All About History
The inside story on the imperial funerary statues that came to captivate the globe
China’s Terracotta Warriors have enthralled the world since their initial unearthing in 1974, which revealed the ambition of the country’s very first emperor in ensuring his protection in the afterlife. Millions of people have flocked to this ancient site at Xi’an in Shaanxi Province in the decades since, global archaeological excitement on a scale
Author Edward Burman Publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson Price £25 Released Out now
surely only comparable to Howard Carter’s discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. With a much-anticipated exhibition exploring the warriors now open at Liverpool’s World Museum, author Edward Burman has published his take on their mysterious story.
The first work for the general reader to assimilate the most recent analysis, the book aims to engage its audience in this remarkable chapter of China’s history in just 220 pages — and succeed it does.
Terracotta Warriors is divided into three parts corresponding to its title: history, mystery, and latest discoveries. The first is a fascinating journey documenting the rise of the Qin dynasty, who in generations transcended their origins as a vassal state to rule all of China. The reign of Qin Shi Huang as the first emperor was short but will be remembered in posterity thanks to his creations.
The book really gets going as we delve into the mystery of why and how the warriors were created as part of the emperor’s grand mausoleum complex, believed to span about 100 square kilometres. They were discovered by chance by farmers in 1974 and we now know that there are more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with
520 horses and 150 cavalry horses in the Terracotta Army, alongside other figures including acrobats and musicians.
Yet despite this knowledge, much of the warriors’ existence is still an enigma. Could the influence of Greek thought and art in nearby regions have inspired these life-sized figures, unprecedented in China? And was their purpose really to defend their immortality-seeking emperor in the afterlife, or was the intent for them to be used in rituals and ceremonies? Whatever the truth, this is absorbing content, providing a compelling insight into ancient Chinese culture. Burman not only explores how the Qin ancestors paved the way for Qin
Shi Huang — both in terms of his emperorship and his mausoleum — but also examines how they saw the world and interacted with it.
The tales and theories are perfectly complemented by archaeological evidence, with the book rounded off by discussions on the latest research and what else archaeologists yearn to discover in the coming years. Readers new to this period — or who are perhaps not usually drawn to works focusing on ancient eras — should not be put off as Burman presents complex ideas and processes in an accessible style, and indeed his fascinating book may even encourage you to read more about China’s undoubtedly rich history.
There is clearly much more to discover at the site and one day the world may face the tantalising prospect of the emperor’s burial chamber being opened. However, as one archaeologist tells Burman, that likely won’t be in our lifetimes. What is certain is that we’ll be talking about the Terracotta Warriors for a long while yet.
Terracotta Warriors is an impressively wide-ranging work of popular history that is grounded in a wealth of fact and theory.