What is the purpose and significance of the Terracotta Warriors to Ancient Chinese society?

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The Terracotta Army exists as part of the massive burial complex of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. This army is made up of a great number of statues (all life sized, armed soldiers), and it is believed that they were intended as a guard for the Emperor...

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The Terracotta Army exists as part of the massive burial complex of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. This army is made up of a great number of statues (all life sized, armed soldiers), and it is believed that they were intended as a guard for the Emperor in his journey into the afterlife. Discovering the Terracotta Army has been understood as one of the major archaeological finds of the twentieth century.

When speaking about its importance to Ancient China, one should recognize that funerary customs tend to be a critical component to any civilization, and we see a recurring theme by which some of the greatest and most significant monuments left by ancient civilizations are represented in the tombs of powerful rulers. We see this clearly in the example of Egypt (with the Pyramids or the Valley of the Kings), as well as with something like the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, built as a tomb for the satrap Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (just to give two examples). I would suggest that the tomb of Qin Shi Huang would serve a similar function, as one of the more significant building projects to emerge from Ancient China, closely associated with the Emperor for whom it was built.

With that in mind, when discussing the terracotta army, it is also worth recognizing the significance of Qin Shi Huang himself. He is one of the seminal figures in Chinese History, who emerged in the context of the Warring States Period. He defeated his rivals and reunified China, creating a centralized political state (though his Qin Dynasty ultimately crumbled shortly after his death and was replaced by the later Han Dynasty).

A brutal ruler, he nonetheless played a critical role in shaping Chinese imperial structures. The Terracotta Army serves as a lasting monument, closely linked with his reign, and to this particular period of time in Chinese history.

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