The Other Buried Army Of Chinese Statues—The Tomb Of Emperor Jing

(Mausoleum of Jingdi, Han Emperor, Xianyang, near Xi’an, photographed by Han Yang Ling, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)


The great Terracotta Army of the first emperor of China, Shihuangdi (r. 221-210 BCE), was not the only horde of statues buried with an ancient Chinese Emperor. In fact, a far larger set of statuary has been found at the tomb of the Han Dynasty emperor, Jing (or Jingdi), located near modern-day Xi’an, China.

Emperor Jing is thought to have lived from around 188-141 BCE. He seemed to have been a fairly popular emperor, but had his fair share of imperfections. The greatest complaints against Emperor Jing’s character were his arrogance and his stubborn refusal to give credit to anyone but himself for the prosperity of his empire. He is also said to have beaten one of his cousins to death after becoming enraged during a tense game—possibly using a game board as a weapon.

Yet, for the most part, Emperor Jing ruled his people well. He was heavily influenced by Confucianism, but Daoism, especially its idea of a non-action interpretation of government, led to a style of government that allowed the people to rule themselves whenever it was pragmatic to do so. During the reign of Emperor Jing, taxes were reduced, military expeditions were lessened and brutal punishments, such as mutilation, fell into disuse.

Emperor Jing ensured that, upon death, his body would be placed in a tomb to rival the awe-inspiring display left by the first emperor, Shihuangdi. Since the first emperor was buried with a terracotta army around 6,000 strong, Emperor Jing sought to outdo his predecessor by bringing a miniature replica of his whole imperial lifestyle with him into the afterlife.

Emperor Jing brought a miniature city into the land of the dead. In his tomb complex, estimated at around ten square kilometers (or about four miles), Emperor Jing was buried with approximately 40,000-50,000 detailed miniature statues that would serve the emperor in the afterlife. Yet, his figurines did not just depict warriors. No, Emperor Jing brought his whole court and possessions into the afterlife. Among his tens of thousands of miniature statues were those of soldiers, courtiers, concubines, eunuchs, dancers, musicians, horses, livestock and pets. Along with the statues were miniature pots, metal seals, utensils and even tiny coins for the spirit statues to use in the afterlife. To complete the ensemble, many of the statues were also dressed in luxurious silk. Furthermore, Emperor Jing and his statues would not go thirsty into the afterlife, for the oldest tea leaves ever found in the history of archaeology were discovered stored in the elaborate tomb of Emperor Jing.


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