Civil officials among the warriors
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the famous Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor — Qin Shi Huang — from 246 to 208 BC in Xi’an. A massive army was built to “guard” the tomb though the warriors were made of clay.
The life-size terracotta sculptures were first discovered in March 1974 when local farmers were digging a well in Xiyang Village, 1.5 kilometers east of the emperor’s tomb. Hearing the news, archeologists visited the site and began to excavate several months later.
Around 7,000 terracotta warriors and horses were unearthed from three pits which cover more than 20,000 square meters. Based on their postures and how they were dressed, the soldiers are divided into various types — generals or lower-ranking military officers, infantry warriors, cavalry warriors, armored warriors, drivers of chariots, kneeling archers and standing archers.
Apart from the well-known terracotta warriors, many non-military figures were found in other pits, for example, civil officials.
Eight terracotta civil officials were unearthed from Pit K0006, which is in the southwestern corner of the mausoleum mound, along with four terracotta charioteers. With a total area of about 410 square meters, the pit was found in the year 2000.
The layout of the pit looks like the Chinese character “中.” It consists of a front room and a back room, which are separated by a sloping gateway.
At 10.6 meters long and 4.05 meters wide, the front room mainly houses terracotta statues along with pottery jars, bronze yue, or a ritual axe symbolizing power, and the fragments of a wooden chariot.
The back room, 20.2 meters long and 3.9 meters wide, was used to inter horses. It is estimated that there would have been over 20 horses buried in the room.
Unlike the terracotta warriors who wear armor and have a solemn countenance, the civil officials, who look calm, modest and refined, wear loose clothing. Without holding weapons, the civil officials place their hands into opposing sleeves.
Originally, the figures were painted with bright pigments, colored in red, green, black, pink and white. However, the color greatly faded due to erosion by ground water.
All the 12 terracotta statues wear long guan, or formal headdress, which symbolizes high social rank. They also wear belts which are not only used to fasten around their waists but also hung with small knives and stones.
Why do literati need knives?
In 221 BC, Qin Shi Huang conquered and unified all the other six major states — Han, Zhao, Yan, Wei, Chu and Qi. As the Emperor of Qin, he standardized the Chinese units of measurement such as weight and length and established the central government.
In the early stage of Qin, many officials found it difficult to communicate with each other as the characters of the previous six states were all different. The language barrier was disadvantageous to unification and therefore Li Si, prime minister of Qin, proposed an independent language.
Qin Shi Huang then ordered that all the official documents must be written in small seal script, or Qin script, which is an archaic form of Chinese calligraphy.
To mandate the use of a standard writing script, all the nonconforming characters were required to be removed. At that time, the main media for writing documents in China was bamboo slips rather than paper. Instead of smearing and erasing, people used knives to scrape the wrong characters from the bamboo slips. The civil officials carried knives and sharpening stones with them for convenience.
Looking carefully, visitors might find a small oval hole between the left upper body and the left arm of a civil official. The experts assume that the hole was used to place a bamboo slip.
Other non-military figures are the acrobats and musicians found in pits K9901 and K0007.
Covering about 700 square meters, K9901 is at the southeast area of the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum. It contains a bronze tripod and 11 entertaining pottery statues imitating acrobats. The shirtless figures wear colorful trousers.
According to the postures of the acrobats, experts reckon they are giving performances, such as tripod lifting and plate spinning.
Located in the northeast corner of the mausoleum mound, pit K0007 was constructed for Qin Shi Huang to amuse himself in his afterlife. Listening to music is one of the best recreations.
The fragments of musical instruments and seven terracotta musicians were unearthed from the pit along with 46 bronze aquatic birds and eight terracotta figures sitting on the ground, which are believed to be weavers making fishing nets.