The army of the dead

- Prakash Chandra Timilsena

Nov 12, 2016-

With China establishing itself as the world’s fastest growing economy and largest trading nation; we tend to overlook the fact that China is also one of the four ancient civilizations alongside Babylon, Indus valley and Egypt. The country boasts  an amicably blended, rich and profound culture with at least 3,600 years of written history. 

If you find yourself in Xian, Shaanxi Province, an area known for the most sensational archaeological discoveries over the past decades, there are two sights not to be missed. 

The Terracotta Army is the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century. The army consisting of around 8,000 terracotta soldiers, along with other finds from the tomb of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi (221-210 BC), was excavated in 1974. The site caught attention of the archaeologists when a group of peasants uncovered some pottery while digging for a well nearby the royal tomb. 

When a museum housing life size terracotta figures of warriors and horses arranged in battle formations was complete; people from near and far came to visit. The Museum 

of Qin Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses have become landmarks on all visitors’ itinerary. They reflect an important period in the history of China after all. 

The Terracotta Army is undoubtedly Xian’s biggest attraction, but there is another lesser known subterranean army that is just as impressive. Han Yangling, the burial place for emperor of the Western Han Dynasty, Liu Qi, and his wife, empress Wang, has an underground army that is six times larger and houses around 40,000 individuals that are supposed to have taken 28 years to construct. The excavations for this site began in  the 1980s. 

The absence of jostling hordes of tourists proves not many know that this accidental site accommodates tomb of royalties, incredible relics, hundreds of armless and naked human figurines along with pottery kilns that intimately echo Chinese way of living of the time. What also differentiates the Qin warriors from the Han warriors is the latter are one third size of the former and are said to once have had colourful silk attire and movable wooden limbs that have now disintegrated.

Both Qin and Han army are form of funerary art buried with the royalties in order to protect them in the afterlife. The armies are said to help propitiate the spirits while also preventing their unwelcome intrusion into the affairs of the living in the area.  

Varying greatly across history, funerary arts have served as an expression of cultural values as well as striking reminder of mortality.  

The Egyptian pyramids and Tutankhamn’s treasure, East Anglian Sutton Hoo ship burial, and India’s Taj Mahal are the best known funerary arts from past cultures.

Published: 12-11-2016 09:23

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