pottery figures has always been a mystery. Now, a new book by Maurice Cotterell, who is already known for his works on earlier civilizations, claims the figures encode some extraordinary secrets that provide the key to the riddle of human existence (Debainne-Francfort, 215). They can explain how the different signs of the zodiac influence our lives, suggests Cotterell they hold the key to the prediction of disease epidemics and times of well-being; and they show that the level of scientific understanding in ancient civilizations was far more sophisticated than previously realized (214). In fact, the Terracotta Army is the manifestation of the scientific and cultural progress of China in the time of Qin Dynasty’s rule. The creation of such a masterpiece of the ancient art is a symbol of the large opportunities of Chinese artists to create remarkable works that can impress even the contemporary viewers, while scientists view this work of art as the important source of historical information about the past of China and its culture.

The order in which the warriors’ ranks are drawn up, their facial expressions, hairstyles and hand arrangements, even the number of rivets in their clay armor, have a significance apparent only to those with the knowledge to crack the hidden code. According to Cotterell, their message is bound up with Mankind’s quest for the path to enlightenment, and was left behind by Qin Shi Huangdi, China’s first Emperor, the man responsible for these lifelike models (Perkins, 126). For Shi Huangdi believed, like other ancient civilizations, that a human being was half-god (soul), half-devil (body). Only those who succeeded in purifying their souls through sacrifice, self-discipline and love for others could escape an endless cycle of death and rebirth (Dillon, 116).

The story begins when Shi Huangdi, builder of the Great Wall of China, ascended the throne in 246 BC at the age of 13. From that moment, he began preparing the incredible mausoleum that would house his body after death. According to legend, he decreed that his corpse would be clothed in jade, cast adrift on a sea of mercury within a pyramid and protected by an everlasting army (Ledderose, 219).

It is not surprising: the entire underground complex covers four square miles – a subterranean city complete with palace, protective walls and even a cemetery. The mausoleum in which the Emperor himself lay was a pyramid-shaped mound of earth 249ft high and enclosed by two perimeter walls. Contemporary historians describe the tomb, as yet unexcavated, as an underground palace, secluded, bejeweled and surrounded by a scale model of the Chinese empire, complete with mountains, valleys and a circulating river system and lakes of mercury.

Its ceiling was inlaid with pearls and precious gems in star patterns. Lamps, fed by tanks of whale oil, illuminated the twinkling ”˜stars’, their reflections flickering on the silvery surfaces of the quicksilver lakes. In the centre of the biggest lake lay a large sarcophagus. Inside were further sarcophagi, the last one containing the body of the Emperor, clad in a suit made of thousands of pieces of jade stitched together with gold thread (Kinoshita, 149).

This jewel-filled treasure house was protected from entry by a series of Indiana Jones-style booby traps. Concealed tripwires set off bronze-tipped bolts fired from strategically-placed crossbows – still active and glittering, as the archaeological team discovered – with the concealed pits and self-closing doors as further protection. Some workmen never escaped the complex, finding themselves trapped between sets of self-closing double doors. Just under a mile from the outer of the mausoleum’s two walls lie the four pits containing the terracotta warriors – more than 8,000 troops and chariots (Kinoshita, 237).

However, until now, scientists (Ledderose, 173) cannot come to agreement on the purpose of the creation of the Terracotta Army. It proves beyond a doubt that the creation of the Terracotta Army needed substantial financial and human resources the use of which could be justified only by strategically important means. In this regard, it is possible to distinguish the attempt to enhance the power of the Qin Dynasty as one of the major reasons for the creation of the Terracotta Army because Qin Shi Huangdi created the mausoleum surrounded by the Terracotta Army to show his greatness and to inspire his followers to strengthen their position in China and make China the leading power in the region.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the Terracotta Army is a true masterpiece of Chinese art. The Terracotta Army created in the third century BC has a great artistic and historical value. As a result, modern scientists are very concerned with the ongoing research of the artifacts found within the Terracotta Army. The Terracotta Army uncovers secrets of the past of China and Qin Dynasty that ruled in that time. On the other hand, the Terracotta Army shows the great achievements of Chinese art because creators of the army were definitely great artists whose genius still impresses modern scientists and ordinary people.


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