A poor farmer was desperate to find water to irrigate his crops.  The preceding winter had been brutal, bringing forth a drought that could easily devastate his family. The farmer dug into the parched land hoping to create a well from a hidden water source below.   What he found not only changed the farmer’s life but provided one of the most phenomenal discoveries of the 20th Century for the entire world.

The farmer’s name is Yang Zhifa and in 1974 he unearthed shards and broken bits of what he though was simple clay pottery.  As he and his fellow farmers dug further, bronze arrowheads and a few headless torsos were  unearthed.  Soon the authorities heard of his discovery and came to his village to do some deeper excavation.  The result was the discovery of a 22 centuries old tomb that encased an army of 8,000 life-size terra-cotta warriors,  horses, weapons and chariots, there to protect their leader for eternity.  The place?  Xi’an,  a city in Central China.  The leader? Emperor Qin (pronounced “Chin”).

Wait, you might say,  is this the same Emperor that built the Great Wall (see this post)?        Yes – this  leader, who had at the age of 13 became the Emperor in 246 B.C.  managed in his life on earth to not only unify China, build a nationwide network of roads, standardize currency, weights and measures and formalize the written Chinese language,  he also built the  4,000 mile long Great Wall.

Qin was all-powerful, ruthless, tyrannical and terrifying.  It is said that  hundreds of thousands of slaves died while completing the great Wall and it is even rumored that many of the dead were buried within it. Qin was masterful at beating his rivals in this world and being a believer in the afterlife, wanted to make sure he would continue to be invincible after he shook off his mortal coils.  Some 700,000 slaves were therefore put to work building the following:

1)TOMB/MAUSOLEUM – An immense pyramid-shaped tomb/mausoleum that would house the Emperor’s body, (he died at 50 years of age), those mistresses and concubines who had no children (buried alive) and the tomb builders and craftsmen killed to keep the tomb’s secrets.  Here is a picture from the internet of the workmen’s graves:


The tomb originally towered almost 380 feet high but due to erosion and time it is only 250 feet high now.


The tomb has never been opened,  Texts of the time indicated the construction of “boobytrap” crossbows which would unleash bronze arrows at any intruder. In addition to the booby-trapped weapons there are also large rivers of mercury created to resemble the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers.  On-site measurements today indicate dangerous levels of mercurial gases which could prove deadly if released.  (Interestingly it is said that Qin actually died a slow death from mercury poisoning which he ingested in the belief it would provide immortality).  There is also a fear that any digging in the area could damage the enclosure, so for now its insides remain secret.

2) ARMY PITS – Three deep sections adjoining the tomb hold an entire army, standing in formation, ready for combat.  Yang Zhifa’s well digging led the way to the discovery of these pits and the Chinese government has erected an enormous hanger-like enclosure over the entire army area.  Slowly and painstakingly workers are excavating, re-assembling and cataloguing the artifacts, and this work continues today – it will be many, many years before the entire army is exposed:





What a privilege it was to get so up close and personal to this world wonder and even though most of my photos taken with a simplistic point and shoot camera are a bit grainy I think you can get a notion of the awesomeness.  We weren’t given total access as live soldiers were positioned at intervals but fortunately they didn’t harass us :


Every soldier is unique – some say they were made in the likeness of Qin’s actual army.  Here are a few closeups:





Even the horses were sculpted specifically down to the number of teeth that would indicate they were at the perfect age.  I don’t have a closeup as the “stables” were too far away:



All the soldiers were set in specific hierarchy – infantry,  cavalry, archers and officers:





The details on the chariots are exquisite even though most of the colors have faded:



But it is the sheer magnitude – the enormity of this army that is just indescribable.  I tried to get an all-encompassing photo:





The farmer Yang Zhifa is still alive and had been given the exalted job of signing autographs at the museum.  He has met former President Clinton, Queen Elizabeth and a slew of other dignitaries and is a celebrity in his own right.  Here is his signature I secured


There was a “no pictures” dictum so I did not get a photo of Yang Zhifa.  There are photos of Yang Zhifa online so I guess some people were able to sneak in a pic.  However upon researching this I found many pictures of different men all listed as “pictures of Yang Zhifa.”  Huh?

Quite simply, I think this is a governmental ruse.  I am fairly sure that the President et al met the true Yang Zhifa and I too probably got a glimpse of the real McCoy as I visited the same year as the Clinton’s:

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However Yang Zhifa retired a long time ago yet men still sit at the same table in the Souvenir Shop and each is  proudly proclaimed to be the actual farmer Yang Zhifa.

As Albert Einstein opined:

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”










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