The Terracotta Army: Worthy Protection Beyond the Grave

How 123 delicate artifacts including some 13 life-sized terracotta figures have managed to survive over 2000 years in almost pristine conditions and have traveled the distance in one piece from China to Chile remains a mystery. They have, however, managed to find their way into the Centro Cultural Palacio La Moneda’s quarters and for the first time in Chile are on display for all to see.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Gida Homad-Hamam

The exhibit is sponsored by the La Moneda cultural center in cooperation with the Shaanxi Provincial Relics Bureau and the Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center. It features relics from the Qin and Han dynasties, including a few members of the magnificent terracotta army.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Gida Homad-Hamam

In 221 BC Qin Shi Huang declared himself the first emperor of a unified China, thus proclaiming himself “the son of the sky”- the word Qin, pronounced Chin in Chinese is believed to be the reason behind the name China. The Qin dynasty was associated with the color black, which in turn was connected with the element and power of water in Yin Yang- the Chinese concept of the interdependence of opposing forces in the natural world. During his 11-year reign emperor Qin initiated the first steps taken to build the Great Wall of China. Qin also oversaw the construction of his tomb: a city-sized mausoleum, guarded by the terracotta army.

Farmers in the Xi’an Shaanxi province discovered the emperor’s burial complex by accident in 1974 while digging a well. Instead of finding “the source of life,” the farmers must have been disappointed to stumble upon numerous subterranean chambers with more than 6000 lifelike terracotta cavalry, generals, warriors, chariots and horses. Following numerous excavations it has been established that, similar to the pharaoh’s ritual of burying belongings with the departed, the army is a form of funerary protective aid; defense forces sent with the deceased emperor to help him rule and conquer in his other life. On October 1st, 1979 the Terracotta Warriors and Horses museum opened in China.

The second dynasty to rule the unified lands was the Han dynasty, established by the rebel leader Liu Bang, also known as Emperor Gaozu of Han. The creation of the Silk Road, a network of trade routes connecting Asia to the Mediterranean, Europe and North Africa, is attributed to this Dynasty.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Gida Homad-Hamam

The exhibit at La Moneda is divided into two wings: the western Qin “Empire of the King” and the eastern Han “Cultivation of a Nation”, both relatively small. Before entering either side, two terracotta warriors sit across each other on high pedestals, as if to protect the exhibit’s entrances.

On the Qin side (221-206 BCE), one walks through eerily lit rooms with numerous artifacts elegantly displayed behind glass cabinets. The first object to the right is a replica of the emperor’s dress embroidered with dragons for good luck and mountains and oceans depicting the emperor’s power over “all that lies beneath the sky.” Other relics include bronze incense holders and Ban Liang coins. The four horse drawn terracotta Chariot of the Soul is centered in the room adding a ghostly aura to the surroundings. Keeping to the tradition of allegory, the top part of the chariot represents the sky, the bottom part the earth. The four horses are the four seasons and the driver is the Yin Yang, or the guide.

To the left, in a room fitted with mirrors and a projection, are the remarkable terracotta army members. Two horses, a servant, a general and an officer stand amongst archers and infantry men in a solemn testimony to the perseverance of the human species and our unwavering commitment to ritual.

The Han side (206 BCE-220 CE) is introduced with a large projection explaining the exhibit.

Santiago Chile
Photo by Gida Homad-Hamam

All of the artifacts in this wing are displayed in glass cabinets. They range from urns decorated with the Chinese horoscope and the five elements: water, fire, earth, metal and wood to bronze bells that, when used during musical rituals, represented the sky.

Other shelves are lined with a series of animals, once buried in tombs and mausoleums, such as a ceramic pig representing preparation for winter and the perpetration of the natural circle in Yin Yang and a goat, sacrificed during rituals and symbolizing fertility. One relic depicts the divinities of the sky: a blue-green dragon, a white tiger, a red bird and a tortoise (black warrior) denominating the four directions, seasons and elements. At the far end of the room are beautiful white and green jade ornaments and encrusted gold belt hooks.

The exhibition is a definite must with the highlight being the Terracotta Army. Despite the few warriors present, their life-like presence, solemn expressions and readiness to defend their deceased master is astounding, breathtaking and intense.

La Antigua China y el Ejército de Terracota
Runs until April 30, 2010?
Centro Cultural La Moneda
Monday to Sunday 9:00 am to 8:30
General Entrance Fee: CLP1000; students, members and seniors: CLP500
Free entry Monday-Friday until 12 pm
Metro La Moneda

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