The lesser known terracotta army of Hanyangling

The Mausoleum of the Western Han Emperor JingDi.

Considered to be the most important discovery of the last 25 years, the Yangling Mausoleum is the joint tomb of the Western Han Dynasty Emperor JingDi (Liuqi) and his Empress, Wang.

This short account is intended to highlight the importance of this discovery and of it's significance in MINGQI.

Most people are aware of the terracotta army of the First Emperor, Qin. Whilst digging for water in 1974, peasant farmers near Xian stumbled across what was to become the most famous discoverey in Chinese history.

About 1 km from the mausoleum they disovered pits containing life-size, terracotta statues of soldiers.
Subsequent excavation revealed a complete army of about 6,000 in battle formation and accompanied by horses and chariots.

This was the army that was to accompany Qin in the afterlife.

Now a National treasure, the excavated pits and reconstructed statues can be viewed by the public.
Excavations are still continuing at the site and it is expected that further discoveries are imminent.

When Qin died in 206 BC the Imperial Han dynasty was born. The Han were only too aware of the existance of the army as it took over 25 years to complete and required thousands of workmen and vast amounts of materials to construct. They continued the practice of burying terracotta statues in underground chambers for use in the afterlife but never on such a grand scale as Qin's army.

The first three Han Emperors were known to have had lavish burials with all that they could need in the next life but it was fourth Emperor, JingDi, who died in 141 BC, who attempted to emulate Qin and his vast, subterranean army.

The mausoleum of JingDi is the most eastern of the nine Western Han Imperial Mausoleums and is located on the Loess Plateau some 22 kilometers from both Xianyang airport and Xian.

The mausoleum site covers an area of more than 10 square kilometers - nearly 6 kilometers east to west and almost 3 kilometers north to south. The tomb itself is a staggering 32 meters high with circumferences of 670 meters and 238 meters at the bottom and top respectively similar to a topless pyramid.

The tomb of his Empress wife, Wang, is on the same site and although smaller, is still an impressive structure.

Once again digging for water in the late 1980s, farmers came across an amazing discovery. The authorities were alerted and in 1990 controlled excavations began.

They found 81 pits, some 10 meters long and others more than 100 meters long, radiating from the Emperors tomb like numbers on a clock dial.

Each pit contained terracotta goods for the afterlife including thousands of animals, dogs, sheep, goats and pigs all formally laid out ready for slaughter.



There were stoves, grain jars, wine vessels, horses and chariots all intended for the Emperor's use in the next life.

What amazed historians even more was the discovery of thousands of nude and semi-nude, armless figures of warriors one third life-size.

The statues had been placed in battle formation and, although the some of the pits had collapsed in antiquity causing severe damage, some had remained intact with the warriors still in their original positions surrounded by compacted soil.


The warriors were mostly between 55 - 63 cm in height and all were armless. On each shoulder a circular hole would have once housed a wooden pin that held (probable) wooden or slik arms in place.

What was striking were their faces. The torsos and legs had been made out of near soild clay and luted together prior to firing but the heads had been made in moulds and were incredibly detailed. Some had high cheek bones indicating that they represented the northern tribes yet others had soft, almost sensual faces.

It was clear that although the bodies had been mass produced a great amount of time and effort had gone into the production of the heads which seemed to include examples from all the diverse tribes that made up the Han army.

Most were naked clearly showing their sexual organs however, some were modelled with long skirts painted in red or orange leading researchers to believe that they had never been clothed in any outer garments.

Detailed examination revealed that some still had the remains of cloth attached to their heads and bodies which had almost welded to the clay strongly indicating that clothing of some kind had been used.

After much painstaking research officials reported that the warriors had indeed been clothed in brightly coloured silk robes and then placed in the pits in battle formation.

Witnesses to this "burial" would have seen row upon row of warriors dressed in the most vibrant of colours. Blue, red and orange robes now covered the naked torsos leaving only their faces uncovered, it must have been a spectacular sight and one that the Emperor had carefully planned.

Amongst this vast army archaeologists found a small number of female statues. Their long hair had been carefully modelled in a ponytail and great attention paid to their faces and sexual organs.

The reason that females were represented is not known however, some historians suggest the the Han army had a highly trained female unit which would have fought alongside their male collegues.

The Chinese authorities have built an underground museum at the Yangling site (the first such museum in China) and visitors can walk over some of the pits and view the ongoing excavations.

This impressive structure is softly lit and highlights well the importance of JingDi's legacy to the world for it is thanks to finds such as this that scholars can piece together a clearer picture of life in ancient China.

The lesser known terracotta army of JingDi may be smaller and more modest than that of the First Emperor but it's cultural and historical importance is incalculable.


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