China's ancient warrior sculptures to go on show in Te Papa

5:08 pm on 28 September 2018

Te Papa is spending $2.6 million to bring eight of China's ancient terracotta warriors to New Zealand.

Standing archer (detail), Qin dynasty (221–206 bce), Pottery, height 184cm. Excavated from Pit 2, Qin Shihuang tomb complex, 1978. Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, 002816.

Standing archer (detail), Qin dynasty (221–206 bce), Pottery, height 184cm. Excavated from Pit 2, Qin Shihuang tomb complex, 1978. Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, 002816. Photo: © Mr. Ziyu Qiu

The army of sculptures, which secretly guarded the tomb of China's First Emperor Qin Shihuang for 2300 years, were discovered by chance in 1974 by a farmer digging a well.

The exhibition will feature eight warriors, two full-sized horses and two half-size replica bronze chariots, each drawn by four horses, as well as more than 160 works of ancient Chinese art.

The Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment contributed $500,000 to the Te Papa exhibition through its major events development fund.

Dr Rebecca Rice, curator of the exhibition, who visited the First Emperor's mausoleum in Xi'an, said the exhibition would provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the First Emperor's vision and his unification of China, shaping the nation as we know it today.

Armoured general (detail), Qin dynasty (221–206 bce), pottery, height 196cm. Excavated from Pit 1, Qin Shihuang tomb complex, 1977. Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, 002524.

Standing archer (detail). Photo: © Mr. Ziyu Qiu

The First Emperor's Terracotta Army is located 1.5km east of the Emperor's burial mound in Xi'an, in the province of Shaanxi.

It is estimated that there are 8000 soldiers in total, with about 3000 having been excavated to date.

The life-size, life-like soldiers, each weigh 100-300kg and stand about 180cm high. They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. Originally, the figures were painted with bright pigments, however much of the colour has faded over time.

Scholars continue to debate the function of Qin's Terracotta Army. Some think that, due to the fact the soldiers face east, they were intended to protect the First Emperor in the afterlife. Others question the soldiers' readiness for battle, as they are not fully armoured.

The Te Papa exhibition opens in December.

By the numbers:

  • 2300 years old (age of the terracotta warriors)
  • 8 full-sized terracotta warriors
  • 2 full-sized terracotta horses
  • 100-300kg weight range of the warriors
  • 180cm height of the warriors
  • 2 half-size replica bronze chariots, each drawn by four horses.
  • More than 160 exquisite ancient Chinese works crafted from gold, jade and bronze
  • $2.6 million cost of the exhibition
  • $500,000 Major Events Development Fund investment from MBIE
  • 100,000 estimated expected exhibition visitors
  • $33 million estimated economic benefit to Wellington

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