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Learn to Make Terracotta Army Pottery Figures

Pottery figures are a kind of ancient Chinese tomb sculpture art, which have developed through different dynasties and produced various artistic and ornamental works, among which the most famous pottery figures are the Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang. If you come to Xi'an, besides visiting this world wonder, you can also participate in the pottery figure making experience course.

About Chinese Pottery Figures

Pottery figures are sculptures of humans or animals made of clay, which were usually used for sacrificial purposes in ancient China. Pottery figures appeared in the Shang and Zhou dynasties, although the sculptural skills were low at that time, but by the Qin dynasty they had reached a level of accurate realism. The most famous of these are the well-known Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang. After continuous development, the art of pottery figures reached a new peak in the Sui and Tang dynasties, especially the colorful and magnificent tri-colored figures. But after that, with the attention of the tomb-guarding gods and the change of funeral customs, the use of pottery figures plummeted, until they disappeared in the Qing dynasty.


How Terracotta Army Was Made

Most of the terracotta army was made by pottery firing method, first using clay molds to make the initial embryo, then covering a layer of fine mud for processing and painting, some were fired before joining, some were joined before firing, the temperature was even, the color was pure, and the hardness was very high. There were different divisions of labor in each process, and there was a set of strict work system. Archaeologists have studied this and tried to restore the production process of the terracotta army:

  1. Kneading: First, use the soil and water near the tomb to knead into clay, then use wooden sticks to stir evenly, remove air bubbles and impurities, until the soil has flexibility.
  2. Shaping: After the soil is ready, use molds to allocate and shape.
  3. Casting: The shaped soil is placed in molds, making the arms, legs and feet of the soldiers. 
  4. Sculpting: Then, circles of soil form the basis of the torso, and the torso is placed on the two legs. Then the craftsmen carve out the details of the armor and clothes.
  5. Head making: Next, use molds to make the head of the soldiers, and add some personalized elements after casting. The craftsmen will add mouth, ears, eyebrows, facial hair and headwear (depending on the rank of the person).
  6. Firing: Then, put the body and head of the terracotta army into the kiln and fire them separately, making them hard and durable. This process may be done in the loess kiln common in this area of China.
  7. Assembly: Assemble the fired parts of the terracotta army together, forming a complete terracotta army, and then equip them with weapons and equipment: crossbows, bows, spears or swords.
  8. Painting: Then, the whole soldier will be painted with a layer of paint, to protect the statue and weapons.
  9. Coloring: Finally, use various pigments, such as ochre, cinnabar, copper green, iron black, etc. to paint the terracotta army, making them present rich colors and luster.

The terracotta army was originally painted, but unfortunately, due to historical reasons and natural erosion, most of the terracotta army have faded or peeled off, and only a few of them still retain their original colors.

Where to Attend the Pottery Figure Class

In order to If you want to experience the production process of pottery figures personally, or want to take away a unique terracotta army souvenir, you can go to the following places:

秦始皇陵博物馆(“秦学堂”)Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum Museum ("Qin Academy")

Next to the terracotta army, there is a "Qin Academy" on the small building where you can experience the production of terracotta army, which is very suitable for children or family to learn and experience the production process of terracotta army.

Location: 1.5 km east of Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum on Qinling North Road, Lintong District, Xi'an, Shaanxi
How to get there: Take bus 5 (306), 914, 915 to the Terracotta Army Museum station and walk there.
Opening hours: 10:30-17:30

pottery figure making

秦王文物复制厂 (Qin Wang Cultural Relics Replication Factory)

This is a comprehensive enterprise that integrates the production, display, sale and research of terracotta army, where you can enjoy various replicas of terracotta army, from 1:1 to 1:10 scale, from single to group arrangement. Here you can not only experience how to make pottery figures, but also buy some terracotta army souvenirs as collections or gifts for relatives and friends.

Location: X007, Qinling Street, Lintong District, Xi'an, Shaanxi (Qinling North Road)
Opening hours: 10:00-17:00

Pottery figures making process:

After entering the experience hall, the staff will usually show the visitors a documentary about the terracotta army (about 3-5 minutes), then choose the terracotta army mold they want to make, put on aprons and gloves, and send clay. Under the teacher's practical explanation, start making the terracotta army (about 60 minutes).

  1. Use the local characteristic red mud, first fill the mud, press, use the mold to shape, then open and start to use tools to modify. You can ask the teacher at any time if you have any questions.
  2. The finished pottery figure can be taken away directly, but the pottery figure that has not been fired may be more easily broken, it is best to let the staff help to fire in the kiln, and then express it back.
  3. If you have enough time, it is best to give your own pottery figure a coloring, so that the pottery figure is the most complete and beautiful.

The staff of the pottery figure experience hall may not speak English, so we suggest that if you want to experience pottery figures class, you can go with an English guide or contact us.

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