TED Case Studies
Number 698, January 2004
by Thomas De Stefano
Terra Cotta Warriors and Tourism: xxxx
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I. Identification

1. The Issue: One of the wonders of the ancient world, the Terra Cotta Army Qin Shi Huang Di is a cultural relic that should be protected with the upmost seriousness. Great care should be taken to preserve the warriors not only for their value as an attraction, but also for their academic and cultural values. After these soldiers are excavated, extreme caution should be taken in their preservation so that they will continue to be in pristine condition for studies conducted by both Chinese and international scholars.

2. Description: The following section is broken down into three subsections. Click on one of the following links to go to a specific section.
Description of the Soldiers
The Impact of Tourism

History of the Terra-Cotta Army's creation:

One of the most tumultuous times in Chinese history was known as the Warring States period. Although the period is classified as 500 years of civil war, it was predominately a competition between three separate states to control the whole of greater China.

This contest was ultimately won by the Qin kingdom. China was then unified, and the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty, Qin Shi Huang Di, was crowned. Under his rule, construction of the Great Wall began, written language standards were created, and even wheels and roads were regulated to improve commerce in the unified kingdom.

In spite of all of this, the late emperor is more commonly known for his tomb. Supposedly, Qin Shi Huang Di's tomb contained not only the famed Terra Cotta Army, but also contained a full scale replica of his empire in miniature, and also dragon sarcophagus surrounded by a lake of mercury. Despite bringing advancements in the way of inter-China commerce and a common language, Qin Shi Huang Di was not a terribly well liked despot. He was known to be equal parts cruel and vain. He had no compunction sending armies of conscripted workers and convicts to construct his more ambitious projects, which included lavish palaces as well as the Great Wall.

As the Qin Emperor began the twilight of his days, he became obsessed with prolonging his life to the extent that he had his servants searching in vain for a way to make him immortal. His servants would eventually begrudgingly admit defeat. If the Emperor could not live forever, than it was decided that in death he should still enjoy the lavish practices he enjoyed in life. The construction of the Emperor's tomb was a monumental task, and more than one laborer lost their life, some due to the exhausting work of actually constructing the different pits and chambers, and others because of the mercury poisoning.

Description of the Soldiers:

When originally created, the Terra Cotta Army was fully painted and armed, however time and exposure to the elements have stripped away most of this. However, the Terra Cotta Army still remains an impressive site. Upon closer inspection, it can be seen that the individual soldiers all have different expressions, and that the soldiers themselves hold different ranks. For example, an archer can be distinguished by the position of his hair, which will have a left aligned bun so that he could reach into his quiver. Also distinguishable are commanders from normal infantry. The uniforms, regalia, and hairstyles separate infantry from commanders, and also distinguish generals. Also recently excavated are Terra Cotta acrobats and other entertainers that would be in the imperial court.

The soldiers that have been excavated are separated into three different pits. The first and largest is considered the mainly battle army, and consists mainly of foot soldiers and horses. The second is smaller, and is considered a flanking army. This pit contains mainly archers and chariots. This third pit is considerably smaller, and is supposedly representative of a headquarters.

Impact of Tourism:

However, unless caution is taken, these relics are best left unexcavated until techniques for their preservation have improved. Dangers exist to the Terra Cotta Army that could never have been conceived when they were created. For one, their excavation in and of itself exposes them to natural elements that they have been sealed away from for generations. Things that seem as benign as mold can have damaging effects on the soldiers. Even the corrosive effects of elements found in the air can have a damaging effect if care is not taken.

The Terra Cotta Army is also a large tourist attraction. Tourists can be just as dangerous as tomb robbers if caution is not taken. Tourists bring in foreign objects such as trash, but also food and other sources of litter that are organically based. These sources are a boon for bacteria and mold, and could eventually have detrimental effects on the soldiers.

This is especially true concerning the special treatment that certain VIPs receive. For example, when former president Bill Clinton and his family toured China they were allowed directly into the pits that the army is housed in. In fact, there is a picture of Chelsea Clinton touching on the terra cotta horses with her bare hand, which is most assuredly not beneficial to the artifact.

When the soldiers were first excavated, there was probably little thought to their preservation. The most fragile artifacts have been taken out of the pits, but the soldiers are fragile enought that it is risky to move them, and while there have been buildings built over them, they are still exposed to the atmosphere if not to the elements directly. The Terra Cotta Army is such a tourist attraction that more often than not it is difficult for scientists to gain adequate access to their study, and possibly to processes to better preserve them. The constant flow of tourists not only introduces foreign objects and bacteria to the soldiers, but also inhibits scientists from being able to gain full access to them.

Although tourist dollars are most likely used in the study and preservation of the Terra Cotta Army, it still raises the question of whether the impact of tourism is ultimately negative concerning ancient archaeological sites such at the Qin emperor's tomb.

Terra Cotta Soldiers with Paint Peeling 

3. Related Cases: Several other case studies are similar in respect to this one. Primarily, the other case studies concern tourism and its impacts on other sites in Asia, Africa and Europe. Some of them also concern the overall safety and protection granted to cultural relics. Links to these cases are as follows.

Egypt Tourism and Cultural Heritage Problems

Tourism and the Arts in Haiti

Urban Tourism's Impact on Colonial Areas of Latin American Cities: The Case of Salvador Brazil

Tourism in Bali

The Taj Mahal: Tourism and Pollution

Trade in Chinese Relics


4. Author and Date: Thomas De Stefano, December 4, 2003.

II. Legal Clusters

5. Discourse and Status: Agreement and Allegation.

Thus far, there have been no major laws made protecting the Terra Cotta Warriors. The domestic Chinese laws that have been written mainly include rules and regulations that tourists must follow when viewing the soldiers. Examples of these are no flash photography and no smoking. However, these rules are hardly followed and are dubiously enforced at best. Other laws concerning the Terra Cotta Warriors are the laws regarding their safe transport should some of them leave China to tour other museums around the world.

6. Forum and Scope: China and unilateral.

International as well as Chinese historians and archaeologists can discuss the best measures for preserving and protecting the Terra Cotta Warriors. However, it is ultimately up to the Chinese government to both create and implement laws.

7. Decision Breadth: As of now, there have been rules and regulations set in place governing the conduct of tourists visiting the site, and regulations created for the safe study and excavation of the Terra Cotta Army.

8. Legal Standing: Domestic Laws. Since the Terra Cotta Warriors do not often travel across borders, and are not claimed by more than one nation, there is no need to have treaties or international understanding governing them.

Lone Terra Cotta Soldier 

III. Geographic Clusters

9. Geographic Locations

a. Geographic Domain: Asia

b. Geographic Site: East Asia

c. Geographic Impact: China

10. Sub-National Factors: Yes. The local economy of Xi'an and the surrounding area.

Were the Terra Cotta Warriors to be damaged, even over a long period of time, the impact would be felt directly in the city of Xi'an. Xi'an relies to an extent on its tourist attractions, and while people will see such things as the old city walls and the Wild Goose Pagoda, they are predominantly there to see the Terra Cotta Army.

11. Type of Habitat: Temperate

IV. Trade Clusters

12. Type of Measure: Regulatory standard

The loss of the Terra Cotta Army can be considered a loss in two different ways. It could be considered a loss on both a world cultural scale, and on a domestic Chinese cultural and economic scale.

13. Direct v. Indirect Impacts: Direct

14. Relation of Trade Measure to Environmental Impact

a. Directly Related to Product: Yes. Tourism and Culture.

b. Indirectly Related to Product: None.

c. Not Related to Product: None.

d. Related to Process: Yes. Culture.

15. Trade Product Identification: Tourism and Culture.

16. Economic Data: Economic data is hard to collect concerning Chinese tourism in general. However, it would be safe to conclude that the money spent on seeing the soldiers, and in the surrounding communities (restaurants, shops, hotels) is quite significant.

17. Impact of Trade Restriction: High

18. Industry Sector: Entertainment.

19. Exporters and Importers: Many and China.

V. Environment Clusters

20. Environmental Problem Type: Culture.

21. Name, Type, and Diversity of Species: N/A

22. Resource Impact and Effect: Low and Product. The surrounding environment may suffer from the amount of waste produced by the amount of tourists visiting the Terra Cotta Army, but the primary facility is equipped sufficiently to handle it.

23. Urgency and Lifetime: Low and many years. The gradual destruction of the Terra Cotta Warriors would come mainly from neglect. This would be the neglect of the natural contaminants that the warriors are exposed to, and the contaminants that are brought in by thousands of tourists per year.

24. Substitutes: None

VI. Other Factors

25. Culture: Yes. Culture is a heavy issue in this case. For the loss of a cultural relic such as the Terra Cotta Army would be a loss to both China and the World.

The creation of the Terra Cotta Army is considered one of the wonders of the ancient world, and can provide a glimpse into ancient Chinese society. As more terra cotta figures are unearthed, the life of the Qin court can be more accurately pieced together. The non-military pieces can lead to clues concerning the Emperor's life outside of military conquest.

The bronze arms that the Terra Cotta Warriors once held are also still contained in some of the pits. These can tell us the extent of which metal-working technology had been developed in ancient China.

If these and the soldiers are not properly preserved and maintained, this invaluable glimpse into a now extinct ancient culture will be lost.

26. Trans-Boundary Issues: No

27. Rights: Yes. The Terra Cotta Warriors are not privately owned, and are the property of the Chinese Government. Therefore, the rights that are attached to any piece of government property are also attached to the Terra Cotta Army.

28. Relevant Literature: Literature on the subject is few and far between. Archaological journals may provide some information, but are typically far too technical for the layperson to find useful. The Internet has a host of resources. However, information taken from web pages not associated with a University or some type of professional association should be viewed critically.

There are several books available offering background information on the soldiers that can be purchased from Vendors such as Amazon. However, the best photographs of the soldiers, and the mausoleum in general are found in Chinese publications. There is one written in English entitled, Terra-Cotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum (ISBN# 7-5418-1687-6).