The exhibit Terra Cotta Warriors: Guardians of China's First Emperor has opened at Washington, D.C.'s National Geographic Museum. This is the fourth and last city on a U.S. tour before the ancient statues and artifacts return to China.
This statue is more than 2,000 years old, is one of the clay cavalrymen that once protected the tomb of the first Chinese emperor Qin Shihuangdi. The warrior and his horse are now at the entrance to the National Geographic Museum in Washington, and is among the largest number of Chinese terra cotta figures ever to travel to the United States.
Stanford University Professor Albert Dean curated the exhibit. It includes 15 life-size terra cotta figures and 100 sets of artifacts.
"This army represents an unusual display of the level of craftsmanship in ancient China and of the scale of resources able to be mustered," Dean explained.
Thirty-five years ago a group of farmers near Xi'an in China's Shaanxi province, were digging a well. They came across a terra cotta warrior, leading to one of the greatest archeological discoveries of the 20th century.
Today, archeologists believe that about 7,000 vivid, life size ceramic figures, horses and chariots were buried in a massive underground tomb complex. About a thousand have been excavated. The warriors were supposed to protect Emperor Qin Shihuangdi in his afterlife.
Professor Dean says the discovery of the terra cotta soldiers has provided a wealth of information about the Qin dynasty, including the construction of the tomb complex which took 36 years.
"When they start figuring out how much wood it took to build these things, the kind of clays, all of this, the amounts stagger the imagination," Dean said.
This is the largest exhibit of Chinese terra cotta figures to tour the United States.
Xie Feng, a diplomat at China's embassy in Washington, spoke at the exhibit's press preview. He referred to President Barack Obama's visit to Beijing, which was taking place on the same day.
"President Obama's visit to China is historic and so is too this exhibit. Their coincidence is auspicious sign of further developments of U.S-China cultural exchange of mutual understanding and friendship."
Susan Norton, Director of the National Geographic Museum, says the show is already a success. "It is beyond our wildest dreams. As of this morning we sold over 96,000 tickets. This is unheard of," she said.
The museum shop is offering the chance for visitors to take something home: from small replicas of the terra cotta figures to Chinese souvenirs.
The exhibit remains in Washington, D.C. through the end of March 2010.