As time went on Qin Shi Huang became obsessed with living forever, the thought of dying terrified him. He was determined to find the ‘elixir of life’ in order to achieve immortality and was desperate for his scholars and alchemists to find him something that would defeat this inevitability and had many killed for failing. Ironically it is believed that he died because he had ingested mercury pills given to him by his alchemists. It was this obsession with his own death that lead him to order the construction of his own mausoleum in 215 BCE.
Construction of the Mausoleum
General Meng Tian was tasked with building the mausoleum and it’s thought that somewhere around 720,000 unpaid labourers were involved in its construction. What is interesting is that the main tomb which contains the Emperor himself has not yet been excavated and this is, according to an ancient Chinese historian named Sima Qian housed such marvels as rare utensils and objects, palaces, towers and one hundred rivers made with mercury. In fact, soil tests have been done on the area and shown extremely high levels of mercury so there may be some truth in these writings. It was also noted that the tomb is filled crossbows rigged to shoot at anyone who enters.
Though this tomb has not yet been uncovered other sections of the mausoleum have been and it’s through this amazing find the we have been able to uncover thousands of terracotta statues that fill the ground. As of 2007 it was estimated that there were approximately 8000 soldiers, 150 cavalry horses and 130 chariots with 520 horses housed here along with none military figures such as officials, musicians, acrobats and strongmen.
The soldiers are without a doubt the most iconic of these statues, likely due to their vast number. Each one is life size and is a marvel of art, with nothing this large and detailed in Chinese culture previously. Though each figure appears to be different the faces were cast from only ten molds. Uniform and hairstyles differ depending on rank though many outfits are changed slightly with placement of things like shin pads and differing trouser lengths. Though now they have a distinctive dark monochromatic tone they were initially painted with vibrant colours. Even now they are a sight to behold however to see them on early completion would have seemed an astounding sight of realism.
Since their revelation statues from collection have been displayed in several museums across the world. They are an extremely coveted exhibition and it should come as no surprise they bring tourists from all over to these museums in order to get a glimpse of these ancient guardians. Between 2007 and 2008 the exhibition was housed at the British Museum, its presence made 2008 the most successful year in its history. Today you can visit the excavation of the mausoleum and see this impressive army of stone located in Lintong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province of China for yourself.
Who knows, perhaps even more of this eternal empire will be uncovered by then?