Stamps of China

Topical Stamp Collecting: Archeology, China History

Terra Cotta Soldiers

The discovery of the terra cotta army which guarded the tomb of emperor Qin Shi Huangdi for more than 2,000 years is considered one of the greatest archeological finds in history. The first fragments of the army were unearthed in 1974 by farmers digging a well near the base of Mt. Lishan in the Shaanxi province in northwest China. As archeologists excavated they discovered an army of life-sized terra cotta warriors, horses, and chariots. To date about 1,900 figures have been unearthed, but researchers estimate that there may be as many as 7,000-8,000 in total.

It appears that the statues were mass produced, drawing on numerous workshops in the region. Head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately, assembled, and then customized with features such as mustaches and ears. The ultimate effect is of thousands of individuals. In addition to the soldiers and horses, there are also statues of other members of Qin's court including acrobats and musicians.

Qin Shi Huang ruled 246 BC until his death in 210 BC. Born Ying Zheng, he ascended the throne of the Chinese state of Qin at the age of 13 upon the death of his father. As a young man, he systematically defeated the surrounding states unifying China for the first time. In 221 B.C. he renamed himself Qin Shi Huangdi, which translates as: First Emperor of Qin.

History can be a bit unclear on Qin. Chinese tradition depicts him as a brutal tyrant, obsessed with avoiding his own death, and prone to ostentatious excesses. However, he is also associated with a number of significant advances and accomplishments. In addition to unifying China politically, Qin instituted a standard currency unifying the country economically, and a standard script unifying the country culturally. Struggling with the nomadic Xiongnu tribes to the north and northwest, Qin built an enormous defensive wall. Although very little of this original wall survives, it is considered the precursor to the Great Wall of China. Qin also began the Ling canal project considered one of China's three greatest engineering feats.

On June 30, 1983 the Beijing Postage Stamp Printing Works issued a stamp series to commemorate this national treasure. In addition to four different stamps showing various views of the terra cotta soldiers and horses, the issue included a souvenir sheet and booklet. The individual stamps are as follows: an 8 fen stamp shows soldiers; an 8 fen stamp shows a close-up of a clay figure; a 10 fen stamp shows a close-up of soldiers and horses; and a 70 fen stamp shows a view overlooking the venue where the figures were buried. The souvenir sheet depicts a soldier leading a horse. The booklet contains 8 stamps and a souvenir sheet

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