Mar 292015


On this date in 1974 “The Terracotta Army” or the “Terracotta Warriors and Horses,” a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, was discovered  by local farmers in Lintong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province who were digging a well. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. The figures, dating from approximately the late third century BCE, vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots, and horses. Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.


The Terracotta Army was discovered approximately 1.6 kilometers (0.99 mi) east of the Qin Emperor’s tomb mound at Mount Li (Lishan), a region riddled with underground springs and watercourses. For centuries, occasional reports mentioned pieces of terracotta figures and fragments of the Qin necropolis – roofing tiles, bricks and chunks of masonry. This discovery prompted Chinese archaeologists to investigate, revealing the largest pottery figurine group ever found in China.

In addition to the warriors, an entire necropolis built for the emperor was found surrounding the first emperor’s tomb mound. The earthen tomb mound is located at the foot of Mount Li and built in a pyramidal shape with Qin Shi Huang’s necropolis complex constructed as a microcosm of his imperial palace or compound. It consists of several offices, halls, stables, and other structures placed around the tomb mound, which is surrounded by two solidly built rammed earth walls with gateway entrances. Up to 5 metres (16 ft) of reddish, sandy soil had accumulated over the site in the two millennia following its construction, but archaeologists found evidence of earlier disturbances at the site. During the excavations near the Mount Li burial mound, archaeologists found several graves dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, where diggers had apparently struck terracotta fragments. These were discarded as worthless and used along with soil to back fill the excavations.

According to the writings of historian Sima Qian (145–90 BCE), work on the mausoleum began in 246 BCE soon after Emperor Qin (then aged 13) ascended the throne. The project eventually involved 700,000 workers. Geographer Li Daoyuan, writing six centuries after the First Emperor’s death, recorded in Shui Jing Zhu that Mount Li was a favored location due to its auspicious geology, “famed for its jade mines, its northern side was rich in gold, and its southern side rich in beautiful jade; the First Emperor, covetous of its fine reputation, therefore chose to be buried there.” Sima Qian, in his most noted work, Shiji, finished a century after the mausoleum’s completion, wrote that the First Emperor was buried with palaces, towers, officials, valuable artifacts and wondrous objects. According to this account, 100 rivers had their flow simulated by mercury, and above them the ceiling was decorated with heavenly bodies below which were the features of the land. Some translations of this passage refer to “models” or “imitations,” however those words were not used in the original text, which makes no mention of the terracotta army.


The terracotta army figures were manufactured in workshops by government laborers and local craftsmen using local materials. Heads, arms, legs, and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Eight face moulds were most likely used, with clay added after assembly to provide individual facial features. It is believed that the warriors’ legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would classify the process as assembly line production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired, as opposed to crafting one solid piece and subsequently firing it. In those times of tight imperial control, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on items produced to ensure quality control. This has aided modern historians in verifying which workshops were commandeered to make tiles and other mundane items for the terracotta army. Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty.


The terracotta figures are life-sized. They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. Most originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows. Originally, the figures were also painted with bright pigments, variously colored pink, red, green, blue, black, brown, white and lilac. The colored lacquer finish, individual facial features, and weapons used in producing these figures increased the figures’ realism. Most of the original weapons were looted shortly after the creation of the army, or have rotted away, while the color coating flaked off or greatly faded when the tomb was opened and exposed to air.

The emperor’s personal tomb appears to be an hermetically-sealed space the size of a football pitch. The tomb remains unopened, given concerns about preserving its artifacts. The lacquer covering the paint can curl in fifteen seconds once exposed to Xi’an’s dry air and can flake off in just four minutes.

Four main pits approximately 7 metres (23 ft) deep have been excavated. These are located approximately 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) east of the burial mound. The soldiers within were laid out as if to protect the tomb from the east, where all the Qin Emperor’s conquered states lay.


Pit one, which is 230 meters (750 ft) long and 62 meters (203 ft) wide, contains the main army of more than 6,000 figures. Pit one has 11 corridors, most of which are more than 3 meters (9.8 ft) wide and paved with small bricks with a wooden ceiling supported by large beams and posts. This design was also used for the tombs of nobles and would have resembled palace hallways when built. The wooden ceilings were covered with reed mats and layers of clay for waterproofing, and then mounded with more soil raising them about 2 to 3 meters (6 ft 7 in to 9 ft 10 in) above the surrounding ground level when completed.


Pit two has cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots and is thought to represent a military guard. Pit three is the command post, with high-ranking officers and a war chariot. Pit four is empty, perhaps left unfinished by its builders.

Some of the figures in pit one and two show fire damage, while remains of burnt ceiling rafters have also been found. These, together with the missing weapons, have been taken as evidence of the reported looting by Xiang Yu and the subsequent burning of the site, which is thought to have caused the roof to collapse and crush the army figures below. The terracotta figures currently on display have been restored from the fragments.


Other pits that formed the necropolis also have been excavated. These pits lie within and outside the walls surrounding the tomb mound. They variously contain bronze carriages, terracotta figures of entertainers such as acrobats and strongmen, officials, stone armor suits, burials sites of horses, rare animals and labourers, as well as bronze cranes and ducks set in an underground park.


Weapons such as swords, spears, battle-axes, scimitars, shields, crossbows, and arrowheads were found in the pits. Some of these weapons, such as the swords are sharp and were coated with a 10–15 micrometer layer of chromium dioxide and kept the swords rust-free for 2,000 years. The swords contain an alloy of copper, tin, and other elements including nickel, magnesium, and cobalt. Some carry inscriptions that date manufacture between 245 and 228 BCE, indicating they were used as weapons before their burials.


An important element of the army is the chariot, of which four types were found. In battle the fighting chariots form pairs at the head of a unit of infantry. The principal weapon of the charioteers was the ge or dagger-axe, an L-shaped bronze blade mounted on a long shaft used for sweeping and hooking at the enemy. Infantrymen also carried ge on shorter shafts, ji or halberds and spears and lances. For close fighting and defense, both charioteers and infantrymen carried double-edged straight swords. The archers carried crossbows, with sophisticated trigger mechanisms, capable of firing arrows farther than 800 metres (2,600 ft).

In 2007, scientists at Stanford University and the Advanced Light Source facility in Berkeley, California reported that powder diffraction experiments combined with energy-dispersive X-ray spectroscopy and micro-X-ray fluorescence analysis showed that the process of producing Terracotta figures colored with Chinese purple dye consisting of barium copper silicate was derived from the knowledge gained by Taoist alchemists in their attempts to synthesize jade ornaments.

Since 2006, an international team of researchers at the UCL Institute of Archaeology have been using analytical chemistry techniques to uncover more details about the production techniques employed in the creation of the Terracotta Army. Using X-ray fluorescence spectrometry of 40,000 bronze arrowheads bundled in groups of 100, the researchers reported that the arrowheads within a single bundle formed a relatively tight cluster that was different from other bundles. In addition, the presence or absence of metal impurities was consistent within bundles. Based on the arrows’ chemical compositions, the researchers concluded that a cellular manufacturing system similar to the one used in a modern Toyota factory, as opposed to a continuous assembly line in the early days of automobile industry, was employed. Grinding and polishing marks visible under a scanning electron microscope provide evidence for the earliest industrial use of lathes for polishing.

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Shaanxi Cuisine, also known as Qin Cuisine, is represented by Guanzhong, south Shaanxi and north Shaanxi cooking styles. Shaanxi Province occupies an important position in the development of Chinese culture. Its cooking techniques can be traced back to the Yangshao period. In the Han and Tang dynasties, Shaanxi‘s cooking techniques reached a zenith. Thanks to its central position in Chinese history and geography, Shaanxi chefs were able to gather cooking styles from all over the country, and fuse them into a unique cuisine.

Local chefs of Shaanxi Province are good at using local materials to prepare delicious dishes, such as hump and hoof of a camel, fat sheep from north Shaanxi, Qinchuan oxen, carp from the Yellow River and black rice from Hanzhong. Through boiling, stewing, braising, frying and cooking, they produce a wide variety of dishes of different tastes. Chrysanthemum Hot Pot is one of my favorites. Hot pots are found all over China with all manner of ingredients and methods. The basic idea is to bring a pot of simmering stock to the table to keep warm over a burner. It can either be full of ingredients and diners help themselves; loaded with ingredients in order, typically meat then vegetables; or diners add their own and cook them individually like a meat fondue.


The ingredients here are just suggestions; use whatever meats and vegetables you want as long as you have chrysanthemum blossoms. Quantities are cook’s choice too.

Chrysanthemum Hot Pot


Dipping Sauce

¾ cup light soy sauce
½ cup Chinese sweet cooking rice wine
¼ cup dark sesame oil

Hot Pot

chrysanthemum flowers
1 whole boneless chicken breast, sliced in thin pieces
½ pound beef tenderloin, sliced in thin pieces
½ pound firm white fish, cut in bite sized cubes
½ pound center cut pork loin, sliced in thin pieces
½ pound medium shrimp, deveined and butterflied
8 to 12 shucked oysteres or a dozen to a dozen and half shucked clams
1 bok choy, chopped
1 package tofu, cut in cubes
1 pound spinach, stems removed
5 cups good quality chicken stock
4 ounces cellophane noodles, softened per package directions and cut in manageable sections.


Make the dipping sauce by whisking together the ingredients and pouring it into individual bowls

Place all the raw meats on one platter and the vegetables, tofu, and cellophane noodles on another.

Right before serving, bring the chicken stock to a rolling boil in a pan on the stove.

Pour it into fondue pot or pot with a flame under it that can be placed on a table and keep the stock at a simmer.

Allow guests to drop whatever meat they wish into the simmering liquid using forks or chop sticks.

Remove the meat after a few minutes in the simmering stock and dip in the dipping sauce.

When all the meat is finished put a good handful (or more) of Chrysanthemum flowers and vegetables into the remaining stock and simmer about one or two minutes. Ladle into bowls for guests to eat.

If you prefer you can add some flower petals to the stock at the beginning and the rest with the vegetables.


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