This is one of the pictures that I find the most moving of all my many photographs from our recent trip to China. His unique clay face peers out of the Earth, waiting to be brushed and glued and returned to his former glory, like the rest of his comrades in Pit 1. For two thousand years he has guarded the Emperor Qin faithfully, long after the roof fell in, the lights went out and those that made him died. To me, these soldiers are as much of a legacy to the ordinary people who made them, modelling them after brothers, friends and cousins, as to the Emperor himself.
There are six excavated pits at the Xi’an location of the terracotta warriors and there could be more. The tomb of the Emperor himself is half a kilometer away from Pit 1 and has not been excavated. Ancient texts talk of rivers of mercury in his tomb, and initial modern probes into the tomb show unexpectedly high levels of mercury, perhaps confirming those ancient reports. This is one of the reasons the Emperor’s tomb remains undisturbed and will do for the foreseeable future. This feels the right, respectful course of action and also sensible given Qin’s legendary ruthlessness – who knows what horrors will be down there!
I had the good fortune to see some of the terracotta warriors when they visited the British Museum a year or so ago (actually, just checked and it was 2008, opps, time flies!), but I am so glad I saw them in their proper context. Nothing will make me forget the first view of Pit 1, an aircraft hangar filled with row after row of ancient memories; a last effort by an incredible ego to control, even in death.