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'China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors' at Chicago’s Field Museum

More than 2,000 years ago, China’s First Emperor built a burial complex guarded by a large terracotta army, intended to protect him in the afterlife. Now, some of those warriors are making the journey to Chicago’s Field Museum in their latest exhibition China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors, opening March 4, 2016.

'China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors' at Chicago’s Field Museum

The exhibition features more than 170 objects including stunning bronze artifacts, weaponry, and ten of the famed terracotta figures. Terracotta Warriors will introduce visitors to Qin Shihuangdi —China’s First Emperor—who united a country and built an army to last an eternity.

'China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors' at Chicago’s Field Museum
Around 7,000 of these six-foot-tall and taller warriors—significantly taller than
 men of the time—were found buried in three pits at the emperor’s tomb 
[Credit: Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center and 
Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum]
An Emperor’s Rise to Power and Lasting Influence

One of greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century, the terracotta army was created by Qin Shihuangdi, the First Emperor of China. His rise to power in 221 BC ended an era known as the “Warring States” period, during which China was composed of seven competing states and was marked by instability and broken alliances.

'China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors' at Chicago’s Field Museum
Emperor Qin Shihuang, depicted here, commissioned the giant tomb for himself 
before he died [Credit: Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center and 
Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum]
Qin Shihuangdi used an organized military, superior weapon technology, and a strong cavalry to defeat his enemies and establish a unified state. During your visit to the exhibition, you’ll discover crossbow bolts and a reconstructed wooden crossbow. This weapon revolutionized warfare, allowing archers to shoot nearly 900 yards, with less skill and strength than was needed for a bow and arrow.  You will also encounter other weapons used by Qin military forces, including a long, chrome-plated sword, lance heads, dagger-axes, and spears.

'China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors' at Chicago’s Field Museum
When the Terracotta Warriors were excavated from the emperor's tomb, starting
 in the 1970s, many were broken like these ones, and needed to be put back together
 by conservators [Credit: Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center and 
Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum]
Although the First Emperor’s reign was relatively short, he enacted several important innovations that left a lasting impression on China.  Many of these are still evident today. He worked to strengthen his newly founded empire by building a great wall (the pre-cursor to China’s “Great Wall”) to protect his land in the north and west. In an effort to increase trade, he constructed new roads and canals and even regulated cart axles so that wheels uniformly fit the newly constructed roads.

'China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors' at Chicago’s Field Museum
This archer, one of the guardians of the emperor’s tomb, likely once held a crossbow
 [Credit: Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center and 
Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum]
In order to rule effectively, a single currency, a standard form of writing, and a standardized system of weights and measures were all put into place. Examples of these innovations are all on display within the exhibition, including several Qin banliang (ban-lee-ang) coins—round coins each with a square hole—as well as a mold used to mass-produce these coins. This coin type became the standard form of Chinese currency for the next 2,000 years.

An Emperor’s Final Resting Place

Even though the Emperor made public improvements in his country, he was not without enemies; three unsuccessful assassination attempts increased his fear of death and drove his quest for immortality.  With death constantly on the Emperor’s mind, and a desire to rule forever, Qin Shihuangdi began constructing a palace for his afterlife and instructed craftsman to make a terracotta army to protect him after his death.

'China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors' at Chicago’s Field Museum
The Chinese painted the Terracotta Army figures, but the pigments deteriorated
 over the years. Conservators try to preserve the remaining colors 
[Credit: Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center and 
Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum]
For more than 30 years, legions of workers contributed to this massive undertaking—some even paying with their life.  Around this underground palace were representations of the Emperor’s officials, warriors, buildings, parks, and animals—everything he would need to carry on his rule without end. The First Emperor even included what are believed to be acrobats, musicians, and exotic animals in his tomb to provide entertainment.

'China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors' at Chicago’s Field Museum
Each warrior has a unique face and hairstyle due to different 
molds and details added by hand postconstruction 
[Credit: Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center and 
Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum]
After the Emperor’s death, the terracotta warriors, generals, and others lay buried until 1974, when a farmer digging a well discovered them. Although the tomb itself was known historically and was visible on the landscape, the vast burial complex surrounding the site had been unknown until then. Archaeologists began work excavating the site, a process that continues today. Hundreds of pits, covering an area of nearly 22 square miles, have been located so far, and it is estimated that more than 8,000 figures were buried at the site.

'China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors' at Chicago’s Field Museum
Chariots were an important part of China's army during the emperor's reign—hence 
the more than 130 models like this one discovered in the Terracotta Army pits 
[Credit: Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center and 
Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum]
Terracotta Warriors has nine full-size human figures, including several warriors, a general, an acrobat, and an official, on display as well as one life-size horse. Although most of the clay figures have lost the bright hues of their original paint and only provide faded glimpses of the way the army looked during the Emperor’s lifetime, you will encounter two replica warriors, painted in the vivid purple, teal, and red that the terracotta army wore.

Excavations continue today, but the central tomb of Qin Shihuangdi remains sealed. Stories tell of a celestial ceiling mapped out in pearls and a mercury river, but none of these written accounts have been confirmed. Visitors to the exhibition will learn about the scientific investigations hoping to shed light on the mysteries of the tomb.

China’s First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors was organized by The Field Museum in partnership with the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau, Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center and Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Terracotta Army Museum of the People’s Republic of China. Major sponsors: Discover, Exelon, United Airlines.  

China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors is currently showing at The Field Museum, Chicago, and will run until January 8, 2017.

Source: The Field Museum [March 01, 2016]
TANN

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