The Mausoleum of the Western Han Emperor JingDi.
Considered to be the most important discovery of the last 25 years, the
Yangling Mausoleum is the joint tomb of the Western Han Dynasty Emperor
JingDi (Liuqi) and his Empress, Wang.
This short account is intended to highlight the importance of this
discovery and of it's significance in MINGQI.
Most people are aware of the terracotta army of the First Emperor, Qin.
Whilst digging for water in 1974, peasant farmers near Xian stumbled
across what was to become the most famous discoverey in Chinese history.
About 1 km from the mausoleum they disovered pits containing life-size,
terracotta statues of soldiers.
Subsequent excavation revealed a complete army of about 6,000 in battle
formation and accompanied by horses and chariots.
This was the army that was to accompany Qin in the afterlife.
Now a National treasure, the excavated pits and reconstructed statues
can be viewed by the public.
Excavations are still continuing at the site and it is expected that
further discoveries are imminent.
When Qin died in 206 BC the Imperial Han dynasty was born.
The Han were only too aware of the existance of the army as it took over
25 years to complete and required thousands of workmen and vast amounts
of materials to construct.
They continued the practice of burying terracotta statues in underground
chambers for use in the afterlife but never on such a grand scale as
The first three Han Emperors were known to have had lavish burials with
all that they could need in the next life but it was fourth Emperor,
JingDi, who died in 141 BC, who attempted to emulate Qin and his vast,
The mausoleum of JingDi is the most eastern of the nine Western Han
Imperial Mausoleums and is located on the Loess Plateau some 22
kilometers from both Xianyang airport and Xian.
The mausoleum site covers an area of more than 10 square kilometers -
nearly 6 kilometers east to west and almost 3 kilometers north to south.
The tomb itself is a staggering 32 meters high with circumferences of
670 meters and 238 meters at the bottom and top respectively similar to
a topless pyramid.
The tomb of his Empress wife, Wang, is on the same site and although
smaller, is still an impressive structure.
Once again digging for water in the late 1980s, farmers came across an
amazing discovery. The authorities were alerted and in 1990 controlled
They found 81 pits, some 10 meters long and others more than 100 meters
long, radiating from the Emperors tomb like numbers on a clock dial.
Each pit contained terracotta goods for the afterlife including
thousands of animals, dogs, sheep, goats and pigs all formally laid out
ready for slaughter.
There were stoves, grain jars, wine vessels, horses and chariots all
intended for the Emperor's use in the next life.
What amazed historians even more was the discovery of thousands of nude
and semi-nude, armless figures of warriors one third life-size.
The statues had been placed in battle formation and, although the some
of the pits had collapsed in antiquity causing severe damage, some had
remained intact with the warriors still in their original positions
surrounded by compacted soil.
The warriors were mostly between 55 - 63 cm in height and all were
armless. On each shoulder a circular hole would have once housed a
wooden pin that held (probable) wooden or slik arms in place.
What was striking were their faces. The torsos and legs had been made
out of near soild clay and luted together prior to firing but the heads
had been made in moulds and were incredibly detailed.
Some had high cheek bones indicating that they represented the northern
tribes yet others had soft, almost sensual faces.
It was clear that although the bodies had been mass produced a great
amount of time and effort had gone into the production of the heads
which seemed to include examples from all the diverse tribes that made
up the Han army.
Most were naked clearly showing their sexual organs however, some were
modelled with long skirts painted in red or orange leading researchers
to believe that they had never been clothed in any outer garments.
Detailed examination revealed that some still had the remains of cloth
attached to their heads and bodies which had almost welded to the clay
strongly indicating that clothing of some kind had been used.
After much painstaking research officials reported that the warriors had
indeed been clothed in brightly coloured silk robes and then placed in
the pits in battle formation.
Witnesses to this "burial" would have seen row upon row of warriors
dressed in the most vibrant of colours. Blue, red and orange robes now
covered the naked torsos leaving only their faces uncovered, it must
have been a spectacular sight and one that the Emperor had carefully
Amongst this vast army archaeologists found a small number of female
statues. Their long hair had been carefully modelled in a ponytail and
great attention paid to their faces and sexual organs.
The reason that females were represented is not known however, some
historians suggest the the Han army had a highly trained female unit
which would have fought alongside their male collegues.
The Chinese authorities have built an underground museum at the Yangling
site (the first such museum in China) and visitors can walk over some of
the pits and view the ongoing excavations.
This impressive structure is softly lit and highlights well the
importance of JingDi's legacy to the world for it is thanks to finds
such as this that scholars can piece together a clearer picture of life
in ancient China.
The lesser known terracotta army of JingDi may be smaller and more
modest than that of the First Emperor but it's cultural and historical
importance is incalculable.
Current exhibitions in Europe comprise a small number of the First
Emperors, life-size warriors and about 200 artifacts from the Han Period
including Han Yangling warriors, horses and vessels.
One such exhibition will be in the
Drents Museum, Assen, The Netherlands until 31 August 2008 afterwhich it moves to it's sister
Maaseik, Belgium (near Maastricht) for a further 6 months.