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Secrets of the Terracotta Warriors and the Tomb of China’s First Emperor

Tea with Erping
A graduate of Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard Kennedy School, Erping focuses on China studies, including its traditional culture and human rights abuses perpetrated by the current communist regime. He co-founded two New York-based associations for scholarly research and seminars on East Asia geopolitics. Erping's hobbies include travel, Greek philosophy, Chinese history, meditation, a bowl of New England clam chowder, and of course, a warm cup of freshly brewed tea.
Published: October 20, 2021
China's First Emperor is known for his massive tombs, guarded by 8,000 terracotta soldiers. No one has stepped foot inside the inner necropolis, but advanced technology has allowed us to discover what is inside. (Image: Screenshot/Tea With Erping)

Did you know that in 537 B.C., Duke Jing, the ruler of ancient China’s Qin state, upon his death was buried with virtually his entire imperial court? Yes, burial of 186 real-life humans under the notion that they would continue to serve their master in death as they did in their lifetime.

However, things changed later when Qin Shi Huang, the Qin emperor who unified China and built the Great Wall, took over the throne.

Welcome to Tea with Erping. 

I still get goosebumps when I think about the stories of how the terracotta warriors came about.

The tradition of burning live humans with their rulers lasted about 250 years up until the First Emperor arrived on the scene. Three hundred years before his time, China’s seven kingdoms were at war, a historical period known as the Warring States.

This period of time saw great loss of life, and the nations struggled to maintain their population.

Since a larger population leads to a rise in the labor force, burying real people for the king’s afterlife became an unaffordable luxury, as the value of human life had increased during war. 

The Terracotta Army is a collection of terracotta statues depicting the armies of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. This army was commissioned by the Emperor as a way to guard himself in the afterlife. It is a form of funerary art of the day. Building statues to accompany royalty into the afterlife is a concept that was quite prevalent in those times around the world.

Egypt is notable for these in abundance. However, those Egyptian statues were made in a generic fashion and cannot be compared to the statues commissioned by China’s First Emperor. The making of the Terracotta using baked earth was a humane thing in light of the previous custom of burying real humans with the ruler. Even though Emperor Qin Shi Huang was a strict militarist, he made a compassionate choice when planning for his afterlife.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang was obsessed with immortality and was constantly seeking ways to achieve it, if not in this life, then in the next. He envisioned another worldly domain that would parallel his worldly existence after his death. 

His mausoleum is one of the greatest archeological discoveries in history, but remains an eternal mystery because no one has ever seen the inside of this grand tomb. 

To find out more about the Terracotta Warriors, watch the full video.