Terracotta Army Facts

Ancient Greek Art Inspired China’s Terracotta Army? Impossible!

A report about Terracotta Army once said that its unearthed musician figures, dancer figures and acrobatic figures were inspired by ancient Greek sculpture. Some people even claim that ancient Greek sculptors once taught Chinese craftsmen how to make terracotta statues during Qin Dynasty (221BC-207BC). However, it is contradictory to the common belief that the close cultural interaction between the west and the east began around 1500AD. Also, according to the Chinese archaeologists, there is no sound evidence to show that Qin craftsmen ever communicated with ancient Greek.

Why do some people think that Terracotta Army was inspired by Ancient Greek Art? 


1. Compared with previous sculptures, the Terracotta Army has a strikingly different style.

Terracotta Warriors
Tall and Life-like Terracotta Warriors
Ceramic figures had already been made during the early Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770BC-256BC). However, they were kind of small and rigid, and usually were no taller than 20cm (0.7ft). In contrast, the Terracotta Warriors made in late Eastern Zhou Dynasty and Qin Dynasty (221BC-207BC) had the average height of more than 1.8m (6ft) and had dynamic postures. A group of overseas scholars examined dozens of the figures of acrobats and dancers, each sculpted with naked torsos, forming part of the Terracotta Army. They pointed out that obviously, the ancient Qin craftsmen represented each figure’s natural posture by carving the lines of its skeleton and musculature. This was the same as the way the ancient Greeks modelled the human figures they created. How could Qin craftsmen change the style in such a short time? Some people explained that they had been influenced by ancient Greek art at that time.

2. They don’t believe Qin Craftsmen mastered such delicate carving techniques.

Not only the overall style, the details of Terracotta Army are also questioned by some overseas scholars. The different facial expression on each Terracotta Warrior reminded them of the ancient Greek carving techniques, by which Michelangelo, for example, produced the Statue of David centuries later. Moreover, in terms of an unearthed bronze bird statue not far from the Terracotta Army, people recognized that it was made through Lost Wax Casting technique. But some scholars doubted Qin craftsmen’s ability at that time, and considered this technique exclusive to ancient Egyptians or Greeks. Given the delicate carving and casting techniques, certain overseas schorlars even made a bold assumption that ancient Greek sculptors once came to China and taught Qin craftsmen how to make Terracotta Army on the spot.

3. The unearthed human bones had the European DNA.

For those who insist on the influence of ancient Greek art, their most strong evidence could be the European DNA extracted from the unearthed human bone in the vicinity of the Terracotta Army. This finding means that Europeans may have come to or already lived in ancient China more than 2,200 years ago. Thus, Greeks were also likely to have visited ancient China and spread their sculpture arts.
However, these three statements can’t bear close scrutiny.

Why does Terracotta Army have nothing to do with ancient Greece?


1. The change of style was to represent the authority of the first emperor in Chinese history.

As we know, Terracotta Army was built as the grave goods for Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259BC-210BC). Being the first emperor in ancient China, ambitious Qin Shi Huang wanted to command an invincible army even after he died, which also showed his authority. That’s why the Qin craftsmen changed their style of sculpture, and started to make vivid Terracotta Warriors as big as real soldiers. Besides, as a state with advanced manufacturing industry, it was not difficult for Qin to select capable craftsmen and improve their carving or casting techniques.

2. The Terracotta Army’s scale was too large to be instructed by ancient Greeks.

Study has shown that the Terracotta Warriors and other weapons and sculptures, bear symbols or inscriptions made by craftsmen more than 2,200 years ago. Most of these inscriptions were their names and their workplaces, such as “capital city Xianyang”, “Yueyang Area”, “Linjin Area” and “Anyi Area”. This indicates that Qin craftsmen made terracotta statues in many different places at the same time, which helps explain why the Terracotta Warriors have differing face shapes, hairstyles and expressions. In other words, the assumption of ancient Greek’s guidance does not make sense. Firstly, if Qin craftsmen were taught by ancient Greek, how could there was no uniform production standard? Secondly, Terracotta Warriors were made at different places. Even one place had several workshops. How did ancient Greeks teach craftsmen individually? Thirdly, there are more than 8,000 unearthed Terracotta Warriors, thus how many ancient Greeks would be needed to instruct on such a large-scale production? All these doubts confirm that the Terracotta Army has nothing to do with ancient Greeks.
Grand Terracotta Army
Grand Terracotta Army

3. That European was probably a worker instead of an ancient Greek sculptor.

Terracotta Army is a part of Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum. According to the historical record, more than 700,000 workers once participated in constructing this largest mausoleum in the world. So, it was not a rare thing to find several exotic people among the workforce. Moreover, many people speculate that any European remains were simply those of a worker.

Eurocentrism ignores global cultural diversity.

Frankly speaking, it is typical of Eurocentrism to connect the Terracotta Army with ancient Greek art regardless of historical facts. People holding Eurocentric opinions will always doubt aother culture’s ability to evolve and improve no matter if in art or other fields.
Besides the Terracotta Army, many other Asian cultural relics, especially statues of Buddha, were also once explained by this concept. For instance, Gandahara was a country in the north east of the Indian Peninsula in 600BC. This country was known for its delicate statues of Buddha, which feature graceful proportion and posture. Eurocentric belief is that Alexander the Great and several Greek craftsmen traveled to Gandhara in late 400BC and therefore influenced local art. And this is their only explanation of Gandhara’s marvelous craftsmanship.
Obviously, Eurocentrism underestimates other diversified cultures, and this stereotype needs to be broken.

 Further Reading:
Terracotta Army Boosted the Rise of Modern Europe
Let's Smash the 5 Rumors of the Terracotta Army
- Last updated on Mar. 06, 2024 by Brenda Lian -
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