Book talks for readers at Chisago Lakes Middle School.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Emperor Qin's Terra Cotta Army by Michael Capek

Emperor Qin’s Terra Cotta Army by Michael Capek

For hundreds of years near Xi’an in China, stories were passed down about ghosts and restless spirits that lived beneath the earth. In the early 1900’s, there was a story of a farmer who was digging in a field when the earth underneath him caved in. Next thing he knew, he was standing in an underground cave staring at a life-sized statue of a soldier made of stone. The terrified farmer thought he was standing in the presence of an evil spirit and immediately attacked it with his shovel. He then quickly closed the unintended entrance to the cave. Many years later, in 1974, some farmers made a discovery while digging a well. The field in which they were digging was next to a burial mound belonging to Qin Shi Huangdi [Ch'in-Shee-Wang], the first emperor of China. The name “China” comes from the Qin, or Ch'in, Dynasty.

Qin Shi Huang became the first emperor of China when he succeeded in uniting the warring kingdoms competing for control of that area. His leadership yielded some important accomplishments. He unified the language and government of these kingdoms. He also began the first stage of the Great Wall of China. In addition his armies were some of the most technically advanced for that time period (approx. 200BC).

Yet, despite his accomplishments, Qin Shi Huang was at times cruel and ruthless. He forced some of his subjects to set out on impossible tasks (such as finding a potion for immortality-eternal life). If they weren’t successful, he had them executed. He also forced thousands to work on his burial tomb years before his death. When he later died, he had made arrangements for all those who had worked on the tomb (because they knew the secrets of his tomb)to be buried alive with him after his body was laid to rest.

Qin She Huang believed in an after-life. He also “believed that models of things or people in burial chambers became real after the dead person entered into the spirit world.” The emperor had obviously made many enemies during his lifetime. He probably felt the need for an army of soldiers to protect him in the after-life. That’s why he forced thousands of workers to construct an army of soldiers made of clay to later protect him in the spiritual world.

Thousands of clay soldiers and hundreds of clay horses were made for his immortal army of the after-life. (The type of clay that was used is called terra cotta.) Molds were used to make the limbs of each soldier, but each face was uniquely shaped. Many of the terra cotta soldiers wear uniquely detailed armor. One main underground pit has been discovered along with some other, but smaller, chambers. It is remarkable how much effort went into making thousands of these figures. More remarkable may be the effort underway to reconstruct each of these statues, many crushed into nearly indistinguishable fragments.

If take a close look at pictures of the terra cotta soldiers you will notice an arm out in front of the body with the hand curled into a holding position. Also, a number of metal pieces, probably thousands, were found laying in the midst of the broken terra cotta fragments. Can you guess any connection there might be between the metal pieces and what the terra cotta soldiers might have been holding? Here's a clue: part of what they held may have rotted over the last two thousand years, leaving just a remaining metal part.

An exhibition of the Terra Cotta Army will be visiting the United States in April. Unfortunately, it will not be coming to the Mpls. area, but you can still get a closer look for yourself by reading Michael Capek’s book, Emperor Qin’s Terra Cotta Army.

Related Websites:

National Geographic
Terra Cotta Army Coming to US
NG Photogallery
World Heritage Site
Virtual Tour of Pit1

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