Travel Blog

30 Apr

Street Art: Terracotta Soldiers Coming to Vancouver

Chinese warriors are invading Vancouver.

An army of 33, life-sized terracotta warriors – modeled after the world-famous originals discovered in China in 1974 – will be occupying metro Vancouver in the months ahead.

The sculptures will be positioned on strategic street corners and parks in Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby.  Check out the map below (You might remember similar campaigns recently involving fibreglass eagles, bears and killer whales on city streets).

Each statue has been painted with an original – and often eye-popping – design by a different artist.  Warriors have been dressed up in brilliant reds and blues, emblazoned with images of endangered wildlife and decorated like enormous Chinese vases.  Each design tells a different story about Chinese history and life.

This fall, the whole army will be auctioned off, with proceeds going to the BC Lions Society Easter Seal Houses and Easter Seal Camps for children with disabilities.  But what’s the story behind the original terracotta warriors? 

View Terracotta Warriors in a larger map

In 1974, peasant farmers in China’s Shaanxi province stumbled upon an extraordinary archaelogical find while digging for a well.  Buried beneath millennia of dirt and mud was an entire underground necropolis – a city-sized mausoleum originally built for China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.

Emperor Qin, the first leader to unify China’s warring dynasties, was buried in 210 BC.  But he wasn’t alone.  Joining him in his cavernous tomb were 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 670 horses – all made of clay.

According to historians, the construction of the mausoleum ultimately involved the labor of some 700,000 workers.  Local craftsmen and government laborers meticulously created the life-sized terracotta horses and warriors over the course of several decades.  The entire army was then entombed in four main pits, originally covered with waterproof wooden ceilings.  Over the centuries, the ceilings collapsed, burying the warriors in mud.

When the terracotta warriors were finally excavated beginning in 1974, their brilliant paint jobs had faded away.

Now, for the first time, a handful of replicas has been restored to living colour – and stationed on the streets of Vancouver (Though it’s doubtful any of Qin’s original soldiers featured jade panels backlit with LEDs).

The warriors were all on display in Chinatown’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden last week for a sneak preview.  No word on exactly when the terracotta army will deploy to the streets.  Stay tuned.

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