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Exhibition Artifacts (Part 2)
Artifacts 4-8

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Artifacts section:   Part 1   |   Part 2   |   Part 3   |   Part 4

5. A Pair of Cavalrymen
Warring States Period, ca. 481-221 BC
Earthenware with painted decorations
(H) 23.5 cm, (L) 18 cm
Xi'an Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology


These two earthenware cavalrymen were excavated in 1995 at Tomb No. 2 in Xianying City, Shaanxi Province. The figures were molded by hand and are considered to be the oldest known examples of pottery cavalrymen found in China. The horses have elongated bodies and stand alert with their ears erect. They have painted tack and holes pierced on their foreheads, perhaps for an ornament. The figures are shown holding imaginary reins. They also have holes in their free hands, which may have held spears or horse whips. The figures are dressed in military costume with round skullcaps and jackets that end at the waist. They wear trousers -- a relatively new form of clothing adopted from nomadic cavalrymen. The figures' rounded faces appear disc-like. Overall the works have a primitive quality.

Many rulers during the Warring States period abolished human sacrifices at funerals and instead buried effigies. Effigies were made of wood, straw, stone, bronze, and clay. During the Warring States period, Chinese states waged war against one another and against the northern invaders who were attacking China's borders. These figures demonstrate the presence of mounted soldiers in China.

Discussion Questions

  1. How do we know the soldiers once held something in their hands? What do you think it might have been? What happened to it?
  2. Before this period, Chinese warriors wore a type of robe. Why do you think they adopted the trousers worn by their nomadic opponents?
  3. Why were mounted soldiers placed in the tomb?
  4. What does their presence in the tomb tell us about life during the Warring States period?
  5. What is a cavalryman? How is his job different from that of the infantry? Do armies still have cavalry? Why?

6. Chariot with Horses
Qin Dynasty, ca. 221-207 BC
(H) 171 cm, (L) 213 cm
Museum of the Qin Shi Huang Terra-Cotta Army


These terra-cotta horses were excavated in Pit No. 2, near the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, in 1977. They are among the 540 horses which were designed for the 130 chariots placed in the tomb. The horses' eyes are wide open and alert, their mouths are open, and their nostrils are flared as if they had been running. These sculptures embody the characteristics of the strong and solid horses used to pull the chariots in battle. Most of the horses were damaged when the roof of the tomb collapsed. You will notice that there has been some reconstruction done to make these horses presentable for exhibition.

In the center of the chariot, a chariot driver (Yushou, which means "imperial charioteer") holds the reins in both hands. On either side of him are two chariot soldiers. They stand with their feet placed to balance their weight while the chariot is in motion, with one hand holding the side rail of the chariot and the other a weapon. Since the charioteer has both hands on the reins, he cannot protect himself. He wears a special uniform with long-sleeved armor to protect his arms and hands and a high collar to protect his neck.

The discovery of the pits of terra-cotta warriors and horses of the First Emperor of the Qin is one of the most celebrated archaeological finds in history. The life-size figures were originally brightly painted. In three separate pits, along with the horses and chariots, 7,000 pottery warriors and tens of thousands of bronze weapons were excavated. Restored and placed in their original formation, they provide an imposing scene of the 2,000-year-old burial army of the First Emperor of the Qin.

Discussion Questions

  1. What does the terra-cotta army of the Qin Shi Huang mausoleum tell us about life in the Qin Dynasty?
  2. What did the emperor expect in his afterlife? How do you know?
  3. Did the Qin value horses? How do you know?
  4. Who do you think sculpted all the figures? How long do you think it took?
  5. Would any government have the resources to do a project like this today?
  6. The chariot was the chief war machine of its time. What is the most powerful war machine today?

Suggested Activity

Sketch a life-size terra-cotta horse and hang it on a classroom wall. (Hint: Use a draft horse as a model.) Or better yet, cut one out of cardboard and stand it up. Now imagine a room with more than 500 such horses, plus 100 chariots and 7,000 human figures!

7. Kneeling Archer
Qin Dynasty, ca. 221-207 BC
(H) 125 cm
Museum of the Qin Shi Huang Terra-Cotta Army

With an athletic bearing, poised for warfare, this figure still shows some signs of the original color on the straps connecting his armor. This archer has a regal bearing. He is posed with his hands, holding his crossbow, to one side of his body. His eyes are focused intently on the target in front of him. His hair is pulled up and coiled into a bun. Note the textured soles of his shoes; they are not unlike the soles of today's athletic shoes.

The discovery of the burial army of the First Emperor shed light on the use of archery in the Qin Dynasty army. The pottery archers from Pit No. 2 were found in a square battle formation, with standing archers in the front row and kneeling archers in the rear. To ensure a constant attack, archers were deployed in rows: One row fired arrows while the next prepared to shoot.

The various headdresses, uniforms, and armor distinguish military ranks from one soldier to another. The headdress distinguishes officers from regular soldiers. The terra-cotta general is dressed in a long, double-layer uniform and an armor vest decorated with tassels. His headdress is in the form of a double-tailed bird, a symbol of bravery and skill on the battlefield. Note the headdress of the charioteer.

Discussion Questions

  1. Describe the archer's uniform. Compare it with the uniform of the general. Which is fancier? Which suggests the more important job, or higher military rank?
  2. What aspects of the general's clothing indicate his power and status? What types of clothing indicate these traits in the military today?
  3. Does clothing indicate importance or status in our culture?
  4. What has the artist done to make the general look important?
  5. Compare the expressions on the faces of the archer and the general (solemn, stern, alert, thinking, anxious).

Suggested Activity

Compare important events and life in China during the Zhou and Qin dynasties (1000-200 BC) with events and civilizations in Europe, Africa, and the Americas. Look at society (lifestyles), rulers, monuments (tombs), wars, inventions, important people, art, and trade. What are the similarities and differences? (See Timeline.)

8. Kneeling Stable Figure
Qin Dynasty, ca. 221-207 BC
(H) 68 cm
Museum of the Qin Shi Huang Terra-Cotta Army


This kneeling boy is wearing a long robe with a scarf around his neck tucked into the robe. His hair is pulled back into a cone-shaped bun, his face leans forward, and his eyes are expressionless. He sits on his heels, a practice begun in the Shang Dynasty. The practice of coiling the legs underneath the body is not observed in sculpture until the Tang Dynasty. The figure is composed, and his hands are folded (the nails are clearly defined).

In the pit containing the horse stable, archaeologists unearthed several terra-cotta stablemen, buried with terra-cotta horses nearby. Since horses were primarily used for military purposes, the Qin government emphasized the management of horses to ensure sufficient numbers for military needs. The Qin court set up special administrative units to manage horse-related affairs.

Discussion Questions

  1. Why did the emperor have stablemen placed in his tomb? What does this tell us about the importance of horses?
  2. How do the expression and posture of the stable boy compare to those of the warriors?
  3. Describe his clothing. How does it denote his status?
  4. What would a day in the life of a stable boy be like in Qin China? Would the duties of a groom or barn worker be different today, or would they be similar? Why?

Illustrations Courtesy of Yvonne Todd

Artifacts section:   Part 1   |   Part 2   |   Part 3   |   Part 4

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