Celebrated Chinese terracotta warriors exhibition opens in New Zealand's national museum

China’s celebrated ancient treasures, the 2,300 year old terracotta warriors, are on show in New Zealand this summer.

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality

15 December – 22 April, 2019 
Te Papa, Toi Art - Wellington

China’s ancient and much celebrated treasures, the 2,300-year-old terracotta warriors, are at Te Papa – New Zealand’s national museum in Wellington, for a four month exhibition which opened in mid-December. 

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality runs from 15 December 2018 until 22 April 2019, and is expected to attact an estimated 100,000 visitors to the popular museum on Wellington’s inner waterfront. 

The exhibition features eight warriors standing 180cm high, two full-sized horses and two half-size replica bronze chariots, each drawn by four horses, from the famous buried army that guarded the tomb of China's First Emperor. Also on show are 160 exquisite treasures from imperial tombs in China's ancient capital, Xi'an.

Aotearoa New Zealand welcomed the ancient warriors and the delegates accompanying their arrival with a 200-strong powhiri (Maori welcome). It was held at dawn, two days before the exhibition opening, and in front of the world's oldest surviving carved Maori meeting house.

“This was a very momentous occasion, a wonderful embrace of cultures and the culmination of a strong relationship between the National Museum (Te Papa Tongarewa) and the cultural institutions from the province of Shaanxi,” says Arapata Hakiwai, Te Papa’s Kaihautū (Māori Co-leader).

The $NZ2.6 million landmark exhibition would be a “rare opportunity for New Zealanders to see these unique imperial icons,” Geraint Martin, Chief Executive at Te Papa, said.

“We’ve created this exhibition to bring the internationally acclaimed terracotta army to New Zealand, treasures that many wouldn’t otherwise get a chance to see,” says Geraint Martin. “The exhibition promises to be a major and unique event for Te Papa and for New Zealand.” 

For more than 2000 years, an underground army secretly guarded the tomb of Qin Shihuang, China’s First Emperor. They were discovered by chance in 1974 by a farmer digging a well and have come to be regarded as one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century – an eighth wonder of the world. 

The remarkable terracotta figures are given context in the exhibition by being presented alongside extravagant treasures from imperial tombs in and around China’s ancient capital, Xi’an. 

Terracotta Warriors includes more than 160 exquisite works of ancient Chinese art crafted from gold, jade and bronze, which date from the Western Zhou through to the Han dynasties (1046 BC – 220AD). 

Dr Rebecca Rice, curator of the exhibition, visited the First Emperor’s mausoleum in Xi’an and was astounded by the power the site has over its vast numbers of visitors each year. 

“At Te Papa, we’re offering visitors an immersive and intimate experience, a chance to see the terracotta warriors up close in breath-taking detail. You can really appreciate the individuality of each warrior and the incredible creativity and sophistication it would have taken to build this remarkable army.” 

“The exhibition will also provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the First Emperor’s vision and his unification of China, shaping the nation as we know it today,” says Rice. 

Geraint Martin says Terracotta Warriors will be supported by an extensive programme of free cultural events, including Chinese New Year Celebrations in collaboration with Wellington City Council. 

The momentous cultural exchange between New Zealand and China comes as the two countries prepare to celebrate 2019 as the China-New Zealand Year of Tourism. 

Tickets to Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality exhibitions will  be on sale from 1 October (adult $19.50, child 3-15 years $9, concession $17). To register for presales or for more information please see tepapa.nz/terracottawarriors  

Travel Tips

The exhibition by numbers: 

  • 2,300 years old (age of the terracotta warriors) 
  • 8 full-sized terracotta warriors 
  • 2 full-sized terracotta horses
  • 100-300kg weight range of the warriors
  • 180cm height of the warriors 
  • 2 half-size replica bronze chariots, each drawn by four horses 
  • More than 160 exquisite ancient Chinese works crafted from gold, jade and bronze  
  • $2.6 million cost of the exhibition 
  • 100,000 estimated expected exhibition visitors  

 About the Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality 

  • The First Emperor’s terracotta army is located 1.5 kilometres east of the Emperor’s burial mound in Xi’an, China, in the province of Shaanxi. 
  • It is estimated that there are 8000 soldiers in total, with approximately 3000 having been excavated to date. 
  • The life-size, life-like soldiers each weigh 100–300 kilograms and stand about 180 centimetres high. They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. Originally, the figures were painted with bright pigments, however much of the colour has faded over time. 
  • Te Papa’s exhibition will have two horses and eight full-size warriors: an armoured general, an unarmoured general, two armoured military officers, a kneeling archer, a standing archer, an unarmoured infantryman and a civil official. 
  • Scholars continue to debate the function of Qin’s Terracotta Army. Some think that, due to the fact the soldiers face east, they were intended to protect the First Emperor in the afterlife. Others question the soldiers’ readiness for battle, as they are not fully armoured.