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  • What happens after death?

  • Is there a restful paradise?

  • An eternal torment?

  • A rebirth?

  • Or maybe just nothingness?

  • Well, one Chinese emperor thought that whatever the hereafter was,

  • he better bring an army.

  • We know that because in 1974,

  • farmers digging a well near their small village

  • stumbled upon one of the most important finds in archeological history:

  • vast underground chambers surrounding that emperor's tomb,

  • and containing more than 8,000 life-size clay soldiers ready for battle.

  • The story of the subterranean army begins with Ying Zheng,

  • who came to power as the king of the Qin state at the age of 13 in 246 BCE.

  • Ambitious and ruthless,

  • he would go on to become Qin Shi Huangdi,

  • the first emperor of China after uniting its seven warring kingdoms.

  • His 36 year reign saw many historic accomplishments,

  • including a universal system of weights and measures,

  • a single standardized writing script for all of China,

  • and a defensive barrier that would later come to be known as the Great Wall,

  • but perhaps Qin Shi Huandgi dedicated so much effort

  • to securing his historical legacy

  • because he was obsessed with his mortality.

  • He spent his last years desperately employing alchemists

  • and deploying expeditions in search of elixirs of life

  • that would help him achieve immortality,

  • and as early as the first year of his reign,

  • he began the construction of a massive underground necropolis

  • filled with monuments, artifacts,

  • and an army to accompany him into the next world

  • and continue his rule.

  • This magnificent army is still standing in precise battle formation and is split across several pits.

  • One contains a main force of 6,000 soldiers, each weighing several hundred pounds,

  • a second has more than 130 war chariots and over 600 horses,

  • and a third houses the high command.

  • An empty fourth pit suggests that the grand project

  • could not be finished before the emperor's death.

  • In addition, nearby chambers contain figures of musicians and acrobats,

  • workers and government officials, and various exotic animals,

  • indicating that Emperor Qin had more plans for the afterlife than simply waging war.

  • All the figurines are sculpted from terracotta, or baked earth, a type of reddish brown clay.

  • To construct them, multiple workshops and reportedly over 720,000 laborers

  • were commandeered by the emperor,

  • including groups of artisans who molded each body part separately

  • to construct statues as individual as the real warriors in the emperor's army.

  • They stand according to rank

  • and feature different weapons and uniforms,

  • distinct hairstyles and expressions, and even unique ears.

  • Originally, each warrior was painted in bright colors,

  • but their exposure to air caused the paint to dry and flake,

  • leaving only the terracotta base.

  • It is for this very reason that another chamber less than a mile away

  • has not been excavated.

  • This is the actual tomb of Qin Shi Huangdi,

  • reported to contain palaces, precious stones and artifacts,

  • and even rivers of mercury flowing through mountains of bronze.

  • But until a way can be found to expose it without damaging the treasures inside,

  • the tomb remains sealed.

  • Emperor Qin was not alone in wanting company for his final destination.

  • Ancient Egyptian tombs contain clay models representing the ideal afterlife,

  • the dead of Japan's Kofun period were buried with sculptures of horses and houses,

  • and the graves of the Jaina island off the Mexican coast

  • are full of ceramic figurines.

  • Fortunately, as ruthless as he was,

  • Emperor Qin chose to have servants and soldiers built for this purpose,

  • rather than sacrificing living ones to accompany him,

  • as had been practiced in Egypt, West Africa, Anatolia, parts of North America

  • and even China during the previous Shang and Zhou dynasties.

  • And today, people travel from all over the world to see these stoic soldiers

  • silently awaiting their battle orders for centuries to come.

What happens after death?

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B2 US TED-Ed emperor army shi china clay

【TED-Ed】The incredible history of China's terracotta warriors - Megan Campisi and Pen-Pen Chen

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    Joyce Lee posted on 2015/07/07
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