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Terracotta army 'weren't soldiers'

A CHINESE historian is refuting the modern interpretation of the First Emperor's terracotta army, saying the figures are servants and bodyguards, not warriors as many people believe.

"The clay figures should be taken as copies of the emperor's guards and servants," said Liu Jiusheng, associate professor of history at Shaanxi Normal University.

"Their layout in the pits, with chariots and horses, represented grand ceremonies with the emperor's presence."

Many people believe the 2,200-year-old terracotta army, buried around the mausoleum of the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC) about 35 kilometers east of Xi'an, indicated the emperor had wanted the clay warriors to help him rule in the afterlife.

But Liu, an expert on Qin Dynasty history who has been studying the terracotta army for more than 20 years, discounts this hypothesis. "It's against the Chinese tradition and value systems to bury clay warriors in imperial mausoleums - the Chinese traditionally value peace in the afterlife," Liu said.

Publishing his research this month, Liu said the clay figures were most likely modeled on imperial court officials, servants and bodyguards, all of whom were people of high social status.

"Men of humble origin or ordinary soldiers couldn't have got so close to the emperor, even in his mausoleum," he wrote.

The army was buried near the main entrance to the mausoleum, which was off-limits to all except high-ranking officials, bodyguards and close servants, Liu said.

The clay figures stand at an average height of 190 centimeters, much taller than average Chinese male's height even today.

"The real people might not be that tall. They were probably made taller to show their status," he said.

Liu's argument is still not widely accepted, but offers a new angle on studies of the terracotta warriors, said renowned history professor Duan Qingbo from Xi'an's Northwest University.

"Thirty-five years after the terracotta army was discovered, we are still exploring new areas and perspectives," Duan said.

The terracotta army was discovered in 1974 by peasants who were digging a well.

More than 1,000 life-size figures were found, representing the Emperor's army of officials, horses, chariots, archers and musicians. No two figures in the army are alike; each has a different facial expression and hairstyle. Craftsmen are believed to have modeled them after real men.

The site, listed as a world heritage site by UNESCO in December 1987, has turned Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi Province, into one of the nation's major tourist destinations.


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