Terracotta Army Facts

Who's the Real Owner of the Terracotta Army?

During the research of the Terracotta Army, some scholars claim that the Terracotta Army is not owned by Qin Shi Huang, but his great-great-grandmother, the empress dowager Xuan, or better known as Mi Yue! What are the arguments for this standpoint and who’s the real owner of the Terracotta Army? Let’s see together.

Argument 1: The empress dowager Xuan’s name was carved on one of the terracotta warriors.

Pro: In 1975, a terracotta figure with a strange inscription “脾” was unearthed. After consulting ancient Chinese writing expert, someone decided that these were two unique characters, left is “月” (yue), right is a variant of “芈” (mi), together is “芈月” (mi yue), believed as the name of empress dowager Xuan.

Con:  First of all, no one in the upper classes of that era was named after “月”. Secondly, if it's two characters, why are left and right so close that they look like one character? Besides, it makes no sense to engrave the name of the tomb owner on the body of an ordinary clay figure.

Argument 2: The terracotta army faces east, the direction of the empress dowager Xuan's hometown.

Pro: The empress dowager Xuan once participated in the state affairs of the Qin State and had great power. So when she died, it’s possible for her son, the Qin King Zhao, to order craftsmen to build the terracotta warriors, which symbolized the guards, to escort her back to her homeland. Empress dowager Xuan's hometown is the State of Chu, to the east of the terracotta army. So the terracotta warriors face east.

Con: The terracotta army was built in 221 BC, when the Qin Shi Huang was planning to unify the whole country. The other five states at that time were to the east of Qin State. So the terracotta army faces east, reflecting the emperor's determination and courage to defeat the other five states and unify the country.

Argument 3: The terracotta army is too far from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang.

Pro: The terracotta warriors and horses were found far away from the mound of Qin Shi Huang, and the nearest distance is as long as 1.5 kilometers (0.9 mi), which makes no sense.

Con: The whole Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang covers an area of 56.5 square kilometers (13,961 acres). Although the terracotta warriors’ pits are far from the mound of Qin Shi Huang, their distance is proportional to the total area.

Argument 4: Terracotta army’s location to the east of Qin Shi Huang’s tomb is unconventional.

Pro: The tombs of the ancient Chinese emperors usually run in north-south direction. According to this convention, if the owner of the terracotta warriors is Qin Shi Huang, they should be to the south or north of the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, but actually they are to the east of the tomb.

Historical records show that the mausoleum of the empress dowager Xuan was in the south of Xinfeng County, close to the site where the terracotta warriors were unearthed.

Con: The first emperor's mausoleum is surrounded by mountains on three sides except in the east. The terracotta army was built in the east to defend the tomb.

Argument 5: The fighting power of Terracotta army is weak.

Pro: Among the three pits which have been found, Pit 1 is the right army, Pit 2 is the left army, and Pit 3 is served as command center. The most important middle army is missing, so it is not a combat force. Emperor Qin Shi Huang is not that kind of person allowing the missing of the most important middle army. Empress dowager Xuan was not directly involved in the war when in power, so there was no need for the middle army.

Con: Terracotta Army also has Pit 4 but it has nothing inside. The Pit 4 is the proposed middle army. It was not built because of the peasant uprising in the late Qin dynasty in history, and most of the criminals who built the mausoleum were transferred to suppress the rebels. With the fall of the Qin dynasty, the construction of Pit 4 was abandoned.

Argument 6: The terracotta warriors are equipped with bronze weapons lag behind the era.

Pro: Iron weapons appeared during the reign of Qin Shi Huang. According to his personality, he should be buried with iron weapons with stronger fighting capacity, instead of obsolete bronze weapons. So the owner of the terracotta army was not the first emperor. During the reign of empress dowager Xuan, bronze weapons were still the mainstream, and iron weapons were very few. And the terracotta warriors are burial guards, so there is no need to equip them with rare iron weapons.

Con: The bronze weapons can be made with golden color, luxurious and generous. Bronze is more resistant to corrosion after quenching and tin plating. These made bronze weapons more suitable as funeral goods than iron weapons.

What’s more, 23 bronze weapons with inscriptions dating back to the reign of Qin Shi Huang were found in the Pit 1 of Terracotta Warriors. Six of them are carved with “Lv Buwei Dagger-axe”, which are the most persuasiveness evidences that the terracotta army is owned by Qin Shi Huang. Because empress dowager Xuan was born more than 100 years before Lv Buwei.

Argument 7: Colorful costumes do not conform to the customs of the Qin.

Pro: After the unification of China, Qin Shi Huang established a system of “black worship” for clothes, festival flags and so on. However, the clothes on the unearthed terracotta warriors are colorful, which is a hobby of the Chu people. The empress dowager Xuan was from Chu State, it makes sense that she wanted the terracotta warriors in Chu style wearing to be buried with her.

Con: Qin Shi Huang likes black and promoted this color, but only required his ministers to wear black on important occasions, not that the whole country should not wear clothes of other colors. The clothes of soldiers of Qin dynasty were usually self-provided, except amours. They were sewed by families or bought in the market, so colorful clothes were very normal.

Argument 8: Right-sided cone buns is a custom of the Chu State.

Pro: The hair buns of the terracotta warriors are mostly tilted to the right of the head, which is also the custom of the Chu people.

Con: Qin people advocated the right side, so hair bun on the right is not improper.

Argument 9: Absence of Helmets

Pro: The helmets were unearthed nearby Qin Shi Huang tomb, which proves his army used helmets. But why don't terracotta warriors wear helmets? If the terracotta warriors were simply an escort army for the empress dowager Xuan, then to show respect for the dead, the lack of helmets is reasonable.

Con: In the Qin dynasty, the more enemies they killed on the battlefield, the bigger reward they got. Therefore, many soldiers abandoned the cumbersome helmets and even amours in order to move more quickly and kill the enemies more easily.

Argument 10: Different wheel distances of the chariots.

Pro: Qin Shi Huang ordered the implementation of the same track of carriage after he unified China, but many chariots unearthed in the Terracotta Army were with different wheel distances, so they were made before that.

Con: The terracotta army was started to be built in 246 BC when Qin Shi Huang ascended the throne, while the earliest time of Qin Shi Huang issued the policy of same track of horse carriage was 221 BC after he unified China. These chariots were probably made before the implementation of the policy.

Final Conclusion: The Real Owner of the Terracotta Army is Emperor Qin Shi Huang.

According to the above views, the real owner of the terracotta army is undoubtedly Qin Shi Huang. In addition, judging from the large scale of the terracotta army, the national strength during the era of empress dowager Xuan was not enough to support her to build such a huge and magnificent underground army, and only Qin Shi Huang had affluent financial and manpower resources to do so.

Further Reading:
Let’s Smash the 5 Rumors of the Terracotta Army

- Last updated on Jan. 20, 2023 by Brenda Lian -
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