Xi’an. The old capital of China. Home to Emperors long since past. The home of their tombs and mausoleums. The home of their magnificent armies, entourages and lifestyles.
Xi’an is of course well known for the Terracotta army. But it is less well known for the tomb of a later Emperor, Jing of Han (188 – 141 BC), the fourth Emperor of the Han dynasty.
His reign, whilst not particularly prominent – or by all accounts (apparently) that glorious – did pave the way for his son, Wu. A reign of much more splendour (apparently).
However, it is not his son, or even his reign that I want to talk about, but his resting place. In comparison to the Terracotta army (which I’ll come onto) Jing’s tomb is comparatively modest. I find this interesting seeing as his rule was actually 20 years after the final days of Qin Shi Huang (the Terracotta Army guy… Stay with me) and therefore you would expect he would outdo his predecessor.
Jing’s tomb comprises of miniature, not life size figures (about 1/3 real size). They no longer have arms as these were actually made of interlocking wood pieces and were, as a result, articulated.
As with the Terracotta Army, Jing recreated his own army as well, and inside the tomb are legions of miniature men, chariots and horses. But there is more. For Jing did not just recreate the army but his entire imperial life. There are many pottery containers to represent the storing of grain and the like. There are also countless animals: dogs, sheep, goats, cows and chickens, for example, to represent meat for the emperor in his afterlife. And all this is made from terracotta.
In all Jing’s tomb is thought to have 81 pits, only a handful are currently open to the public, or have even been excavated. Like Qin Shi Huang, Jing’s actual grave is located in a pyramid structure in the middle of the pits and has not been excavated.
But what of the Terracotta Army. The army of the first emperor of China, and the mastermind behind the Great Wall as well (something I only just realised). What a visionary!
Well, it certainly is an impressive army. Current estimates are that the entire site contains 8000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 150 cavalry.
And yet, at the same time, as you look down upon the cracked halls, the crushed figures, the displaced army, you can’t help but think – despite the grandeur – that the reign is indeed over. Many of the tombs were burnt and destroyed in a period of unrest following Qin Shi’s reign, and it is like gazing upon a lost battle. A routed army. An abandoned palace.
Like Jing it is not only the army that was made for Qin Shi in the afterlife. Other terracotta figures unearthed include officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians. Similarly, his necropolis is believed to have been built as a microcosm of his imperial palace, complete with offices, halls, stables and other structures. It is quite simply mind-boggling.
To realise that what you see – which is immense – is but a minute window into the domain of these dead lords, demands respect.
Needless to say, walking through these halls of history is a staggering sight.
To think: all that material, all that labour, all those years that went into constructing magnificent tombs for the dying emperors; and that it happened more than 2000 years ago. The skill and exquisite craftsmanship, combined with a clarity of vision, truly takes the breath away.
But it is time to leave behind the catacombs of a bygone age and ascend to lighter, loftier vistas.