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Look closely at the thousands of Terra-Cotta Warriors standing in strict formation at the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum Museum near Xian, China. You may notice many of the men are wider around the waist. During a recent visit to the extraordinarily popular visitor attraction with G Adventures, Siao Jun Hu, one of the tour operator’s chief experience officers, or CEOs, explained that the added girth around many of the soldiers’ midriffs was linked directly to China’s economy more than 2,000 years ago.
“Have you noticed that all of the warriors have a beer belly?” he asked our small group. “In ancient times, soldiers and warriors were not paid. There was no money for them to fight in the army because it was their obligation, their duty to serve the emperor. But when you served in the army, they would give you a supply of liquor to drink.”
Hu added that the liquor not only served as a payment or reward for the warriors’ efforts but also helped as pre-battle motivational aid.
“Before you go to war, the liquor would cheer you up,” he said with a bright smile. “Even today, if you want to fight, drink a couple of bottles of beer and that will give you extra courage.”
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who was the first emperors to rule over a unified China, dates back to 246 B.C. and consists of a subterranean city, covering more than 20 square miles and featuring countless life-size and armed sculptures of not only warriors, but also their chariots and horses.
Pit One at the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum Museum, which is just one of what experts believe to be more than 600 existing archaeological sites within the Emperor’s sprawling tomb, is likely home to more than 6,000 terra-cotta soldiers and horses alone.
Discovered in 1974 by local farmers digging a well, Pit One at the Emperor Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum Museum near Xian, China, is home to more than 6,000 reconstructed terra-cotta warriors and horses. // © 2015 Shane Nelson
Many of the reconstructed warriors were originally crafted with what might best be described as beer bellies, likely because the warriors were paid with a supply of alcohol. // © 2015 Shane Nelson
The face of each terra-cotta warrior in Emperor Qin’s subterranean army is unique. // © 2015 Shane Nelson
The clay soldiers were also entombed with wooden chariots and weapons such as spears and swords. // © 2015 Shane Nelson
Archaeologists have yet to discover a terra-cotta warrior that’s completely intact; all of those on display at the museum have been painstakingly pieced together from broken fragments. // © 2015 Shane Nelson
Though the artifacts Pit One are the same color today, Emperor Qin’s soldiers were originally painted a variety of colors. // © 2015 Shane Nelson
Travelers headed to the museum should certainly be prepared for crowds, but even with the throng of visitors wedged against viewing railings, the chance to see the extraordinarily lifelike statues in person is tremendous.
Visitors will want to bring along a camera that performs well in lowlight and has a reliable zoom to capture the best images of the often distant warriors. And those keen to buy a stone replica of one of Emperor Qin’s terra-cotta soldiers should forgo purchasing at the museum’s gift shop and instead make a stop at the Muslim Market in Xian, where the items are much less expensive.