THEY JUST FADE AWAY
General Douglas MacArthur said, "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away." Never was this statement truer than with Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who reigned from 221-206 BC. It was Qin (pronounced Chin) that first unified China nearly 2200 years ago and gave the country its name. He was a most harsh and unforgiving emperor who loved monumental building projects. The two most notable were the Great Wall and his mausoleum along with the thousands of terra cotta warriors protecting his temporal remains. These silent sentinels stand about a mile east of his mausoleum protecting it from invasion. Qin had a high estimation of what he was going to accomplish in his reign. As a consequence, he started building his massive mausoleum after his first year as emperor. It took approximately 30-years and 700,000 slave laborers to construct both his final resting space and the legions of terra cotta warriors.
Emperor Qin lined up his army in battle array in three underground pits covering 18,000 square yards. Chinese authorities estimate that he had approximately 8,000 life-size terra cotta warriors and horses made. Each of the warriors stood six-foot tall and revealed distinct features as to military rank and even facial features. In addition, they were hand-painted and carried metal weapons. Only 2,000 sculptures have been unearthed and slightly more than half are still on display.
Once Qin's army was ready to protect him for eternity, he encased the entire security force under a wooden roof that was then covered it with dirt. For nearly two millennia, time forgot Qin's terra cotta army. In 1974, two farmers, who were digging for a well, accidentally came across the terra cotta warriors.
Those 2000 years of embalmment were not easy on Qin's army. The
ceiling collapsed in many places and earthquakes caused extensive
damage to the terra cotta sculptures. However, once the army saw
the light of day or rather the pollution of the air, the statues
that were still in one piece started to change color and began
falling apart due to the ubiquitous Chinese pollution. The
pollution starts an oxidizing process that not only turns the terra
cotta to a gray color but also weakens the clay. Recently, in the
South China Morning Post, Cao Junji, an environmental specialist
from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said, "If nothing is done now,
in one hundred years the warriors may have corroded to such an
extent that the pits will look like a coal mine and not have any
Actually, MacArthur's admonition is instructive to all of us-not just to Emperor Qin Shi Huang. Army or not, we are all slowly fading away. The ravages of time will surely catch-up with us all sooner or later. Whether we are terra cotta or human, we will all fade away.
Even today, the Chinese authorities desperately try to stop time's destructive march. The archeologists have set up MASH-like field hospitals to care for Qin's wounded warriors. Painstakingly, they attempt to put all the pieces together-one shard and potshards at a time. Visitors experience the surreal attempt at reconstruction of Qin's smashed sentinels. Nevertheless, if two millennia haven't beaten down Qin's legions, air pollution will.
MacArthur was correct: "Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.