What to do if you don’t have the time and money to drop by Xian, China to take a look at the famous terracotta warriors? Well, in that case, there is no other option than to get a glimpse of the mythical soldiers in a museum exhibition relatively close to your house (assuming the stars line up in your favor and some random curator decides to bring such an exhibition close to where you live).
The other day I had the opportunity to visit the “Warriors, Tombs and Temples: China’s Enduring Legacy” exhibition in the Bowers Museum located in Santa Ana, California. They have brought similar exhibitions before. This time everything was a little bit different because they were allowing something essential: photography (completely banned in previous exhibitions). And that fact made me really, really happy.
True, nothing beats seeing ancient treasures in its natural surroundings. However, I found this exhibition very compelling because of the level of detail, the included audio tour and the minimal amount of space between the public and the actual artifacts (i.e. warriors and other objects).
I have never been to Xian so I don’t know how close you can get to the Terracotta Warriors there. In this exhibition, I was able to get really close to the subjects which resulted in pretty detailed photos. It is amazing how much detail you can see in this pieces of hardened mud. You can admire their clothes, shoes and hairstyles (braids on mud, that is crazy!). Some of them are in their corresponding fighting positions. I wouldn’t mind wearing such cool clothing to battle!
As you may or may not know, the Terracotta Warriors were found in the mausoleum complex of China’s first emperor, Qin Shihuangdi (of the Qin dynasty). They were supposed to protect the emperor in the afterlife. The mausoleum contains more than Warriors. Figures representing court officials, animals, chariots and every day use objects have been found in what can be considered a big necropolis.
But the exhibition was not only about the Qin dynasty. It also included artifacts and information about the Han and Tang dynasties.
The most interesting fact I learned is related to the Han dynasty. Han emperors were also buried with terracotta armies. Conversely, the warriors found in Han burial complexes are not real-size like the ones found in the tomb of the first emperor. They are smaller in scale butequally impressive because each one is unique in its features. Emperors Gaozu and Jingdi made sure 40,000 warriors were ready to serve them in the afterlife. A combination of concubines, animals and a multitude of objects joined the warriors in serving the emperors.
The following two photos are not the best ones of the day but the background show how these little warriors were found in the burial pits.
I also liked the story behind the odd looking figure presented in the next photo. Figures like this represent the horse riders of the army. Scholars believe the riders are women. There are a lot of stories and legends about female warriors in the Han armies. The most famous one is about a young girl called Mulan. Most of us know the story because of the Disney movie of the same name.
Now, the Tang dynasty tombs are very different from its predecessors. They were stocked with riches tied to the trade of exotic goods along the Silk Road. Dazzling gold ornaments, tomb guardians, a mural depicting a game of polo and many other luxuries illustrate the taste of Tang elites and the era’s connection with the West.
Here are more photos:
What are your thought about the Terracotta Armies? Have you visited the Warriors in Xian? Let me know what you think in the comments section below.