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From the emperor to the Franklin

Archer warriors on display at the Franklin Institute (Photo by Melissa Bijas '18).
Written by Melissa Bijas

The Terracotta Army protects Philadelphia.

The Terracotta Warriors, from Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, made the long voyage across the Pacific Ocean to visit Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute. The Warriors, which were first discovered in 1974 by farmers in Xi’an, were created in order to protect the Emperor in the afterlife.

Many figures were created for the Emperor and the following were part of the military: armored warriors, unarmored infantrymen, cavalrymen, helmeted charioteers, spear-carrying charioteers, kneeling armored archers, standing unarmored archers, generals and low-ranking officers.

In addition to these warriors, officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians were created as a means for the Emperor’s entertainment in the afterlife.

The terracotta figures were made in the Third Century BCE and are all unique works of art. They vary in height, uniform, hairstyle and face. Initially, the figures were adorned with bright colors but the paint has since faded after being underground for centuries.

The figures were built by government laborers (primarily criminals) as well as local craftsmen/artisans. The heads, arms, legs and torsos of the pieces were produced individually and were later mended together to create a man. When the warriors were completed, they were placed in pits in exact military formation.

Before attendees enter this exhibit at the Franklin Institute, a short introductory video is played, explaining how the warriors were found by farmers and the figures’ significance to Chinese culture and history. After discussing facts about the Emperor and specifics about the time period, the doors open to feature a solitary warrior standing prominently in the spotlight. The human-sized soldier greets visitors with a stern look on his face.

Around a small corner, a high-ranking general, who was discovered in 1980, stands in the center of the room wearing elaborate armor and distinctive headgear. Located diagonally across from the high-ranking general, two archers are positioned together. The kneeling archer was discovered in 1977 and wore heavy armor. The standing archer was discovered in 1978 and only wore a padded coat.

A musician and armored infantryman are situated across from one another in another section of the exhibit. The musician was found much later and was believed to be created in order to entertain the Emperor. The armored infantryman was discovered in 1978. He wore heavy armor, similar to the kneeling archer.

The official on display was found in 1997 and looks down at visitors with solace. He was dressed modestly without any armor. Officials were employed to oversee the Emperor’s administration and kept detailed logs of things like people and food through a record-keeping system.

In addition to the 10 full-size clay figures, more than 160 artifacts were on display at the Franklin Institute. Some of the artifacts included ceramic vessels, ceramic figurines, stone armor and ceramic recreations and told the story of how the warriors were made by laborers and masters.

After visitors walk through the primary exhibit, they are instructed to venture downstairs to the Reproduction Room. Here, people are able to walk through a reproduction of the Emperor’s original tomb chambers. Some of the figures displayed are painted with traditional colors and others are cracked into pieces.

Alongside the warriors and artifacts, the Franklin Institute installed interactive features and activities for guests. Some of these features included using a touchscreen to get a closer look at the conditions of the warriors. Another allowed guests to select a certain pit they would like to look at on a map of the tomb and they were told what was in the exact location.

As for activities, children and adults alike were able to create smaller versions of their own soldiers and even piece together armor.

All in all, the Terracotta Warriors were welcomed warmly into the City of Brotherly Love and will be on display at the Franklin Institute until March 4.

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Melissa Bijas

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