Words & images: Pam Williams


China will probably not see us return so when the opportunity came to get up close to the Terracotta Warriors it was not to be missed.   Travelling to Wellington to see these 2,300-year-old imperial icons is simply perfect.

It took Te Papa two years of negotiation with the Chinese province of Shaanzi, costing 2.6 million dollars and includes one hundred and sixty  ancient artefacts, two half sized chariots drawn by four horses, eight full sized warriors and two horses, all requiring special climate buffering crates to transport them 10,000km from Xi’an to Wellington.

By the time we arrive at Te Papa more than 120,000 people have viewed this exhibition and there is still 6 weeks before it closes.   We are told to allow one hour for viewing but 2 hours later we emerge from an amazing experience.  Every time I went to leave I just had to return one more time to see these Guardians of the First Emperor’s tomb.

Before entering the exhibition, the scene is set… the entrance way is shadowy and dark, with Terracotta figures projected on to walls opposite each other.  The Warriors are humungous, dark, and the sculptors’ detail on these figures are there for all to admire.  The Warriors truly look magnificent… I was mesmerized and this was only images on a screen.    And just to get you a little bit more excited is the replica of a half size bronze chariot complete with driver and four horses….my camera just wouldn’t stop clicking.  The detail that went into the carriage, the horses, the driver.  the reins and ropes is honestly breath-taking, and all this before even entering the exhibition.

Once you enter there are extravagant treasures from other imperial tombs, also a visual of what the Emperor’s Palace possibly looked like before it was destroyed.   As you wind your way around the exhibits you do get a glimpse of the Warriors… a Chinese lattice screen is tantalising you just to have a peak.   MMmmm I thought… let me just have a sneak preview.  A young man was also doing the same when an official from Te Papa said to him, “Excuse me, do you remember me?”    “Yes,” replied the guy.  The official said, “I have already told you that your ticket allows you only one entry and this is now your second time re-entering the exhibition, and it is not allowed.  “Nooooo it is not my second time,” he said. “I have now been through five times on the same ticket.”   He was promptly escorted out.   But I can relate to why he kept returning as it probably will be a once in a life time opportunity, and to leave the exhibition meant it was the end of an experience that is rather special. Like him, I really didn’t want it to end either.

The Terracotta Warriors are enclosed in a massive protective glass cage with lighting that adds calm, quietness and moodiness to the experience.  The Warriors are there in their magnificence…. a kneeling archer, a standing archer,  two armoured military officers, a civil official, two generals and an unarmoured infantryman all in different stances, dressed accordingly to rank and their hair styles and head gear indicating work and also rank.    All so different, with so much detail adding uniqueness and personality to each individual Warrior.

These Terracotta Warriors that guarded the tomb of Qin Shi Huang are amazing to see but there is so much more to learn about… imagine experiencing the overall magnitude of viewing the thousands of Warriors that have been restored.  And there is still the first Emperor’s burial chamber that has not been touched.    Oh the intrigue….murder, the fire, the concubines,  constellations of precious stones and the trove of treasures all still to be unearthed and are there really rivers of mercury?    

This exhibition has only ignited my thirst to know more and enticing a return trip back to China to get right up close to the 3,000 Warriors that have now been restored and standing in the original pits they were found in.

Thank you Te Papa for bringing part of the greatest archaeological find of the twentieth century to New Zealand!

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.