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Western Wind and Local Soil: The Fascinating Creation of the Terracotta Army

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Tickets: £10 General, £8 Concessions, £5 Asia House Arts Members

After the Great Wall, the Terracotta Army is the most well-known site in China today. Discovered purely by chance by local farmers in 1974, the 6,000 life-size figures are now regarded as the Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World.

Who exactly created this ancient army?

This is the subject of fierce debate. In October 2016, the new discoveries were the subject of a documentary, The Greatest Tomb on Earth, jointly made by the BBC and National Geographic.

In this documentary, it was hypothesized that the Terracotta Army was influenced in some ways by Ancient Greek sculptures. But a more compelling case was made by Senior Archaeologist, Dr Li Xiuzhen, who is also featured in the documentary.

Dr Li works at the Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, Lintong District, Xi‘an, Shaanxi Province and has been studying the Army on the ground for years. She argues that the Terracotta Army may have been inspired by ancient Greek sculptures and art. Indeed there are traces of cultural contacts between the East and West, even before the formal opening of the Silk Road.

But there is even more compelling evidence of a unique indigenous culture and unique ceramic techniques that played a crucial role in the Terracotta Army which resulted in the creation of the ceramic sculptures in a military formation that is unique in Chinese history and even in world history.

We are delighted to have Dr Li Xiuzhen give a talk on her findings at Asia House, which will reveal exactly what this culture was and how it is reflected in the Terracotta Army. This will be an incredibly informative and interesting talk, one that will take you into the heart of ancient China.  Dr Li Xiuzhen is Honorary Senior Research Associate at UCL Institute of Archaeology. Dr Li has extensive experience in field archaeology, including the excavation and the survey of three pits within the Qin Terracotta Army site, as well as other sites in China and the UK.


Senior Archaeologist Dr Li Xiuzhen will give a talk at Asia House about whether the Terracotta Army figures were influenced by Ancient Greek sculptures

As a curator, she organised several Terracotta Warriors’ exhibitions, including the First Emperor Exhibition at the British Museum. She currently works as a Senior Archaeologist in the Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, leading archaeological excavations and international cooperative research projects. She also established the cooperative project between the Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum and UCL Institute of Archaeology in 2006, and the Imperial Logistics: The Making of the Terracotta Army is one of the important programmes of the project.

The Terracotta Army (Chinese: 兵马俑; literally: ‘Soldier-and-horse funerary statues’) is a collection of terracotta figures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China.  It is a form of funerary art buried with the Qin First Emperor (259-210 BCE) and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. The construction of the mausoleum was carried out shortly after he took the throne in 246 BCE. More than 700,000 labourers worked on the project, which was halted in 209 B.C. amid uprisings a year after Qin First Emperor’s death.  Local farmers dug a well in the Lintong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province, and found the 8,000 life-size clay figures in 1974 accidentally, less than a mile to the east of the tomb of the Qin First Emperor. The sculptures vary in their facial features and are positioned in lines according to their functions and ranks. The figures include infantry, cavalry, charioteers, archers and crossbowmen, equipped with bronze lethal weapons, such as swords, spears, lances, daggers, arrows and crossbow triggers in pristine condition.  Other non-military clay figures were found in other pits, including figures of officials, acrobats and musicians, some caught in mid-performance, in stark contrast to the formal poses of the soldiers.

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January 18, 2017
18:45 - 20:30
Event Category:


Asia House


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