Workers were running everywhere.
Their light sandals made small impressions in the sand as they moved quickly from one place to the next. Some carried water in large jugs from a deep well, which was constantly in motion as the bucket went up and down, up and down, up and down. The men pulling it looked tired and sweaty as they constantly filled one jug after the next, in what seemed to be a never-ending line of waiting faces.
Others wielded small trowels with wooden handles. Their fingers often slipped up and down their tools, covered in mud, as they dug down deeper and deeper. Their knuckles were scraped and raw, their fingers covered in callouses from working continuously, day after day. The newer workers weren’t lucky enough to have hardened their skin yet, and so their hands blistered and bled as they worked. But they kept digging, with grimaces on their faces as they worked and tried to ignore the pain for hour after hour.
Next to each digger stood more waiting workers, holding what looked like large bowls. Each digger would throw lump after lump of clay into the bowls, painstakingly lifted from the ground. As each bowl was filled and weighed down, the carrier would run off. They were quickly replaced by another so that the digging could continue uninterrupted.
Each clay-filled bowl was carried to be loaded on a nearby cart. As the carts filled with the heavy, wet clay, runners would come and lift two long handles on either side and take the carts away.
Across China, there were thousands of such camps. Emperor Qin, the First Emperor, had made it clear that the work was the highest priority in the land. Over 700,000 labourers worked tirelessly on the project. The clay pits were just a small piece of a much larger puzzle.
The centerpiece of the work was taking place in Xi’an, where countless crafters were working to build an army.
Yes – BUILD an army.
The clay was being carefully moulded, poured, pressed and shaped into legs, arms, heads, and bodies. Each part was then assembled into a complete warrior, fierce and strong.
There were generals, captains, and soldiers. Rank after rank of full military regiment stood tall, ready to be called upon when needed.
In contrast to their terracotta bodies, each soldier held very real weapons. Equipped with swords, spears, and knives made from bronze, they were sharpened, honed and crafted just the same as the human armies of China wore into battle.
Eventually, the work was complete.
8000 soldiers. 130 chariots pulled by 520 horses.
Each took its place in the giant site, more than 100 square kilometres in area, equipped for just one purpose: to protect the Emperor.
Or at least, so everyone thought.
You see, the First Emperor had a beloved pet. A small, unassuming cat called Mao. Black all over with bright green eyes, Mao went everywhere with the Emperor. Despite all the wealth in the empire, gold and jewels beyond measure, and countless lands and holdings – Mao remained the Emperor’s most prized possession.
For his part, Mao tolerated the emperor for only one reason: it was necessary if his plans were to succeed.
It was Mao who gave the Emperor the idea for the terracotta army.
It was Mao who whispered to the Emperor in his sleep, encouraging dreams of a huge armed force ready to take over the world.
It was Mao who arranged for the soldiers to have weapons of sharpened bronze, rather than breakable clay.
When Qin Shi Huang died, he was buried in the middle of a huge necropolis, protected by the army he had spent a lifetime building. Thousands upon thousands of them, standing at attention. Motionless.
Unfortunately for Mao, his plans had simply taken too long. He was an old cat now and didn’t have the time or energy to see the end of his schemes.
But he had a kitten – a son.
And so he wrote everything down, knowing that one day one of his descendants would have the boldness, bravery, and cunning necessary to finish what he started.