Spring 2015: Chinese Ceramics- Terra Cotta Soldiers of the Qin Dynasty 221-207 BCE

Perhaps the Terra Cotta Soldiers are an obvious thing to write about, given that they are probably the most widely known of Chinese ceramic cultural icons. However, as I was reading about them again during the course of this semester, I was reminded of the Fort Hays State University trip I had the privilege to participate in, during 2006.  I remember the vastness of the excavated space (see my first photo from the 2006 trip), and the surmise that there may be many more soldiers outside the covered area, reaching out into the surrounding farmland.  Seeing as the soldiers were discovered by a farmer working his fields in the early 1970s, who knows what else could be out there, and who will find it?

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The sheer number figures, and environments within the tomb, is mind-boggling, but get this- each soldier’s face is different, or at least vary widely, bringing some historians to believe that many, if not all, were modeled after the soldier being depicted. Each soldier had its place, and a role to play within the overall tomb setting. The second photo, taken at the entrance to Headquarters, shows Generals lined up to keep watch and advise the Emperor.  Their heads were plundered during a raid. (Thanks to Linda Ganstrom for clarifying the details I had forgotten.)

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What has repeatedly dazzled me about these figures is the story of them, the epic layers of a somewhat darkly fairytale setting. On one side you have a tomb complex in dedication to an Emperor who took on great endeavors, like building the Great Wall, as well as his own extravagant tomb, both as a celebration and an exhibit of ego. On the other hand, this multi-layered tomb is a view into how deeply the Emperor may have feared losing his grasp of his nation.  Of course this is a tradition, supplying your tomb with supplies for the afterlife, but taken to the extent of supplying yourself with armies in a maze-like plot, each tunnel and room with its own protective purpose, seems intense. And in the end, even thousands of Terra Cotta soldiers couldn’t keep his tomb from being plundered.

Beyond this element, though, are each of the  individual soldiers, who were (ostensibly) each a real person, with their own stories and views. And the workers who were constructing the soldiers and the horses, and building the tomb environs, were definitely real people, each with their own experiences.  The number of stories and experiences all rooted within this space increases exponentially as you step further out…  There are probably families in this area who had ancestors working on this massive project. Did older generations have legends and stories about their own families tied to this tomb, before they faded away with time?  What are we building that a farmer is going to dig up in 2000 years and try to learn the story of?

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