Unlike the Terracotta Army, Qin’s dynasty did not survive long past his death. Infighting among his heirs and power-hungry advisors ensured that his son, Emperor Qin Ershihuang—who was directed by a scheming political advisor, Zhao Gao—ruled for only three or four years before civil war wracked the country, ultimately leading to the emergence of the Western Han Dynasty. Still, Qin’s legacy lives on: China’s name derives from his own. Indeed, modern China owes much of its ancient, founding accomplishments to the ruler.
Contemporary scholars view the Terracotta Army as a model for how Qin Shi Huangdi prepared his formidable troops for battle and was able to unify the city-states. “We can see his military organization, the different ranks of the warriors,” said curator Hou-mei Sung, who co-organized the exhibition “Terracotta Army: Legacy of the First Emperor of China,” currently on view at the Cincinnati Art Museum through August 12th. “We can see what kind of a chariot he rode and the structures of the tomb,” Sung continued. “It reflects his lifetime palace.”
The Terracotta Army and its surrounding objects also offer insight into craft practices throughout the Qin Dynasty. Workers began constructing the emperor’s tomb when he first rose to power at 13 years old. Over a timespan of 38 years, more than 700,000 workers contributed to the massive building project (many of whom are buried in the mass grave within the complex). Each of the terracotta soldiers required the laborers to fire individual pieces—hats, body parts, armor—separately. The chariots are so complex and fragile that they are not allowed to leave China. For her show, Sung used a replica instead, comprised of about 3,000 individual pieces.