By Cliff McCarthy, Museum of Springfield History
Zheng was only thirteen when, in 246 BC, he became King of Qin, the westernmost state of China. By his thirty-eighth year, he had achieved what no other warlord before him had done — he had conquered and unified all of the “warring states” of China, proclaiming himself Qin Shihuangdi, the Great August First Emperor of Qin. Although successful in this life, the First Emperor greatly feared his own death. If he could not conquer his own mortality, he could at least create for himself a comfortable afterlife filled with his treasures and riches. And so, to guard his tomb, the First Emperor produced one of the world’s most amazing wonders — a military force of life-size, terra cotta warriors.
Numbering between 6 and 8 thousand, each figure is unique, averaging about 6 feet tall and weighing around 500 pounds. There are infantryman, archers, charioteers, and cavalrymen, each with the sculpted face of an individual. They wear their hair in different styles, sometimes with headdresses indicating social rank.
A comfortable afterlife requires more than just an army and so the First Emperor also brought with him entertainers — acrobats, strongmen, and musicians — to accompany him. He must have expected some level of red tape in the next world, because he brought “civil authorities” with him, as well.
All this was discovered by chance by some peasant farmers in 1974. Since then, these treasures have been the subject of massive archeological digs, revealing new finds and opening a window into a culture more than 2000 thousand years old. Some of the figures have made limited tours of the world’s major cities and they are now on display in New York City at the Discovery Museum on 44th Street. While not within the bounds of the Pioneer Valley, this exhibit is so extraordinary, and the figures so magnificent, that it merits special consideration for Valley residents looking for an amazing museum experience.
Actually, the Discovery Museum is easily accessible. It is about a ten-block walk from Penn. Station, so the intrepid Valley adventurer can take Amtrak out of Springfield and return the same day, without the hassle of driving or parking in the city. The exhibit runs until August 26th. For more information, go to: www.discoverytsx.com