3 Dec 2018

Terracotta warriors at Te Papa: 'Quite mind-blowing to see'

11:04 am on 3 December 2018

Eight ancient Chinese warriors have travelled 11,000 kilometres by road and sky to Wellington.

Standing archer (detail), Qin dynasty (221–206 bce), Pottery, height 184cm. Excavated from Pit 2, Qin Shihuang tomb complex, 1978. Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, 002816.

Photo: © Mr. Ziyu Qiu

The stone terracotta warriors, which depict the army of the first Emperor of China, have arrived for a special $2.6 million exhibition at Te Papa in December, after their last visit in 1986.

It took two years of negotiations to get the precious cargo over from the Chinese province of Shaanxi.

Te Papa's head of art Charlotte Davy previously worked with the terracotta warriors in Australia.

She said the artefacts, chariots, horses and warriors, which weighed up to 300kg, got VIP transport to Shanghai before being flown to New Zealand.

"They've got some seriously strong crates around them, so they travel upright in a little tray, which means they're really held firmly in transit.

"The crates have special climate buffering. They travel on special trucks, so that they are kept really, really safe."

Te Papa borrowed eight full-sized warriors and two horses. Ten items is the maximum number that can be loaned at any one time of the 3000 that have been excavated so far.

It was important they made the right selections, Ms Davy said.

"When you're talking about the Terracotta Army, you're talking about the history of the world. You're talking about world civilisation. With all the beautiful craftsmanship that's happening in China at that time, it's quite exciting and quite mind-blowing to see how that's influenced all of us."

The curator of the Terracotta Army is Zheng Zhang, who has accompanied the warriors from China.

Armoured general (detail), Qin dynasty (221–206 bce), pottery, height 196cm. Excavated from Pit 1, Qin Shihuang tomb complex, 1977. Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, 002524.

Photo: © Mr. Ziyu Qiu

"It's my first time to come here to New Zealand. I feel excited here at this moment. I hope that the people [of] New Zealand also have the strong wish or strong hope to enjoy [the terracotta warriors]."

Mr Zhang said the statues may be 2300 years old, but they had not aged.

"[People will be impressed by] the size of the Terracotta Army warriors ... their face, their hair, their hair knot, their armour and even the bottom of their shoes were described very, very vividly."

The Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality is being held at Te Papa from 15 December until 22 April.