Mysteries of the Terracotta Warriors (2024) | Transcript

Fifty years after the Terracotta Warriors' discovery, this documentary unearths new secrets from China's first emperor's mausoleum and its 8,000 pottery soldier guards.
Mysteries of the Terracotta Warriors (2024)

Mysteries of the Terracotta Warriors (2024)
Director: James Tovell
Genre: Documentary

Thousands of terracotta warriors guarded the first Chinese emperor’s tomb. This is their story, told through archeological evidence and reenactments.

* * *

[tranquil music playing]

[narrator] 2,200 years ago, the first emperor, Qin Shi Huangdi, conquered all six Chinese kingdoms for the first time in history to create China.

To protect his empire, he built the first Great Wall and gave orders for the most spectacular tomb the world has ever seen to be constructed for his afterlife.

But after his death, the Qin dynasty would collapse in chaos and civil war, and the site of his epic tomb disappeared from history.

[music turns tense]

[Yuan Zhongyi, in Mandarin] I remember it was hot season at that time.

Some farmers found something unknown while digging a well.

So they asked me to go to Xi’an to take a look.

How are things progressing? Don’t miss anything.

When I first saw it, I felt so excited.

And it was just the tip of the iceberg.

[dramatic music playing]

[reporter 1, in English] A vast pottery army, slowly being unearthed from the tomb where it’s lain for more than 2,000 years.

[reporter 2] It is amazing, the tomb that is 19 square miles, and inside, there’s thousands of pieces of these terracotta warriors.

[reporter 3] The figures, each different, and numbering around 8,000,

uncovered on the burial site of the country’s first emperor.

[Yuan, in Mandarin] They called it the Eighth Wonder of the World.

[music fades]

[poignant music playing]

[man, in English] I remember, when I went to the excavation site as a kid, looking face to face at the 8,000 warriors.

All with distinct features.

That itself is already awe-inspiring.

Eight thousand warriors buried next to the man who created China.

That has to be the most important archaeological discovery of all time.

But the truly amazing thing is that the 8,000 warriors is guarding something much more important.

The first emperor’s mausoleum.

[stirring music playing]

This is a personal burial complex.

Sixty square kilometers, which is the equivalent to the size of Manhattan.

It is astonishing to think that this is all built for one man.

[narrator] After the first emperor of Qin died, he was buried in a tomb beneath the huge mound at the heart of the site.

Since the surprise discovery of the warriors 50 years ago, archaeologists have unearthed countless discoveries.

But the enormity of the site means that they’re not even close to uncovering it all.

[Yuan, in Mandarin] The emperor’s mausoleum was a replica of the Qin capital city… with two huge walls around the mound and buildings covering tens of millions of square meters.

There are so many things buried underground.

Everything we find is so brilliant, and so vivid.

[Hui, in English] The discovery is unique.

We have terracotta servants who could serve him.

We have terracotta acrobats that could entertain him.

Terracotta chariots, horses.

What it all adds up to is a world of terracotta built for the emperor for him to rule over for eternity.

But how could a dynasty capable of creating something so extraordinary fall so quickly?

[tense music playing]

[narrator] For archaeologists, the first clue is the condition in which the treasures were found.

[music intensifies]

[music softens]

[music fades]

[intriguing music playing]

[Janice] I think people feel like, when we excavated, all these terracotta warriors were standing there.

But it was not the case.

All these terracotta warriors were broken into pieces.

No one survived.

[narrator] Janice is part of a new army of archaeologists, forensic scientists, and restorers at what has become one of the largest archaeological sites in the world.

They are united in trying to discover exactly what happened to the warriors.

[music fades]

[man, in Mandarin] The hand’s exposed.

The head should be here.

But be careful when you work on this part.

The surface has a lot of folds so we may be able to preserve some color.

[Janice, in English] That’s the fascinating part, because you can tell they really have different personalities.

[Zhu, in Mandarin] This is good.

[Janice, in English] So every face, you meet a new person from the Qin dynasty.

[woman, in Mandarin] He’s smiling.

[narrator, in English] In the restoration unit, the emperor’s army is being pieced together one life-sized warrior at a time.

[camera beeps]

[man, in Mandarin] Seven, eight, nine, ten, 11.

[camera clicks]

[counting in Mandarin]

[Lan, in Mandarin] We have 36 big pieces.

And if we include bits of armor and the nails for it, that’s nearly 400 pieces for one warrior.

That’s a lot of pieces.

[contemplative music playing]

[Lan, in Mandarin] I often think I’m a relic doctor, accompanying them and treating them until they come back to life.

Generally speaking, this warrior is relatively complete.

Only his footboard is missing.

When it comes out, we can start to restore him.

The ultimate goal is to stand him up and get him back to his army.

[narrator, in English] A single statue can take up to three years to put back together.

[Hui] We know the warriors were intact when they were buried.

But sometime between then and now, every single one of them was smashed.

That’s one of the biggest mysteries that points us to why the Qin dynasty fell.

So, what happened?

[dynamic music playing]

[narrator] In the pits where the warriors were buried, the archaeologists are trying to find out by forensically examining every piece of evidence.

[Hui] There are a lot of theories.

Tomb robbers, vandalism, natural collapse.

But no one knows for certain.

What we know for sure is something big happened.

[Zhu, in Mandarin] When you go deep into the work, sometimes you forget everything.

Our eyes are searching, trying to distinguish the differences with others we’ve seen before.

[woman, in Mandarin] The soil looks wet. It’s colored.

[Zhu] That’s red fired earth.

[woman] Fired earth?

[Zhu] Yes.

[Zhu] And wood charcoal.

[woman] Hm.

[Zhu] It’s been burnt.

Only when the fires were very strong and burned for a very long time would the soil turn red.

The broken pieces were the result of a collapse.

But this was man-made destruction.

[contemplative music playing]

[Yuan, in Mandarin] The terracotta warriors were burned in a fire.

Who set the fire?

That is the question.

[Hui, in English] This is more than just an ancient wonder of the world.

It is also, in a sense, a giant crime scene.

[brush rustles softly]

[gentle music playing]

[narrator] Until the discovery of the tomb and the warriors,

almost everything known about the Qin dynasty

was taken from one historical record.

A revered 2,000-year-old text known as the Shiji.

[man] Shiji is the first major history of China.

The main author is Sima Qian.

It contains a detailed account of the first emperor’s life and his death.

[music turns suspenseful]

[horses whinnying]

[warriors yelling]

[Sima Qian] In the 26th year of his rule,

the first emperor unified all under heaven.

[narrator] The Shiji tells the story of the first emperor, a warrior of Qin.

[warriors yelling]

[dynamic music playing]

[narrator] The emperor conquered six kingdoms

and unified China for the first time in history under his total control.

He gave China its name.

But the record says

that the mighty dynasty,

destined for 10,000 generations,

lasted for only 15 years before it collapsed.

One of the things that is special about the Shiji is the way it is written.

It combines history and epic drama.

Some of it, we are a little bit more skeptical if it happened or not.

We have no other finding that could back some of the claims up.

But the big question is how much of that is true?

So that’s why the excavation is so exciting.

For the first time in 2,000 years,

we have a chance to figure out whether what Sima Qian wrote is correct.

[intriguing music playing]

[in Mandarin] Let’s measure the length and the width.

[narrator, in English] On the east side of the site,

archaeologists have uncovered foundations of a monumental gate

that they believe was once the main entrance to the mausoleum.

[Fu, in Mandarin] Length?


The width is 95.

[Fu] Ninety-five?

[woman] Yes.

[Fu] And the hole?

[woman] 10.6.

[Fu] This is the widest gate ever found in China.

After he proclaimed himself emperor, the site was constantly extended.

It was a national project.

They were gathering the whole empire to focus on one thing.

[steady percussive music playing]

[narrator, in English] Work on the first emperor’s tomb

began when he was just 13 years old.

[music continues]

[indistinct chatter]

[in Mandarin] Be careful.


Lift it up.

[narrator, in English] By the time he had conquered all of China,

he commanded the vast resources required

to build the greatest tomb complex on Earth.

[music turns melodic]

[narrator] In the storage vaults, Janice is examining evidence

of the brutality meted out on those forced to build the tomb.

[Janice] From the material remains,

we can tell how hard that time was

for people who worked here to construct this mausoleum complex.

You can see this is relatively big.

Not like on the legs. So that’s really on someone’s neck.

[guard shouting]

[chains rattling]

[Sima Qian] When the first emperor unified the empire,

more than 700,000 convicts were sent to build his mausoleum at Mount Li.

[Hui] The first emperor mobilized people by force.

[guard 1, in Mandarin] Keep up. Keep up.

[Hui, in English] He convicted as many people as possible.

[guard 1, in Mandarin] Move quickly!

[guard 2] Keep up. Keep up.

[Hui, in English] And made them part of the labor force

that would work for his projects.

The Qin legal code is very detailed, and also very harsh.

Whenever you are associated with a criminal, you’ll also get convicted.

If you were unlucky enough to have that happen to you,

what awaits you is extremely brutal.

[intriguing music playing]

We find many of these kind of iron shackles within the mausoleum complex.

In Shiji, Sima Qian mentions a large quantity of convicts coming here,

and also some other status people or craftspeople.

But particularly for these, we can see that many convicts were involved,

and many people suffered.

[pensive music playing]

[guard 1, in Mandarin] What are you looking at? Move!

[guard 2 shouts]

Have you tied it well?

[narrator, in English] Workshops in nearby towns

were formed into a massive terracotta production line

involving craftsmen drawn from across the empire.

[steady percussive music playing]

[in Mandarin] The eyebrow can be slightly higher.

The eye is the key part.

[Hui, in English] This is the first time craftsmen from all seven Chinese states

came together to work on one single project.

And the result of that

was the creation of something that no one had ever seen before.

[in Mandarin] Pay attention to the area above the mouth.

[Hui, in English] For a civilization to produce something in such great detail

on such scale over 2,200 years ago,

it shows us a remarkable level of sophistication.

[gentle music playing]

[music fades to silence]

[Lan, in Mandarin] I’ve worked in restoration for 25 years.

And it’s rare to see one warrior still completely colored.

This is the head of a warrior which we’ve recently excavated.

It belongs to a senior army officer.

When the warriors were first made, they were all colored.

But because they’ve been buried for over 2,000 years,

and because of the movement of the soil,

the colors on their surface usually fall off when they’re excavated.

But this piece was buried in the very bottom,

so it was better preserved.

[poignant music playing]

[Lan] When I look into their eyes and their facial expressions,

it’s like they’re alive.

They’re an incarnation of the Qin people, as well as an epitome of the Qin army.

[Lo, in English] I think these realistic faces

were based on real people

from all over China at the time.

And the idea probably came from the emperor himself.

Because it’s a very, very powerful graphic representation

of that feat he had achieved.

A fantastic symbol of the unification of different ethnic people.

Of this first unified empire.

If we did not have the first emperor,

it is possible that China would have continued to be divided

among different states, much like the divided Europe today.

[poignant music playing]

[Lo] So if we look at the warriors,

I think it’s really, really important in the context of world history,

of global history, because you can see how China has become different, if not unique.

[intriguing music playing]

[narrator] The emperor spared no expense and stopped at nothing

in preparing for his afterlife.

But he had failed to prepare for his succession on Earth,

refusing to announce an heir to his kingdom.

The danger of having too much power in the hands of one man

was about to turn all he built, the whole Qin world, upside down.

[intriguing music continues]

[music fades]

[Guo] The Shiji tells us

the first emperor fell ill on tour through the eastern parts of the empire.

[Sima Qian] In the seventh month, the first emperor reached Shaqiu.

None would dare to mention the matter of death.

[narrator] The story recorded in the Shiji

says that traveling with the emperor on his fateful last tour

were three characters

who would play a key role in the future of the Qin dynasty.

[Hui] Li Si was the emperor’s right-hand man. He was the chief minister.

Nothing in the empire happened that did not go through him.

[tense music playing]

[in Mandarin] Quick.

[Hui, in English] Zhao Gao, a man from a disgraced family,

had worked his way up to become the emperor’s closest servant.

[in Mandarin] You!

Go find Si Li!


Go find Hu Hai!

[narrator, in English] Crucially, Zhao Gao was the guardian of the imperial seal,

which the emperor required to issue all of his commands.

And finally, there was the youngest of the emperor’s sons, Prince Hu Hai.

[Hui] Given that he was the youngest,

Hu Hai was probably not very high up in the line of succession.

But he was the only son that accompanied the emperor on the tour.

[music turns suspenseful]

[in Mandarin] Teacher.

[music fades]

[mournful music playing]

The emperor is dead.

[Hu Hai gasps]

All he has left is this letter for his eldest son,

designating him as heir.

If this letter is delivered,

he will be enthroned as emperor.

And you will be left with nothing.

So, what should be done with it?

That should be obvious!

If our father has left orders, then what can we, as loyal subjects, presume to do?

Bid the chief minister to destroy this letter

and support your own worthy claim.

I will not hear this.

At the moment, the decision of who shall take control of the empire

lies with you, me, and the chief minister alone.

How can I consult the chief minister on such a matter?

[Zhao Gao sighs softly]

Let me consult with him on your behalf.

[emotional music playing]

[narrator] After convincing the prince,

Zhao Gao successfully persuaded the chief minister to join the conspiracy.

[suspenseful music playing]

Together, they destroyed the letter from the emperor

which named Hu Hai’s eldest brother as the emperor’s successor,

and replaced it with a fake letter

that told the rightful heir he had displeased his father

and his immediate suicide was the only way to make amends.

[in Mandarin] The deed is done.

We can only resign ourselves to fate.

Come now.

[narrator, in English] In order for their plot to work,

the conspirators had to keep the emperor’s death a secret

while they waited for their letter to take effect.

[hooves clopping]

[in Mandarin] Stop.

Quick! Hurry up!

[narrator, in English] So the dead body of the most powerful man on the planet

was bundled into his traveling carriage.

His corpse would be driven around in the sweltering Chinese summer heat

until the rightful heir was fooled by the plotters.

[music becomes tense]

[in Mandarin] Go, go!

[narrator, in English] As time passed,

the body of the dead emperor became a liability.

The plotters reached for desperate measures.

[Sima Qian] The emperor’s carriage began to stink in the hot weather.

To disguise the smell, the conspirators surrounded it with carts of fish.

[narrator] Against the odds, the letter worked.

The rightful heir took his own life,

and the plotters were free to return to the capital

to announce the emperor’s death,

taking with them another forged letter naming Hu Hai as heir.

[Sima Qian] Hu Hai was installed as the second emperor.

But the conspirators feared the empire would not easily submit.

[somber music playing]

[Hui] We know from records that when the emperor’s death

was finally announced

that they would all have been together at the same event.

[Sima Qian] In the ninth month, the first emperor was buried at Mount Li.

Everyone within the Four Seas offered tribute.

[narrator] The emperor’s funeral should have been the crowning moment

for the vast tomb complex he’d spent his adult life building.

But the conspiracy cast the event in a different light.

Front and center was the second emperor, Hu Hai,

asserting his right to rule…

backed up by the two conspirators who had put him there.

[music intensifies]

[narrator] Hu Hai’s eldest brothers must have known

that the succession had been fixed.

His sudden promotion over them was not just a personal slight.

Now they were potential threats to the throne.

Threats that could not be allowed to live.

[music peaks, then fades]

[narrator] Evidence of the horror that unfolded after the funeral

has been uncovered at the site.

[poignant music playing]

[Zhu, in Mandarin] In the northeast corner of the inner city of the mausoleum,

there are around 100 small tombs.

We excavated ten of them.

One of the tombs was wrecked.

But in the other nine, we found human bones.

The bones were so mixed up

that we couldn’t tell one body from another.

They seemed to have been dismembered.

We also found pearls in the soil.

[poignant music continues]

[Zhu, in Mandarin] It was a very unexpected find.

Some pearls had traces of being gilded.

It was a high-level luxury accessory, beyond the reach of common people.

Based on this discovery,

we think they may be the first emperor’s concubines.


[hooves clopping]

[narrator, in English] The first to feel the wrath of the new regime

were the unfortunate young women of the imperial harem.

[Guo] The reason why they were targeted is not so clear from historical records.

But in the context of the conspiracy,

we can find a possible logical explanation for it.

[uneasy music playing]

[horse whinnying]

[Guo] Some of the concubines

may well have been on tour with the first emperor when he died…

[uneasy music continues]

[Guo] …and could have witnessed

the strange events that surrounded the emperor’s death.

[music intensifies]


[Guo] Perhaps Hu Hai thought that these concubines knew too much.

[music softens]

[music fades to silence]

[in Mandarin] There are many limb bones here.

These women are generally slender.

Also, they were not very tall.

[poignant music playing]

[Chen, in Mandarin] They selected women with heights between 150 cm and 160 cm.

Their weight was also controlled within a range.

[Zhu, in Mandarin] The Shiji says these women were ordered to die.

But there is no mention of how they died.

[hooves clopping]

[Sima Qian] During the burial of the first emperor,

the second emperor gave an order.

Of the women in the harem of the former ruler,

it would be unfitting that those who had no sons be sent elsewhere.

All were accordingly ordered to accompany the dead emperor,

which resulted in the death of many women.

[somber music playing]

[Zhu, in Mandarin] Do you think this hole is from a chopping injury?

Or something else?

[Chen] It doesn’t look like that. It’s not neat.

[in Mandarin] They may have been killed and then dismembered after.

Or they may actually have been hacked to death.

[Chen] If they used weapons made of bronze or iron,

it would leave a clean cut.

[somber music playing]

[Chen] This injury was definitely caused after death.

It had nothing to do with how she died.

If they were dismembered after death,

it would have been at the joints, where it’s easier to cut through,

especially when someone does it for a living.

[Zhu] It appears they were dismembered.

[Chen] That’s right.

[Zhu] But their bodies were in one piece when they died.

[somber music continues]

[Zhu] We still don’t know how the concubines died,

but these women did not die of natural causes.

And however they were killed… it was very cruel.

[somber music continues]

[music softens]

[narrator, in English] The brutality meted out to the concubines

was just the beginning.

Chilling evidence of the conspirators’ next move

was discovered in a remote far corner of the site by Yuan Zhongyi.

[Yuan, in Mandarin] During our exploration,

we’ve found a lot of burial pits.

The people in them seem to have been murdered

and mutilated

at young ages.

In Shangjiao village,

we found 17 small tombs

and excavated eight of them.

I think the youngest one was only 18 years old,

and the oldest one was 30.

As for who killed them?

We don’t know.

[mournful music playing]

[narrator, in English] The bodies were identified

by a personal seal found in the grave.

By tradition, these were buried with the remains of high-status individuals.

[Yuan, in Mandarin] We think they were the graves

of the sons and daughters of the first emperor.

[narrator, in English] After the funeral,

the conspirators turned their attention to each of Hu Hai’s potential rivals.

[rapid banging at doors]

[suspenseful music playing]

[in Mandarin] Prince Jianglu,

I am placing you and your brothers under arrest.

On what charge?

Disloyalty to the throne?

This is an outrage!

I demand to see my brother.

His Majesty’s orders to me were very clear.

“No loose ends.”

[music turns tense]

[narrator, in English] The real terror had just begun.

[repeated banging]

[Sima Qian] The law was made severe, and the punishments harsh.

Corpses formed heaps in the marketplace.

[banging continues]

[in Mandarin] I must see His Majesty.

[bell ringing]

[suspenseful music playing]

[bell ringing]

Your Highness.

What news?

All your father’s ministers have been purged.

They move fast.

The worst is to come.

Yesterday, at the market in Xianyang,

12 of your brothers were executed.

And your sisters…

they were torn to pieces.

You must flee, Your Highness. Take your family and leave.

Your Highness.

[ominous music playing]

[music quickens]

[narrator, in English] The problem for Prince Gao

and for the whole royal family

was that there was nowhere to run.

[in Mandarin] I have committed no crime.

[narrator, in English] Those who were spared the public execution

were given only one way out.

[intense music playing]

I have committed no crime!

[metallic swooshing]

[blood spattering]

[narrator, in English] By the end of the first year of Hu Hai’s reign,

the records say that most of his brothers and sisters were dead.

[intriguing music playing]

[narrator] Now, one of the site’s most significant finds ever

might be the key to proving that this is not just legend, but fact.

To the west of the site, close to the emperor’s tomb mound,

a huge excavation is underway.

A series of vast tombs has been discovered.

Opening them has never been attempted before.

It would usually be forbidden.

But the threat of rainwater damage has led to an exceptional decision.

To excavate one of the tombs.

[man, in Mandarin] The opportunity to excavate this tomb

is completely unprecedented.

So it’s the only opportunity.

[intriguing music continues]

[Jiang, in Mandarin] Every time I go down, I still feel amazed.

The tomb was so precisely built.

[intriguing music continues]

So deep, so large in scale!

Most ancient tombs have been robbed,

so we didn’t have much hope for the coffin chamber.

But it turned out it hadn’t been robbed.

We were amazed!

The coffin is badly decayed, but the tomb owner is still in there.

And lots of weapons were unearthed, including armor, crossbows, and swords.

[intriguing music continues]

[Janice, in English] What makes this tomb so exciting

is that this is a real warrior of the Qin dynasty.

We already found thousands of terracotta warriors,

but we didn’t have the opportunity to excavate a real Qin warrior.

[music intensifies]

[Janice] And this is quite close to the first emperor’s tomb mound.

So, who was he?

[Hui] Whoever this person was,

he was clearly very important and very close to the emperor.

If we can figure out his identity,

it could be key for us to understand what happened after the emperor’s death.

[intense percussive music playing]

[narrator] Janice has been brought in

to examine the extraordinary artifacts found with the coffin

to see if they can help reveal more about the tomb owner’s identity.

[Jiang, in Mandarin] This is a jade disc. There is a circle outside, and a frame.

There is a thin pattern as well.

Its outer ring.

Yes. In the middle part.

It’s a geometric pattern as a whole.

[Jiang] The jade piece was an ornament on a scabbard.

[Janice, in English] The burial materials in Tomb One is really fascinating.

You know, some of the objects, we never seen before,

like a gold camel and dancing figure.

[Jiang, in Mandarin] From this, we can judge

that the tomb owner might have a royal status.

[in Mandarin] It is rather finely decorated.

[in English] These are quite exotic objects

that is the first time found in the mausoleum complex.

The question is whether we can tell the date.

[Jiang, in Mandarin] Take it out and have a look.

[in Mandarin] This is from the late Warring States period.


[Janice] They couldn’t be cast as late as the Han Dynasty.

It must have been cast earlier.

[in English] All these coins we discovered we call Ban Liang.

These kind of coins, the size of the coins, and also the character,

definitely Qin coins from the later Qin.

[narrator] The coins are clear evidence

that the tomb owner was amongst the wealthiest of Qin society,

and they date the burial to the end of the Qin dynasty.

[in Mandarin] How many pieces have been unearthed?

It’s about 5,000 to 6,000.

Five thousand to 6,000 pieces?

[in English] It’s unusual to find 6,000 coins in this tomb.

It’s really a fortune.

[in Mandarin] Let’s take a look at this crossbow.

It’s smaller than the ones from the Terracotta Warriors Pit.

And it has a casing.

Crossbows with trigger casings were very rare at that time.

[in English] This type of the crossbow triggers,

that’s late Qin dynasty.

And that gives quite narrow time window of this tomb.

From probably after the emperor died

to before the fall of the Qin dynasty.

So that’s three, four years.

So who could be buried with the Qin first emperor

in this time period?

And why?

[poignant music playing]

[narrator] Narrowing the date

reduces the list of candidates who could be in the tomb.

[Hui] If the mystery warrior was buried

between the death of the emperor and the fall of the Qin,

then there is only a short list of candidates it could be.

[intriguing music playing]

[birds singing]

[Jiang, in Mandarin] After the first emperor died,

his sons all came to a bad end.

So I’m still more inclined to believe that this tomb

belongs to a high-ranking nobleman or army chief.

[narrator, in English] If archaeologists find a personal seal inside the coffin,

they can prove beyond doubt the tomb owner’s identity.

But the condition of the coffin means that this could take years.

[Jiang, in Mandarin] Originally, we wanted to investigate the coffin in place.

Be careful of that wood.

But there’s a big temperature difference between winter and summer.

[narrator, in English] With pieces of gold, jade,

and precious metals exposed to the elements,

they need to act fast.

[Jiang, in Mandarin] If we clean it on site,

the drastic change in temperature and humidity

might have a big impact on the excavated relics and remains.

So we want to pack it first and take it indoors for the investigation.

[in Mandarin] Look at the objects on the pillar there.

We need something to protect them.

[narrator, in English] The plan involves packaging up the coffin

along with the tons of earth that surround it

and lifting the whole thing into the lab in one piece.

The extreme weight makes extracting the coffin deeply risky.

Nothing like this has ever been attempted before.

[in Mandarin] The steel plates can be put in one by one.

We can operate from here or from the other side.

Yes, both sides will work.

We need to lay tracks up the passage.

Then use a crane with a 50 to 100-ton capacity to pull it up.

The problem is it’s uneven and bumpy here, so it’ll be difficult to load.

This is a huge archaeological challenge.

I’m sure we will solve all these problems.

[intriguing music playing]

[tool scraping]

[narrator, in English] Near to the tomb mound,

Fu Jian’s investigation is closing in

on what happened to the buildings that once stood here.

[in Mandarin] We think there was a tower. I want to know how it was destroyed.

That’s what I care about most.

[narrator, in English] If the damage done to the warriors extends here,

it would mean this was more than just a robbery.

It would point to a very different explanation.

[man, in Mandarin] We just found some broken tiles.

One of them has characters on it.

[Fu] That seems to be “Shui.”

It’s “Zuo Shui.”

I think Zuo Shui was a manufacturer in the Qin dynasty.

It could be part of the tower.

In Pit One and Pit Two of the Warriors,

there is clear evidence of man-made damage.

But there is no direct evidence to prove it was all done at the same time.

[narrator, in English] The fires in the Warrior Pits

could have been caused by ancient robbers.

But if fires burned here at the same time so close to the tomb,

it’s evidence of a plan of deliberate destruction.

[dramatic music playing]

[Hui] When the first emperor died, the convicts were still there working,

building the huge mound over the tomb.

But almost exactly a year after the first emperor’s death,

a major uprising broke out in the east part of the empire,

which was going to have a major effect on the construction of the mausoleum.

[tense music playing]

[narrator] By the time anyone dared to tell the emperor there was a problem,

the situation had spiraled out of control.

[in Mandarin] Rise.

[narrator, in English] A rebel army, reportedly 300,000 strong,

was heading towards the capital.

[in Mandarin] Then call up forces from the nearby districts and kill them.

Your Majesty, the bandits are already close by and great in number.

There is no time to call up forces from the nearby districts.

Are you saying we are powerless to stop them?

[music intensifies]

[shouts] Have you lost your tongues?

Your Majesty, there are many convict laborers at Mount Li.

Might I humbly suggest that they be pressed into Your Majesty’s service

and used for an attack.

Do so with all haste.

And do not disturb me in my pleasure until it’s done.

By order of His Imperial Majesty,

all men over the age of 15 must take up arms and fight.

[tense music continues]

Why should we fight? What business is this war of ours?


Hold on!

Any convicted man that fights for His Majesty will be issued a pardon.

[narrator, in English] Hu Hai’s force of untrained convicts

was a far cry from the feared, well-disciplined army

with which his father had conquered China.

[Janice, in Mandarin] Let’s check if there’s an inscription.

[narrator, in English] Janice is examining real weapons

found in the pits alongside the terracotta warriors.

[Janice, in English] When we see any objects from the mausoleum complex,

they have a big story behind it.

[in Mandarin] You can see it right on this spot.

The inscription is clear.

[in English] Terracotta warriors were equipped with bronze weapons.

The lances or halberds for the infantry.

The crossbows for the archers.

And we can tell from different weapons

and how they mix together,

the flexible battle tactic they use.

You have all these archers, or crossbowmen,

in front of the military formation.

And they released arrows to the enemy before they come very close.

And then the crossbowmen moved to the back.

The infantry will have close combat with the enemy.

So that’s a special tactic in the Qin dynasty.

[dramatic music playing]

[distant rumbling]

[horse whinnying]

[in Mandarin] Prepare the attack.

Prepare the attack!

Put out the fires! Get in line!

Put out the fires!

Move it!

Send the horses to scatter them.

We’ll cut them down as they flee.


[horses whinnying]

[warriors shouting]

[narrator, in English] A convict army armed with digging tools…

[General shouts in Mandarin]

…would have been lambs to the slaughter.

[horses whinnying]

[dramatic music continues]

[in Mandarin] Hold!

[narrator, in English] But fighting for Qin gave them access

to some of the finest weapons in the ancient world.

And commanders who knew only victory.

[warriors shouting]

[in Mandarin] Hold your positions!

Hold your positions!


Now! Attack!

[men shouting]


[warriors shouting]

[shouts in Mandarin]

[weapons whistling, thudding]

[men shouting]




[horses whinnying]

[narrator, in English] Qin weapons and tactics made the difference.


[distant shouting]

[horses whinnying]

[men grunting]



[yelling, groaning]

[narrator] Against the odds, the convict army prevailed.

[distant shouting]

[narrator] The rebels were stopped in their tracks.

[General grunts]

[narrator] And their leaders hunted down.

But a tide of rebellion had begun.

And work on the tomb was abandoned.

[poignant music playing]

[Hui] After the convicts left,

there’s no further mention of the emperor’s tomb complex

in this historical record.

No one knows what happened to it after that.

[narrator] The giant mound built to protect the emperor’s tomb

appears to have done its job.

There is no evidence anyone has ever broken inside.

But for the rest of the emperor’s mausoleum,

it was a different story.

[music fades]

Telltale signs of deliberate destruction

are being examined in the restoration unit.

Another Qin masterpiece,

the larger-than-life statue of an acrobat, is being pieced back together.

[indistinct chatter]

[narrator] The signs of violence are clear.

[tense music playing]

[in Mandarin] This is very interesting.

It has marks showing it has been cut and smashed.

When we excavated this pit, the whole site was found to be severely damaged.

[narrator, in English] A survey of the Acrobat’s Pit

where the statue was buried

revealed a patch of red earth.

The fire that destroyed them

was so intense that it melted a bronze cauldron at the bottom of the pit

into a flat plate.

[in Mandarin] During our work, many pits were discovered

due to the important clue of red, burnt soil,

including the Pit of Bronze Birds

and the Acrobat Pit.

[camera bleeps and clicks]

[Zhu] If we put these burnings together,

and consider it as a whole…

[camera clicks]

…it can’t have been done by a few dozen people.

It would have taken hundreds, or even thousands of people, to do this damage.

But who did it?

[birds chirping]

[intriguing music playing]

[narrator] At the Warrior’s Tomb,

Jiang Wenxiao’s plans for the extraction of the coffin

have received the go-ahead.

[in Mandarin] Just over here.

[narrator, in English] But given how risky the move will be,

the team want to take samples from some of the exposed bones first.

[Chen, in Mandarin] It’s not easy to walk in this suit.

[Jiang] Be careful.

[narrator, in English] The samples may also help establish the warrior’s age.

[Chen, in Mandarin] It’s right here, look. Let’s take this as a sample.

It’s part of the skull.

The skull was not complete.

Only a small part was preserved.

We also found limb bones in poor condition.

This is the top of the femur.

Here is the hip bone.

Over there is shin bone.

So the head is here. The body is this side.

[Jiang] The head is in the south.

[Chen] That’s right.

[Jiang] And the feet are pointing north.

[Chen] Look at the top of the femur.

The bone was quite thick.

So it’s more likely to be a male.

Let’s take a sample of this.

We took a section of the femur.

[poignant music playing]

We want to find out if the tomb owner was a family member of the first emperor

or a high-ranking statesman who had no blood relationship.

[Hui, in English] If the mystery warrior was a high-ranking government official,

then we have to look at the possibility of him being one of the conspirators.

[narrator] After two years of bloodshed, Hu Hai’s empire was crumbling.

And as it did, the conspirators turned on each other.

The chief minister was the first to die.

Sentenced to death by the emperor after being double-crossed by Zhao Gao.

[Sima Qian] The five punishments were prepared for Li Si.

And he was condemned to be cut in two at the waist.

[narrator] And once the chief minister was out of the way,

Zhao Gao set his sights on the emperor himself.

[somber music playing]

[Hu Hai grunting]

[Hu Hai grunting and panting]

[in Mandarin] Your Majesty, I’m here to inform you

that your time as emperor is at an end.

[breathes heavily]

If I am no longer to be emperor,

tell Zhao Gao

all I ask is to be king of one county, and I won’t stand in his way.

[Yan Yue] Zhao Gao will shortly install a new emperor.

We have no use for kings.

A marquis, then!

The hour for daydreams is long past.

[Hu Hai whimpers]

I ask for nothing then, but to live quietly as a commoner.

I have my orders.

And Your Majesty knows very well there can be no loose ends.

[music peaks, fades]

[Hu Hai gulping]

[narrator, in English] If the record is correct, we can be sure

that Emperor Hu Hai is not the occupant of the mystery tomb.

[Hu Hai choking]

[narrator] He was buried without ceremony in a commoner’s grave.

All Zhao Gao’s plotting, though, was about to come back to bite him.

He chose Hu Hai’s replacement to be easy to control.

But the new emperor had his own ideas.

[in Mandarin] I put you on the throne. How dare you keep me waiting?

Who are you to disobey my orders?


Zhao Gao!

[narrator] So the first thing he did…

Who are you?

[metallic swoosh]

[Zhao Gao grunts]


[metallic rattling]

[narrator] …was murder Zhao Gao.


[Zhao Gao chokes, stops]

[loud thud]

[narrator] There is no record of where he was buried.

[mechanical whirring]

[Chen, in Mandarin] Our preliminary evaluation

suggests that it should be a male.

But we would like to do a DNA test to find out more about him.

We have to take very small parts of the bones…

and send them away to be tested.

[intriguing music playing]

[Chen, in Mandarin] We also found a tooth.

It was the owner’s premolar.

You can see the development of the tooth, and it has no enamel defects.

It indicates that, during their life, they had sufficient nutrition.

[assistant, in Mandarin] There is no dentin exposure,

so it should be a young person.

[Chen] Hm.

The age of this person must be between 18 and 22.

So he was a young man.

[narrator, in English] The evidence that the warrior died young

rules out the conspirators.

They were too old.

Revealing the age makes it more likely that he may have been a prince.

And the detail in the Shiji concerning one prince in particular

casts new light on everything found at the warrior’s tomb.

[Hui] In the early days of the conspiracy

when Hu Hai was murdering his brothers and sisters,

one of them, Prince Gao, made a bold decision.

[rapid banging]

[suspenseful music playing]

[banging continues]

[banging continues]

[mechanical clicking]

[in Mandarin] You must flee, Your Highness.

Take your family and leave.

[sighs quietly]

[Sima Qian, in English] Prince Gao wished to flee.

But fearing his family would be arrested and exterminated,

instead, he delivered a letter for the second emperor.

[suspenseful music playing]

[in Mandarin] I should have followed the former emperor in death.

But I failed to do so.

As a son, I have been disloyal.

As a subject, I have been disloyal.

And one who acts disloyally wins no fame in this world.

I ask leave to follow the former emperor in death.

My only request is to be buried in the mausoleum at the foot of Mount Li.

I can but hope that the emperor will take pity and grant my request.

I will pass on your request to the emperor

and bid him give this matter his full attention at his earliest convenience.

[narrator, in English] Prince Gao offered to kill himself

to save his family from suffering the same fate as his brothers and sisters.

[Guo] I think what Prince Gao did was a heroic and brave act.

And that is probably why the story attracted special attention from Sima Qian

and made its way into the Shiji.

[uneasy music playing]

[Guo] Sima Qian also tells us

that Hu Hai was delighted reading the letter from Prince Gao.

And not only did he agree to Prince Gao’s request,

but he also awarded him with 100,000 bronze coins for his burial.

If Shiji is correct,

then we can assume

that Prince Gao is buried somewhere around the mausoleum site.

But so far, his tomb has not been identified.

[Hui] If we could prove that the mystery warrior was Prince Gao,

that would be a mind-blowing discovery.

[Jiang, in Mandarin] Given the tomb owner was young,

it’s certainly possible that it might be Prince Gao.

But we can’t say that for sure based on this.

So we need to get it safely to the lab to complete our work.

[purposeful music playing]

[chains rattling]

[wheel squeaking]

[workman 1, in Mandarin] It’s safe. Go. Go, it’s safe. Go.

[speaking in Mandarin]

We must get it done within an hour.

[workman 1] Pull.

[indistinct chatter]

[animated chatter]

[workman 1] Stop pulling. Stop!

The wheels are stuck now.

The steel track is bent, but it’s going to be okay.

[indistinct chatter]

[animated chatter]

[workman 1] Go on. Go on. Go on.

[tense music playing]

[animated chatter]

[workman 2] Is it raining outside?

[workman 3] It’s raining!

[workman 2] Get the plastic to cover it!

[speaking Mandarin]

[rain pattering]

[workman 2] Stop pulling. Stop!

[tense music continues]

[fireworks whistling]

[rapid blasts]

[fireworks whistling]

[rapid blasts]

[indistinct chatter]

[motor running]

[in Mandarin] How do I feel? I feel very happy indeed.

We have completed such a big project.

We hope that we can find a seal or similar artifacts

that can prove the identity of the tomb owner conclusively.

We have a lot of faith in it.

It’s done.

[Hui, in English] All these stories that are circulating for over 2,000 years,

now that we have such findings…

[hooves clopping]

[Hui] …it will prove that all these figures were true.

Like Zhao Gao, like Hu Hai,

were real people, not characters in a legend, or just a story.

All of these figures will have existed in history.

[narrator] Now, 50 years on

from the discovery of the first terracotta warrior,

conclusive evidence of systematic destruction

has been found all over the site.

[indistinct chatter]

[Fu in Mandarin] See the red soil?

I think this building was destroyed by a fire soon after it was built.

Across the whole Qin mausoleum, there are traces of burning.

We are not sure when the traces were left.

But what we can confirm is that the damage in the warrior pits happened early,

before the wood there had decayed.

[Zhu in Mandarin] That’s wood charcoal.

[Fu] When we excavated the east gate, the situation was the same.

[woman] It’s been burned.

[Fu] Yes, exactly.

And on these buildings, we found the same traces of burning too.

So all this destruction seems to have happened

at around the same time in the late Qin dynasty.

[suspenseful music playing]

[narrator, in English] When the fall of Qin came,

it came violently

at the hands of a rebel general

who led his army to the capital and beheaded Hu Hai’s successor.

[dramatic music playing]

[Sima Qian] The rebel armies butchered the capital,

and the fires burned for three months.

[narrator] There is no written proof that the rebel army

destroyed the first emperor’s mausoleum.

But being close to the capital, it would have been a prime target.

[Zhu, in Mandarin] In my opinion, the theft,

destruction, and burning down of the mausoleum

should be attributed to this rebel army.

[fire crackles]

[Zhu] They had the numbers and the power, and they had opportunity and time.

It’s likely some of the soldiers

had been convicts forced to work on the construction.

So they would have remembered where things were buried.

[man, in Mandarin] Hey, they’re down here!

[Zhu] It was revenge.

[tense music playing]

[fire crackling]

[music intensifies]

[flames whooshing]

[tense music continues]

[music fades]

[crickets chirping]

[Sima Qian, in English] When all under heaven had been settled, the house of Qin fell because they ruled without humanity or righteousness.

[poignant music playing]

[Guo] I think the Qins’ cruel way of mobilizing and punishing the population led to the destruction of the mausoleum.

But the high level of artistic creativity did not grow from this cruelty.

It grew out of the fusion of different cultural elements from various parts of what we call China today.

[poignant music continues]

[Guo] The first emperor’s vision of a unified China survived.

It survived the fall of the Qin dynasty.

And it is still very much alive today.

[Hui] I think, in the end, the warriors were destroyed due to the harsh conditions that they were created in.

But they also show us what human beings were capable of doing 2,200 years ago.

To me, even after all this time, the warriors are a reminder of the magnificence of the human spirit.

And they still have the power to take our breath away.

[emotional music playing]

[Lan in Mandarin] This is his footboard.

[Yuan, in Mandarin] My whole life has been dedicated to archaeology.

It’s been 48 or 49 years now.

Making the warriors known to the world was a task that fell on our shoulders.

It was an honor for us.

[emotional music continues]

[Yuan] The warriors are my dearest friends.

When they are loved by people all over the world, it makes me very happy.

It was difficult at times, but in the greatest hardship, we find the greatest joy.

Just as flowers watered by perspiration are the most beautiful… the terracotta warriors gave us the greatest happiness.

[emotional music continues]

[music softens]

[music fades]

[dramatic music playing]


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