the Monumental Tomb of Emperor Shihuangdi

Tomb of Shihuangdi

Shihuangdi was the name used to refer to the first emperor of China. The emperor used military strength, natural disasters, and strategy to defeat six states and later unified them to make a new unified China. He then became a king and an emperor of the new China. In order to protect his newly formed kingdom, the king made numerous reforms some which included change of economy, culture and the political system of China. He also made a uniform copper coin with a square hole at the center to be used throughout his kingdom. The king is said to have killed anyone who had a fear of death. Immediately after becoming king, he started a project to build his own tomb. Many would wonder why such a king would use so much energy, time and resources in building his own tomb. He is said to have feared death and eagerly tried to find anything that would make him immortal.

construction of the Monumental Tomb of Emperor Shihuangdi

The complexity and the size of the monumental Tomb of emperors Huangdi are confounding. When vied from far, it is seen as a hill full of vegetation. In building the tomb, the emperor used more than 700,000 men who came from three different groups; the craftsmen, prisoners, and people who couldn’t repay their debts. Most of these people had not observed the rules of the time and were to pay a fine but because they had no money, they were forced into building the tomb. They dug three layers deep the earth up to the underground water. They lined the tomb with vermilion stone to prevent water from entering in.


The mystery of the monumental Tomb of Shihuangdi.

In the tomb, the emperor made palaces and burial sites for all the officials that served him. He also kept rare utensils, jewels, wonderful objects and a lot of treasures. Candles with man-fish oil were also installed to light the tomb forever. He made automatically hidden arrows that would shoot to kill those who would try to loot the tomb. It was designed as the palaces and towers of the then China. Mercury designed to flow mechanically was used to make 100 rivers to represent the rivers of the earth. Bronze was used to cast the emperor’s coffin.  To maintain all the secrets of the tomb, all the workers used to construct the tomb were killed in the tomb. The tomb is said to be built with two cities. Two walls surround the tomb. Pits containing different figures and artifacts were also put in place in both the inside and outside the walls. Craftsmen designed figures of courtiers and bureaucrats who served the king using terracotta inside the inner wall. On the outside of the wall but still inside the outer wall, entertainers and strong men were erected on pits all made of terracotta. There are three different pits which differ in size, shape, and contents. In the first pit, the craftsmen made warriors, chariots and horses lined up in a long corridor and eleven compartments. In this pit, there are also weapons like bending knives, crossbows, bronze swords and arrowheads as well as molds of warriors, chariots each with four horses. Based on the area already excavated, Scientists and archeologists believe that more than 6,000 warriors, chariots and horses are yet to be discovered. The second pit contains chariot soldiers with weapons like bows spear halberd, sword, dagger ax, and crossbows as well as foot soldiers and crossbow soldiers. All these are arranged according to their respective positions and services in the kingdom.  The third pit was designed to contain canopied chariot which faces east end it is followed by four armored figures. In both the north and the south rooms, there are about 64 guards. When scientists tested the surfaces of the weapons found in the tomb, they found that they were mainly made of bronze and tin with some traces of rare metals. The weapons were found to have been treated with chromium to prevent them from rusting for a very long time. Sacrificial objects also built for the emperor and included burial pits for rare birds and horses. Bronze cranes swan and ducks with groups of musicians were also made in the park at the north of the outer wall. Real horses were buried outside the outer wall with grooms made of terracotta kneeling beside them. All the workers that build the tomb were found to be buried to the west of the tomb in a mass burial ground. To the east of the tomb, about 1.5 km is the painted terracotta army and horses standing upright eyes open and ears erect. Some horses have saddles.


Some people believe the terracotta army has nothing at all to do with the tomb but rather build by the emperor to celebrate his victory over the conquered states. Others believe that the soldiers were built to protect the king in the afterlife and the precious things were to belong to the Emperor in the afterlife. It is believed the king may have killed all the workers who build the palace. There are those that say he had a huge necropolis built in his honor, his tomb guarded by thousands of terracotta warrior statues for him to be remembered. I choose to support that the terracotta soldiers were to guard the King. Ancient China believes was that the human body was made of two parts; the spirit and the ghost. The ghost remained in the tomb while the spirit ascended above to become a higher being. To protect his ghost, the King built the warriors. They also believed that items and buried with a person could be taken with him to the afterlife. The first King did not kill the workers. After the burial of the First Emperor, his successor suggested that it would be a serious breach if the craftsmen who constructed the mechanical devices and knew of its treasures were to expose those secrets. Immediately after the funeral ceremonies had completed and the treasures are hidden away, the inner gates of the tomb were blocked, and the outer gate was lowered, trapping all the workers and craftsmen inside. No one could manage to escape. Trees and vegetations were then planted on the tomb.


Portal, J., & Kinoshita, H. (2007). The first emperor: China’s Terracotta Army.Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Fairbank, J. K. (1992). China: a new history. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Luo, Z. (1993). China’s imperial tombs and mausoleums. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.

Man, J. (2008). The terra cotta army: China’s first emperor and the birth of a nation. Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press.


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