Photo (c) Clare Golden
The exhibition, China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors, currently running at World Museum in Liverpool features one hundred and twenty-five cultural artefacts. The exhibits include life-sized terracotta figures in various postures and with different facial expressions. It also includes exquisite gold, silver, bronze, ceramic, and jade objects. Incidentally, Liverpool has one of the oldest Chinese communities in Europe. Excavations over the last 40 years have revealed 2,000 sculptures. However, it is estimated that there are some 8,000 warriors and horses in total.
Each life-size Terracotta Warrior weighed between 110 and 300 kilos and measured about 1.8 metres in height. They are equipped with lethal bronze weapons. Buried in three pits, they include infantry, cavalry, charioteers, archers, and crossbowmen. So far, more than 40,000 bronze weapons have been found including swords, lances, halberds, spears, dagger-axes, hooks, arrows, crossbow triggers and ceremonial weapons.
The Terracotta Warriors bear the stamps or carved names of their makers. Lin and Li, in their book to accompany the Liverpool Exhibition, state:
“Each Terracotta Warrior was built from the ground upwards in a succession of body parts made from thick coils of clay, while its head was made and fired separately, with soft clay used to fill any gaps between the head and body. A considerable amount of sculptural detail, including robes, scale armour, hair and facial features was then added by hand.”
After firing, each Terracotta Warrior was covered in lacquer before various bright pigments were applied.
Warring States and the Rise of the Qin
During the Spring and Autumn Period (770-475 BC), the Zhou territory was formed of 148 small states that were all related to the Zhou royal family. Wars continuously reduced the number of states, and ultimately seven strong states emerged during the late Warring States Period, each competing to unify China: the Han, Zhao, Wei, Chu, Yan, Qi, and Qin.
States’ armies were small in scale at this time, with no more than 30,000 men, and battles usually lasted less than a day. During the later Warring States Period (475-221 BC), the scale of battles expanded, and military techniques improved. States erected defensive walls along state boundaries. Northern states, such as the Zhao, Yan, and Qin, built walls right along their state borders to defend against invasion by northern nomads. Following the unification of China in 221 BC, the First Emperor connected these walls, to form the original ‘Great Wall’.
The Warring States Period was age of chaos and bloody battles, but it was also a golden age of Chinese philosophy. The Legalist philosophy adopted by the Qin pronounced that human nature was inherently selfish and more disposed to do bad than good, and that the only way to preserve the social order was to impose discipline and strict law enforcement. The ensuing reform of the legal system conceived by the Qin statesman, Shang Yang (c 385-338 BC), which rewarded those who behaved well but punished wrong doers, laid the foundations for the Qin unification of China. However, the concentration of power also accelerated the collapse of the Empire after the death of the First Emperor.
|Terracotta Warriors with horses |
Photo: Clare Golden
The Origins of Ying Zheng
In 246 BC, King Zhuangxiang died, and Ying Zheng became King of the Qin at just 13 years of age. He too appointed Lu Buwei as his chancellor but given the King’s youth and inexperience, the cunning ex-merchant effectively controlled the kingdom of Qin. When he was aged 22, Ying Zheng finally banished Lu Buwei and replaced him with another advisor, Li Si.
Before unification only aristocrats could hold rank and power, but the Qin created a system of ranks and grades that rewarded all men for success in battle. Success was measured by the number of decapitated heads of enemies taken; one head was rewarded with one rank, two heads with two ranks etc, the officers were given rank depending on the number of heads their subordinates removed.
Standardisation and Innovations
Together with the Great Wall, the road network, the Lingqu canal and the famed mausoleum, the building of the Emperor’s palaces was one of the largest construction projects in the Empire. After several relocations, the Qin capital was finally moved to Xianyang, about 12 miles north-west of present day Xi’an, in 350 BC by Duke Xiao.
To control the rich and powerful families of his conquered kingdoms, the Emperor ordered 120,000 influential families to relocate to Xianyang city. He also ordered the families to recreate the famous halls and palaces of their conquered kingdoms along the north bank of the Wei River. The buildings were linked to one another so that the First Emperor might walk among them and contemplate his many triumphs.
The Death of the Emperor
Between 220 and 210 BC, Qin Shi Huang made five inspection tours of his realm, and had seven inscribed stelae (stone tablets) erected on sacred mountains. The stelae inscription texts are valuable sources of information about Qin literature and ritual. During his third tour in 218 BC, the First Emperor survived an assassination attempt in Wuyang (in present day Guangdong Province). The First Emperor conducted his fifth tour in 210 BC, again to the east, but died on the return journey, aged just 49.
Qin Shi Huang was fearful of death and searched for an elixir that would make him immortal. At the same time, he commissioned the building of his mausoleum at the foot of Li Mountain, 35 kilometres from the modern city of Xi’an. He ordered the palace alchemists to make potions which contained mercury in the hope it would extend his life, little realising that mercury is poisonous.
In death, as in life, Qin Shi Huang had everything to continue his rule: a Terracotta Army to protect him; bronze chariots for travelling; terracotta acrobats for his entertainment; an arsenal storing stone armour, stables full of horse skeletons, and his concubines buried alive with him.
Those who accompanied the Emperor on his final inspection tour, particularly Zhao Gao and Li Si, concealed the news of his death and instead returned to Xianyang with the intention of naming a new emperor of their choosing. They had the Emperor’s corpse concealed in the imperial chariot, and to mask the putrid stench in the summer heat they loaded a cart with salted fish to accompany the chariot back to the capital.
The First Emperor had many concubines and fathered many sons and daughters. Fu Su, his eldest son and likely heir, had displeased the Emperor by criticising his father’s book burning and had been sent away to the northern border. However, the Emperor had given orders suggesting that Fu Su should become his successor.
Zhao Gao ignored these wishes and through political manipulation engineered the accession of Hu Hai, a younger son of the Emperor with whom he had become friendly. Fu Su was forced to commit suicide and Zhao Gao also contrived the death of General Meng Tian, known for his military abilities and the construction of the Great Wall. Following the suicide of the Second Emperor, Zhao Gao placed his own nominee, Ziying, on the throne.
The Qin Dynasty was short-lived. After Qin Shi Huang died it ended abruptly due to the influence of Zhao Gao and the weakness of the Second Emperor. Within five years of the First Emperor’s death, peasant rebels had stormed Xianyang and one of the leaders, Liu Bang, had taken the throne and established the Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220).
The Han Dynasty lasted for more than 400 years and rivalled the almost contemporary but smaller Roman Empire in the west. A census in AD 2 records almost 60 million people in the Chinese Empire.
The Qin and Han Legacies
Modern China retains many of the vestiges of both the Qin Empire and its longer-lived successor, the Han Dynasty. This is evident in the physical structures that remain but also in the beliefs and cultural practices of the Chinese people. Much of Chinese culture can be traced back to the Han Dynasty. It was an era of peace and prosperity that allowed China to expand to become a major world power.
The Han love of jade also continues. The Qin influence is probably best evidenced by the physical structures that remain, The Great Wall of China, the road network, the Lingqu Canal, and of course the First Emperor’s tomb are all prominent relic of the Qin’s extreme ambition and power.
This article is based on the book: China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors by
James CS Lin and Xiuzhen Li – Edited by Karen Miller (2018) which accompanies the exhibition at the World Museum, Liverpool which runs until 28th October 2018.