Chinese Terracotta Army Invades Budapest

An internationally successful exhibition of replicas of China's first emperor’s famous ancient terracotta army arrived in Budapest this summer. The show features some 170 quality replicas of the most famous clay figures in the world.

The legendary terracotta warriors, sometimes referred to as ‘the 8th wonder of the ancient world’ can normally only be viewed in China, in the vast earthen pits where they were first discovered. “Not many people have the chance to travel to China to see the original ones. Therefore, our exhibition ‘The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army’ is a rare opportunity to see them up close, even if these, exhibited here at VAM Design Center, are not the “real thing,” says project coordinator Gabriella Tóth. According to her, the Chinese government closely watches the originals and in the past 15 years it does not loan them abroad, unless a huge insurance is paid. “The replicas have been made by the traditional production method of yellow clay, like the originals,” Tóth continues. “Every one of them was modeled by hand to match original details. Once a viewer stands among the silent lines of soldiers and focuses on them, it’s easy to drift back in time to ancient China.” The exhibition hopes to give visitors a chance to learn about Chinese history and at least convey a feeling of the real Terracotta Army in China. At VAM Design Center, visitors can see a hall with 100 warriors, placed on sand in the positions in which they were uncovered by archaeologists. There are projections to watch where you can see the pits in China. In a small cinema, a movie plays about the discovery of the treasure. The exhibition is up until Sep 18.

The original figures

The terracotta army has lain underground for more than 2,000 years and was discovered by accident in 1974, when local farmers digging a well broke into a pit containing life-size terracotta figures. Then archaeologists began the explorations, revealing two further pits both filled with further terracotta warriors in precise military formation indicating rank and duty. According to current estimates, the statue army of the mausoleum represents the exact number of the imperial guards, i.e. more than 8,000 warriors and horses, chariots, officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians. The figures were manufactured in workshops by government laborers and by local craftsmen. From their looks, and the arch of their moustaches, to the folds of their clothes, some of them are unique works of art. Studies show that eight face moulds were most likely used, and then clay was added to provide individual facial features. The head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. It is believed that their legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would make it an assembly line production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired. Considering their sizes and weights, the firing process probably meant a record performance in the potter’s craft of the period. The Terracotta Army supply abundant and detailed artifacts for the study of the military, cultural and economic history of that period. At the tomb, extremely sharp swords and other weapons were found too, coated with chromium oxide which made the weapons rust resistant.

Up until now, only few visitors, such as Queen Elizabeth II, have been permitted to walk through the pits, side by side to the army.

Scientists also revealed that the army was created for the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang di, an amazing but megalomaniac man who conquered and united China from a collection of warring states. He is also remembered for an obsessive quest for the secret of immortality and the fanatical fear of death. He did die though. His burial hill with the terracotta army can be found in the valley of River Wei, approximately 15 kilometers to east from Xi’an, which is today the capital of Shaanxi Province. This area had been the centre of Chinese civilization before the end of the first millennium AD and was the eastern end of the Silk Road. Based on records, some 700,000 people worked on the construction, which is amazing, considering the fact that China in the period had a population of approximately 20 million inhabitants.

Although there have been several talks about the Emperor’s crypts since the beginning of times, not even the slightest hint on the Terracotta Army buried in the immediate vicinity has ever been dropped. It has not been clarified so far why this large-scale work performed parallel with the construction of the burial hill has no mark in the written sources.

The Terracotta Warriors form just one of the many barriers Qin Shi Huang di employed to protect his tomb for eternity. According to Sima Qian's "The Historical Records" written a century later the emperor died, there is a chamber in the tomb, where “heaven and earth are both present: the ceiling, inlaid with pearls, represents the starry heavens, the floor, made of stone, forms a map of the Chinese kingdom; a hundred rivers of mercury flow across it, and all manner of treasure is protected by deadly booby-traps.” According to the script, it was commanded that no craftsman should survive the constructions: they were locked up between the stone gates of the tomb alive. Also, the emperor’s 3,000 wives and concubines followed him to the grave, too.

This main chamber has still to be excavated - partly because archaeologists are still uncertain of its exact location. Often Emperors amassed huge burial mounds simply to divert robbers' attention from the true site of their tomb. So the artificial mound that today marks the Emperor's tomb does not necessarily indicate the location of the wondrous central chamber. Recent scientific work at the site has shown high levels of mercury in the soil on and around Mount Lishan, appearing to add credence to Sima Qian's writings. In 1979 Emperor Qin's Terra-Cotta Warriors and Horses Museum was opened to the public, receiving over 2,000,000 Chinese and Foreign Tourists a year. In December 1987, UNESCO selected the Tomb of the First Emperor and the Terracotta Army as a World Cultural Heritage Site.


The First Emperor wanted to be sure he was protected but he also wanted to be entertained. Archaeologists, who discovered 11 acrobats and strongmen figures in the tomb, claim that these performers appear to look like those in the modern day Shanghai Circus. Historians had believed that the idea for acrobatics did not evolve until the Han dynasty, however this new discovery disproves that theory. When the First Emperor was not being entertained by his circus performers, he enjoyed the music of a string orchestra. When these musicians played, the water birds would dance around a stream. The emperor had 15 terra cotta musicians and 46 bronze water birds placed in his tomb. During the Qin Dynasty, the Imperial Music Bureau was founded. The bureau was responsible for supervising court and military music. The Music Bureau decided which folk music would be officially recognized. This was a very important task because the First Emperor believed that this music would keep harmony and longevity within his state.

Qin Shi Huang Di

The King, then the First Emperor of Qin (originally named Ying Zheng) was born in 259, and he was hardly 13 years old when he inherited royal power. By the age of 38, he conquered the six neighboring states to unify China for the first time. Although reviled for his tyranny, he is also admired for many radical and insightful policies which subsequent dynasties employed. To synthesize seven separate states into one nation, he standardized a common script and he introduced standard weights and measures, and money. For effective government, he codified a legal system and replaced hereditary rulers with a centrally appointed administrative system. To improve industrial productivity he encouraged agricultural reforms and constructed many roads. And in an effort to limit the inroads of barbarian tribes, he supervised the construction of the first Great Wall. Although China benefited from these policies, thousands of Chinese workers died in completing this far-reaching public works program.

Réka Alíz Francisck

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