Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor
Mausoleum Of The First Qin Emperor
Cultural China Asia And The Pacific Lintong County, Shaanxi Province

The mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang is the largest preserved one in China. It is a unique architectural ensemble whose layout echoes the urban plan of the capital, Xianyang, with the Imperial Palace enclosed by the walls of the city, themselves encircled by other walls. The mausoleum is also associated with an event of universal significance: the first unification of the Chinese territory in a centralized state created by an absolute monarch, in 221 BC.

The first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (Ying Zheng: 221-210 BC) arranged for his burial place long before his accession to the seat of supreme power. When he became king of Qin in 247 BC, Zheng had his geomancers choose a favourable site at the foot of Mount Li. Work was commenced and was carried out more energetically with each new political and military success over his rivals Han, Zhao, Wei, Chu, Yan and Qi. Following the proclamation of the Empire of Ten Thousand Generations in 221, work at the burial place took on extraordinary dimensions.

About 700,000 workers from every province of the empire toiled unceasingly until the death of the emperor in order to construct a subterranean city within a gigantic mound. The place was a veritable scale model of the palace, the empire and the world. Its treasures were safeguarded by automatically triggered weapons designed to thwart tomb robbers.

After Qin Shi Huang's death, the principal craftsmen of the hypogeum were walled up on the orders of the second emperor, as a precaution against their betraying their secrets. The mausoleum, 35 km from Xian, is still landmarked by an imposing mound 43 m high. The interior is built within a first square enclosure, with doors in the middle of each of the four walls corresponding to the four cardinal points. This in turn is surrounded by a second rectangular enclosure running north-south.

The mausoleum's superstructures have disappeared and there remains only a wooded knoll resembling a truncated pyramid on a 350 m square base. While sinking a well 1.5 km from the exterior eastern wall of the mausoleum's inner room, three peasants from the small village of Yangeun-West came upon a pit in which there were lifesize terracotta statues of warriors. Excavations were begun immediately. Pit 1 contained a veritable army of 1,087 warriors, the infantry and cavalry corps standing in battle formation with archers protecting the flanks. Today it is estimated that there are a potential 6,000 statues of warriors and horses in that one pit alone, which has floored galleries 230 m long. It is now entirely enclosed by the site museum.

Two other pits were discovered just north of Pit 1 and were found to contain similar items - 1,500 warriors, carts and horses in Pit 2, and 68 officers and dignitaries and a cart with four horses in Pit 3. These pits were provisionally backfilled and the objects extracted from them displayed in exhibition rooms flanking the north and south ends of the great hall of the site museum. Other finds were made on the western slope of the mound;these included notably two half-life-size cast bronze quadrigae.

According to current estimates, the statue army of the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum must have represented the exact number of the imperial guards. Over the past thirteen years, discoveries have revealed the dimensions of the mausoleum, and the site constitutes one of the most fabulous archaeological reserves in the world.

Because of their exceptional technical and artistic qualities, the terracotta warriors and horses and the funerary carts in bronze are major works in the history of Chinese sculpture prior to the reign of the Han dynasty. The army of statues also bears unique testimony to the military organization in China at the time of the Warring Kingdoms (475-221 BC) and that of the short-lived Empire of a Thousand Generations (221-210 BC) The direct testimony of the objects found in situ (lances, swords, axes, halberds, bows, arrows, etc.) is evident.