The Terra Cotta Army: China?s First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation


The Terra Cotta Army is one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever made. Over seven thousand life-size figures of warriors and horses were interred in the mausoleum of the first emperor of China—and each figure was individually carved.

Weaving together history and a first-hand account of his experiences in China, John Man tells the fascinating story of how and why these astonishing figures were created in the third century BC, and how...

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The Terra Cotta Army: China's First Emperor and the Birth of a Nation

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The Terra Cotta Army is one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever made. Over seven thousand life-size figures of warriors and horses were interred in the mausoleum of the first emperor of China—and each figure was individually carved.

Weaving together history and a first-hand account of his experiences in China, John Man tells the fascinating story of how and why these astonishing figures were created in the third century BC, and how they have become a symbol of China’s history, culture, and society.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In 1974, two farmers digging a well stumbled on part of the tomb of China's first emperor, Qin. Often called the Eighth Wonder of the World, the tomb contained an army of over 6,000 terra-cotta figures, some kneeling, others standing and many carrying weapons. In a plodding and erratic book, historian Man (Genghis Khan) recounts the tomb's discovery and what it reveals about Qin's life. In an attempt to understand the techniques and materials used in the statues, Man visits reproduction factories and talks with artists. Repeating uncritically the same legends that Frances Wood dispels in China's First Emperor, Man fails to provide real depth or to offer any new insights. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

Currently on tour from Santa Ana, CA, to Atlanta, Houston, and Washington, DC, through March 2010, the exhibition The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army(with an alternative title, China's Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of the First Emperor, and a different curatorial approach, at some venues) is cause for rejoicing. These two brilliant and utterly readable books will thrill both those lucky enough to see the exhibition and those who must miss this stunning tour.

Emperor Qin shi huang (259-210 BCE) was China's first emperor. As a boy king, he began construction on his tomb; his rule saw many major innovations, including the development of writing and coinage and the construction of the Great Wall. Qin was an outstanding military leader who unified China, but he has been assailed for using forced labor, burning books, and killing scholars. Fast forward to 1974, when farmers digging for water near the emperor's mausoleum discovered pits holding the astonishing figures eventually known to the world as the Terracotta Army. Discovery of this army, which consists of about 8000 warriors, chariots, and horses, has forced us to reexamine the emperor's reputation.

With China's First Emperor and His Terracotta Warriors, Wood (head, Chinese Dept., British Lib.; The Silk Road) gives us a text that is wonderfully descriptive not only archaeologically but in reassessing the emperor, warts and all. Her book brims with outstanding illustrations. The Terra Cotta Army, by British historian Man (Genghis Khan), reads much like an adventure story that offers fine access to this highly detailed subject. Readers accompany Man as he walks into Pit No. 1and contributes fascinating information on just how these terracotta figures were shaped in sections, attached, individually detailed, and baked. Like Wood, he questions the information, arguments, and myths that have come down to us regarding Qin's reign, instead offering his own analysis. Royal records and contemporary stone inscriptions are among the primary sources surveyed by both authors, who admit that interpretations will always be a matter of dispute, e.g., does this army represent a kind of repression by the emperor or an acknowledgment of communal talent? These books should be purchased by all libraries, whether or not in the cities lucky enough to get the exhibit.

[The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army, published in the U.K. by the British Museum and in the United States by Harvard University Press in 2007, is the exhibition's official companion volume and is also highly recommended. The illustrations include many haunting studio shots of the figures, as well as documentation of the tomb site and extraordinary images of the pits before and after excavation, and the accessible and fascinating text is contributed by experts in the field. End material, including a chronology and glossary of Chinese characters, add to the book's considerable value.-Ed.]
—David Lee Poremba

Kirkus Reviews
A judicious exploration of the circumstances and meaning behind the terra cotta army interred with China's first emperor. In 1974, a clutch of Chinese farmers digging a well unearthed an army of clay soldiers: Confucian in their aura of strength and tranquility, more than 8,000 strong, life-sized, carved to capture specific characteristics of individual soldiers, complete with horses, crossbows and bronze arrowheads. They were the army of King Zheng, the First Emperor, who unified China's seven warring states (not to mention untold statelets and tribal areas) in a mere decade, from 230 to 221 BCE. They were never meant to be seen, avers historian Man (Attila: The Barbarian King Who Challenged Rome, 2006, etc.). The soldiers were symbolic sacrifices, a solution to the problem of conflicting, evolving Chinese beliefs and practices related to the afterlife. Traditionally, dead rulers were entombed with servants either killed or buried alive. This would not do for "a new, forward-looking dynasty"; besides, the First Emperor was a military commander trying to build a strong state, and "men dispatched into the next world cannot fight in this one." Working with the records at hand, the author delves as deep as he can into the emperor's Qin dynasty, everything from its laws and the Great Wall project to the import of bronze trigger mechanisms. Man draws the scene, summarizes, notes conflicts and conditions both before and after the immediate moment. He wonders about the cost and speed of the clay army's manufacture. He corrals the intrigues, affairs and treachery marking Qin history. What role did these intrigues play in the burning of the tomb? How might they have affected its construction? Didthe Red Guards later erase vital signatures? His virtuoso historical investigation is thorough and well-versed in the material, but also restless and informal, with an eye peeled for new ideas. Scholarly yet spellbound, skeptical yet open to belief.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780306818400
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 8/4/2009
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 623,207
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Man is a historian and travel writer with a special interest in China and Mongolia whose list of acclaimed books includes Genghis Khan. He lives in the United Kingdom.
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Table of Contents

List of Maps

A Note on Spelling


Picture Acknowledgements

Preface: An Army of the Past and Present

Part I Origins

1 Discovery 3

2 The Grand Historian's Hidden Agenda 16

3 Warring States, Conflicting Ideas 27

4 From Prince to King 42

5 The Making of China 61

6 A Ruthless Frenzy 72

Part II Beyond the Grave

7 The World to Come 97

8 Digging the Tomb 115

9 Making the Eternal Army 127

10 Sudden Death 157

11 Consumed by Fire 179

Part III The Eighth Wonder

12 Six Thousand Characters in Search of a Role 205

13 New Marvels in Bronze and Stone 230

14 On Handling Treasures 247

15 To Be Revealed 257

Appendix 1 Dates and Dynasties 269

Appendix 2 Qin and the Terra Cotta Army in Context 271

Bibliography 275

Index 281

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2012

    I have to do a report on the terra cotta worriors so i am wondering if this is a good book for that plz respond

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  • Posted February 7, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Great topic, terrible execution

    Great topic, horribly delivered as meandering history and pseudo-travelogue.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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