Xi'an Attractions
Decoding the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang

It took 720,000 workers and nearly 40 years to build the mausoleum. The last workers and their supervisors were buried alive along with the dead emperor, taking the secret of its construction to their graves. Designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in December 1987, the mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor, better known as the site of the terracotta warriors, is the largest underground tomb in the world, and has kept its secrets safe for over 2,000 years.

Emperor Qin Shihuangand his mausoleum

Decoding the Mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang
Emperor Qin Shihuang

Located at the northern foot of Mt. Lishan in Lintong County, 35 km east of Xi'an, NW. Shaanxi Province, the mausoleum is the largest underground imperial tomb ever discovered. Archeologists began work on it in the early 1960s. The subsequent decades saw the discovery and excavation of burial pits surrounding the center of the mausoleum. Though the splendid necropolis is yet to reveal all its mysteries, it's famous for its incredible size and impressive burial treasures. But who was it built for? Who was warranted this kind of honor?

In the third century BC, China was split into several independent and warring states. Qin Shihuang successfully defeated all rival ducal states and unified China by establishing the first centralized feudal dynasty in 221 BC.

The emperor initiated a series of reforms to consolidate the nascent empire. He standardized the currency, weights and measures, as well as the width of axles and the Chinese scrip; and established the system of prefectures and counties. He also joined several defense walls around the country into the Great Wallin order to fend off invasions from the Huns in the north. All of these accomplishments helped centralize the country. But it is perhaps the creation of his enormous tomb that is the most intriguing of all his feats.

Like many rulers in ancient China, Qin Shihuang was deeply superstitious and intensely focused on seeking immortality in the afterlife. His mausoleum, a subterranean world that mirrored his power and influence in real life, is the most spectacular evidence of this focus.

The mausoleum was built on a site with Mt. Lishan to the south and the Weihe River to the north. Records state there were large amounts of gold on the southern side of Mt Lishan, with an abundance of jadeon the northern side.

The site was considered an ideal place for the emperor's tomb because of its location. High above sea level, with mountains behind and a river in front, the geography of the site fits well with the concepts of feng shui (pronounced fung shuay), the traditional Chinese system of choosing sites and positions. It was also vast enough to realize the emperor's dream of building his tomb as big as possible to display his majesty and power.

Another reason for the emperor to build his mausoleum here was that this site was also the burial site of his ancestors. The tomb of his father lies only about 10 km to the west.

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