China History Travel

Terracotta Army

Kept undercover in large vaulted hangers on the outskirts of Xi’an lies one of the worlds greatest historical treasures constructed on the orders of the First Emperor of China in 210 BC to protect him the after-life.

Xi\'an Terracotta Army
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The Terracotta Army, consisting of over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, was discovered by accident in 1974 by a local farmer who was digging a well. Only part of the site has been uncovered to date and along with the terracotta figures was also found the remains of many of those who constructed it were buried alive to protect the secret. The biggest mystery of the emperor’s tomb still remains unearthed and is alleged to contain rivers of mercury.

The main collection of figures is arranged in military formation according to rank and duty in pits 7m below ground level. It’s one of the earliest examples of mass production where moulds were used to create each part separately before assembly. Every head was customised to give unique facial features and legend 1has it that these were based on real people.

Whilst the artefacts are an incredible sight the museum itself leaves a lot to be desired. There is little in the way of written information to explain what you’re seeing and this appears to be a way of trying to coerce people into paying for guides to show them around. Case in point I was told when entering “even Chinese can’t understand what they’re seeing without a guide“! As a matter of principle, I turned down the guides offer and made do with the information in my Rough Guides book. My other complaint would be the over-commercialisation of the site which, as with much in China, sadly seems to be more focused on making money than the amazing history.

Aside from the presentational deficiencies, this is a place not to be missed if you’re in this part of the world.


Originally from the UK, David is designer and wanderer currently based in Kamakura. Prior to this, he lived in China and longs to explore more of this vast and varied land. He started Randomwire in 2003 to chronicle his travels and occasional musings. Feel free to drop him a line.

5 Comments Add New Comment

  1. sabrina says:

    Hi, very interesting to read ur writting.
    Don’t know whether you watched the movie “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”. A different way to tell this heritage.

    BTW, I also joined in the fireworks playing here on new year eve. Dutch people were more crazy than Chinese. Hehe…They even burn scraps of firework papers on street,started fire. Kids could light firework to explode trash can for a whole day….

  2. Rebecca says:

    Very commercialised and I thought the museum was awful, but thankfully that was the start of my visit and therefore could be forgotten quite quickly 🙂 When I went with my family we visited the pits in reverse order from smallest to largest. The main pit blew my mind!

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