Tomb of Emperor Shih Huang Ti.Soldiers of the Imperial bodyguard.
QIN DYNASTY Anonymous
3rd c BCE Chinese Qin Sculpture
(221 BCE - 206 BCE)
c. 210 BCE
3rd c BCE
Xi'an.Tomb of Emperor Shi Huang Ti. China.
Emperor Shihuangdi constructed his capital city not far from modern Xian. The watch towers of the Great Wall served both to guard the rampart and to communicate with the capital, by signal--smoke by day and fire by night. Over a million workers at a time to construct his fabulous palace and extravagant tomb. Ancient sources described both the tomb and the palace, which was said to measure 2500 by 500 feet and to be capable of accommodating 10,000 people at a time.
Builders of ancient Chinese tombs sought to create a resting place that if possible was even more magnificent than the palaces of the living rulers. The vast tombs came to be known as the "dark palace" or "secluded palace." The 4th century BCE philosopher Xunzi wrote, "In the funeral rites one adorns the dead as though they were still living and sends them to the grave with forms of symbolic life. They are treated as though dead, and yet as though still alive, as though gone and yet as though still present. Beginning and end are thereby unified."
The 2nd century historian Ssu Ma-chien indicated that Emperor Shihuangdi 's resting place was designed to reproduce the known world, with a topographical map showing mountains and rivers below, the rivers and oceans depicted by streams and pools of mercury. Above was a glittering star-studded heaven, with the sun and moon represented by luminescent pearls that shown day and night. It was said that the treasures buried with the emperor were too numerous to count and that his corpse was covered by a shroud made of pearls and jade, and that his body was clothed in a suit of jade pieces sewn together with golden thread. Jade was thought to prevent decay and thus was an appropriate, if expensive, material for a burial suit. The huge crypt was illuminated with ever burning lamps and the entrance was said to be guarded by automatic crossbows.
Since the emperors were afraid that the artisans working on the tomb would reveal its secrets, the Annals of Qin related that "When the work was done, after the great event, and after everything was hidden away in its rightful place, the inner door was shut and then the outer door was lowered into place. All the craftsmen and laborers were shut inside, and none were allowed out again."
Shihuangdi was said to have been very superstitious and he searched constantly for the so-called "elixir of life." When to of his magicians escaped after failing to find the famous elixir, he had scores of magicians and scholars buried alive. But in spite of all his efforts, Shi Huang-ti was not able to achieve the personal immortality that he sought. One wonders if he would have been able to take any consolation in the words of the scholar Chuang-tzu: "Life is eternal and the dying of an individual only means that one existence is being recast to form another."
No one believed the descriptions of the fabulous tomb recorded by Ssu Ma-chien until the recent excavations at Xian revealed a vast ceramic army, and other excavations in Henan that revealed jade suits of the type described by Ssu Ma-chien. Shihuangdi 's tomb was discovered in 1974 and only a small part of it has so far been excavated. These excavations have revealed, however, an incredible army of over 8000 life-sized ceramic warriors and horses as well as smaller bronze warriors and chariots. Apparently this army is one of four that served as bodyguards for the emperor, who was buried in the center of what was perhaps a cosmic diagram. We clearly have much to look forward to as the excavations proceed.
Qin | Tomb of Emperor Shi Huang Ti. Soldiers of the Imperial bodyguard. | 221-206 BCE | Chinese | Qin