Physical And Spiritual Meaning Of Terracotta Warriors

Cai Guo Qiang's exhibition in NGV, Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality, created a bridge between past and present, a bridge between the physical world and spiritual world. The terracotta warriors being world wonders not only because of its intricacy and massive scale, but it also symbolizes the spiritual pursuit of Qin Shihuang for immortality as well as craftsmanship and wisdom of Chinese culture. It is both physically and spiritually meaningful. In the exhibition, each terracotta warrior are displayed separated, however in the context of the exhibition, they are spiritually connected with each other. Furthermore, the physical form perished but spiritually continues existing for centuries. Similar to the terracotta warriors, the pantheon is an architectural and cultural legacy of the Roman Empire. It also held religious and spiritual purpose. This essay will further explore and examine the connection between the physical world and spiritual world for both the terracotta and the pantheon.

The Terracotta Warriors is impressive in its physical scale and intricacy and has significant meaning. The terracotta warriors are known as the eighth wonder of the world because of the scale of the tombs and the duration to complete, as well as the craftsmanship required to construct 8000 life-size figures that are distinctive from each other. Each warrior has unique physical style and highly detailed, upon closer examination, I could see hair band wrapped around the bun, the collar of the coat and rope and nails that are used to attach armor pieces. The expression of the warriors are different, some warriors are looking straight ahead, full of confidence; some have a look of danger and some slightly lowered their heads, as if they are tired of a long march. The reason behind this massive construction has significant meaning. Qin shi huang was the first emperor to see a unified China, being the burial for the first emperor of China, the terracotta warriors has the same weight on Chinese history. This can be seen from the time of its construction: the Mausoleum of Qin shi huang was built in 246 BC and lasted for 37 years, about 700,000 workers were involved in the construction. Because of these, the terracotta warriors have impressed the world and widely regarded as the greatest archaeological find of the 20th Century.

The terracotta warriors represent the spiritual pursuit of the emperor. It also carried the spiritual pursuit of the emperor, the pursuit for immortality and the afterlife for himself and for his glorious empire, for the respect and admire that he and his empire deserve. This is evident due to the dedication, realistic and luxury of his mausoleum. Qin shi huang order the construction of his tomb since he became king at the age of thirteen. According to historical records, the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang was dug under the spring water and then reinforced with copper.The tomb palace were filled with treasures. A trench infused with mercury symbolizing the constant flow of river, with golden pheasants floating on them; the tombs are lit with whale oil made of 'eternal light'. The terracotta warriors are arranged around the mausoleum in ancient battle array facing east, where Qin shi huang’s enemy once stood. The army consisting infantrymen, chariots, archers and housemen. They are protecting the emperor and ready to serve the emperor in the underworld. The design of the mausoleum reflects the supreme power and majesty of the first emperor, and his wish to carry these to the afterlife. “These mass-produced terracotta figures, in my view part of an immense installation, epitomising the essential ideas of life, death and power. In this way, the mega-Installation can be understood as a single conceptual work.” The spiritual meaning and the magnificent of the terracotta warriors combined, becoming a timeless installation that have been exhibiting for 2,200 years and counting.

In Cai Guoqiang’’s exhibition, the terracotta warriors are physically separated, but they are intangible connection between them. Different from the terracotta warriors in China, the eight warriors in the exhibition are placed separately from each other and enclosed in glass display. “those attending overseas exhibitions often only see about a dozen figures, scattered about and rather lonely, which elicits quite a different feeling.” these individual warriors alone in the glass displays, lost their cohesion and connection with the main army, even lost their purpose of protecting the emperor, becoming just an artwork for people to enjoy. However, they are spiritually connected because of Cai Guo qiang’s installation murmuration. The inspiration came from the visual impact of overlooking the terracotta warriors in the pit in battle array and the shocking idea that the mass construction of eight thousand sculptures just for the purpose of burial. Ten thousand porcelain birds are like shadows, flying freely through the exhibition. Sometimes spreading thin, sometimes forming dark clouds, as if thousands of warriors and horses are gathering. These different forms of ceramic ostrich echoed the material used for terracotta warriors, which was hand-made by Cai Guo qiang and hometown craftsmen after a year of research and study. “the ever-changing formation of 10,000 porcelain birds seems to embody the lingering spirits of the underground army”. Even though they are physically different, the porcelain birds in the gallery symbolise the spirits of ancient warriors that still lingers around. The spirit of thousands warriors back in China, transformed into 10,000 birds traveled through time and space to NGV, connecting with 8 terracotta warriors are exhibited.

Qin dynasty is no longer existing but the spiritual legacy still lives on. Under the rule of the Qin dynasty, several important reformation changed Chinese history and the impact still evident to today. Firstly Qin dynasty unified currency, weights and measures, having a unified standard greatly facilitates economic development. Unified text, the simplified font is used as a standard font, and is used throughout the country. The script that Chinese are using is evolved from the standardized font from Qin, which is called Lishu. The very Chinese characters appeared in the exhibition is the legacy of the Qin dynasty. This reminded me of Cai Guoqiang’s gunpowder artwork. The firework only last seconds, but the trace and the wake it left behind is eternal, This broke the physical boundary, timeless and formless. Much like the Qin dynasty, a short-lived dynasty in Chinese history, lasting only fifteen years, but the legacy of it lived on. I would like to imagine that Qin Shi Huang will be happy knowing that his empire and legacy forever have a spot in the history, even though himself can not live forever.

Similar to the terracotta warriors, the pantheon is also an impressive sight to behold and has religious and spiritual meaning. The Roman Pantheon is the best preserved Roman building. It is famous for its wide and large volume and huge arches with superb design. The famous Renaissance literary master Michelangelo once praised it as 'the design of angels, not of man'. The magnificent style and classical elegance of the Pantheon are the treasures of the world architecture. It was originally dedicated to all the Gods in roman religion. “The purpose of this space was to suggest geometrical perfection and symmetry in the context of a perfect universe. The interior space could fit perfectly either in a cube or a sphere. The massive interior room is designed to symbolize the heavens; the oculus or Great Eye in the room is designed to symbolize the light- and life-giving sun.” The diameter of the dome is 43.3 meters and the height of the top is 43.3 meters. According to the concept at the time, the dome is like heaven, which symbolizes the connection between the world of God and the world of man. The dome that does not need support provides more space for the building, making the building unique and sacred. The center of the dome opens a circular hole with a diameter of 8.9 meters, and the soft diffused light comes in from the round hole, creating a kind of religious atmosphere. After Julius Caesar’s death, the senate finally recognized him as a celestial god and built a statue of Caesar and placed it among the gods in the Pantheon. Different to Qin shi huang, Julius Caesar himself has no pursuit for immortality, however, his great achievement earned the heart of the roman people and they immortalized him to become their god for spiritual worshiping.

In conclusion, physical form and spiritual meaning are often intertwined with each other. The terracotta warriors and the Pantheon are both representing the pinnacle of the technology and wisdom of their people, but more importantly both have spiritual meaning, the terracotta warriors represents the pursuit for immortality of the emperor, and the Pantheon symbolised the spiritual connection between humans and gods. 

16 August 2021
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