By Janice Nesamani
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
For over 2,000 years, they lay underground — silently guarding China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
In 1974, they were accidentally disturbed from their eternal watch by farmers digging a well in Xi’an in the Shaanxi province of China, revealing a site that is estimated to spread over 38 square miles. Now, the Terracotta Army has made its way to Seattle. A few members of the Emperor’s guard have come to life at the Pacific Science Center (PSC). PSC, along with the Franklin Institute of Philadelphia, worked together with the Chinese government to give Seattle a glimpse into the history, mystery, and technology that surrounds the Emperor’s monumental burial site.
The exhibit has a flair for the dramatic and it begins at the entrance, where you come face to face with a brave commanding officer. Several of these officers were positioned in the Emperor’s tomb. Much like the ancient Egyptians, the Chinese believed in burying their dead with the provisions and luxuries required in the afterlife. The First Emperor was obsessed with immortality, supposedly even having ingested mercury in a bid to live longer. So, it comes as some surprise that he decided to commission his massive burial site at the age of 13. Having built an impressive army to unify China during his lifetime, he decided on an ingenious way to take this might with him — creating intricately designed (yes they were painted) clay replicas.
His mausoleum is the largest burial site in the world and contains over 8,000 life-size terracotta figures of army generals and commanders, along with other luxuries crafted in jade and bronze. “There are 208 artifacts from the mausoleum site, including 10 warriors at the exhibit. What people forget is that there are more than just terracotta warriors. We have what we think is a musician, an official or clerk, a horse, and a cavalry man, among others at the exhibit,” said Dr. Lisa C. Niziolek, who served as the guest curator of the exhibition. She recommends visitors pay close attention to the bronze weapons that were molded for the large army.
Qin Shi Huang introduced standardization of weights, measures, and currency in China. The exhibit has pieces of small change that show you how they were crafted. Even though he must have been an exacting ruler, one cannot deny that creating an army of over 8,000 terracotta figures by using more than 2.4 million pounds of clay and 70,000 workers is a feat to marvel.
In awe of the scale of the First Emperor’s Army, Will Daugherty, president and CEO of PSC, says he wants people to be intrigued by this exhibit. “How did they create so many large, very intricate, and beautiful objects in a mass production technique 2,200 years ago — long before Henry Ford invented the assembly line? How did they know to use these materials? How did they go about designing such fantastic and intricate facilities? Then, the big puzzle — what is inside the emperor’s tomb? And we won’t know that till someone figures out how to open it without damaging what’s inside.”
The exhibit gives you ways to satiate your curiosity with interactive pieces that let you craft your own terracotta warrior and discover the advantages of using stamps to mass produce pieces before bringing you into the Emperor’s burial chamber — a dark room with a tomb in the center. The chamber has not been opened yet and many myths surround it. Large amounts of mercury were found around the Emperor’s tomb or there could be booby traps, or worse — opening it could damage the Emperor’s remains, ending the exhibit with more intrigue.
The Terracotta Warriors are on display at the Pacific Science Center until Sept. 4, 2017.
Janice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.