The terracotta warriors from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, which is included on the list of World Heritage sites of the UNESCO, have come ashore in Taiwan! The 17 warriors now on display at the National Museum of History represent the largest contingent from the ancient tomb ever to travel on loan outside of mainland China.
"Reporting to the general, sir! A mob of thousands has surrounded the building!" A mounted warrior delivers the dire news to his commander, whose high rank can be seen in his tasseled helmet and coat of mail.
The "mob," of course, is thirsty not for blood. They just want a glimpse of the warriors. Although the warriors may not be aware of it, they are the star attraction at a blockbuster exhibit showing now at the National Museum of History in Taipei. Since opening on December 15, the exhibit has touched off a wave of enthusiasm in Taiwan for the terracotta warriors, and lines for admission have often snaked along the street for hundreds of meters. Over 20,000 advance tickets have been sold, and group visits are already booked solid to the end of January. Many schools in central and southern Taiwan are renting buses by the dozen to ferry their students up to Taipei, and lots of foreign tourists are also coming by for a look.
Shaanxi Province was hit by a long drought in the summer of 1974. The farmer Yang Zhifa and a neighbor were digging a well when a shovel clinked on something hard. Yang exclaimed, "Whoa! It's them!" Locals had talked for generations about the buried clay figures that they would sometimes run across while digging in the fields. Everyone knew they were out there, but no one knew quite what they were. People figured they must have been connected with ancestral spirits of some sort. Anxious not to run afoul of the netherworld, the farmers would always hurriedly throw dirt back over the spot and find a better place to dig. This time, however, Yang Zhifa went a step further. He reported the incident to his superiors at the local commune. It wasn't long before archeologists were swarming over the site, unearthing an army of terracotta warriors that had lain buried for over 2,000 years. The stunning discovery was dubbed the eighth wonder of the world.
The terracotta army gives a graphic illustration of the grand scale of Qin Shi Huang's ambitions. It also shows how technologically advanced China already was when Qin Shi Huang was buried some 2,200 years ago.
In order to create the feel of an actual descent into the emperor's tomb, the museum has arranged the exhibit so that visitors enter on the second floor and descend from there into a tomb-like atmosphere on the first floor, where the dimly lit space affords a glimpse of what was on the emperor's mind during the years he was busily uniting China for the very first time in history.
Qin Shi Huang united China in the year 221 B.C. He regarded his achievements as "surpassing those of the Three Kings and Five Emperors of old," and appointed himself "the first true emperor," or Qin Shi Huang. A believer in the possibility of immortality, the emperor once dispatched a trusted aide on a voyage across the seas to search for magic herbs that would provide eternal youth. Perhaps as "plan B," he also poured vast resources into the construction of a burial mound equipped with all the accoutrements that he was accustomed to in the here and now. The population of the kingdom of Qin at that time was about 20 million, of whom over 2 million were mobilized to bring his grand underground palace to completion. Now that the complex has been discovered, it is unquestionably the life-size terracotta warriors and horses that inspire the most amazement.
The 8,000 figures that have been unearthed at the site in Shaanxi Province were all executed with painstaking realism. The rank of each figure determined every little detail of its making, right down to the type of military uniform, cap, armor, hairstyle, and beard. Artisans even incised the soles of th