Terracotta warriors march into Tampere


Xi’an’s famed Terracotta Army captures the majesty of ancient China – but these tough soldiers are surprisingly fussy travellers. 

Back in 1974, peasants digging a well in the northwest Chinese province of Shaanxi made the most sensational archaeological discovery of the century. They unearthed a complete army of life-size terracotta soldiers and horses that had been hidden underground for over 2,000 years. The army was commissioned by the first Chinese Emperor, Qin Shihuangdi, founder of the Qin Dynasty, to protect his spirit in the afterlife.  

The captivatingly realistic Terracotta Army comprises thousands of intricately detailed clay figures, no two of which look completely alike. Subsequent archaeological digs have revealed almost 8,000 warriors arranged in battle formation along with chariots and assorted weapons.

Crown jewel of Chinese culture

Now this “eighth wonder of the world” has arrived in Tampere, where Museum Centre Vapriikki is hosting an exhibition showcasing eight full-size figures, a life-sized stallion and a 1,200 kilogram bronze replica of the Emperor’s war chariot. As only two such chariots exist, the originals never leave China.
“Our show tells the story of how China became China. The main character in the story is the First Emperor, who defeated China’s warring states and unified the Chinese world as one state in 221 BC,” explains Exhibition Manager Marjo-Riitta Saloniemi
“There are 102 exhibits, including weapons, silver, gold, bronze and jade treasures, and some interesting new finds made this century, such as the bronze pet birds of the First Emperor. We are also featuring exhibits from the Han Dynasty. The Han Emperors had armies of dogs, pigs and goats buried with them – in miniature format. The Han soldiers are only 50 cm high,” she says.
The ancient Chinese believed that life continues after death. The deceased were thus interred with a bewildering array of items such as food, drink, utility artefacts and even entertainment.  

Shaanxi road movie

Getting the warriors on the road posed various challenges and timing issues, which necessitated three years of planning and preparation. 
“The warriors are extremely old – 2,200 years, in fact. They are also very fragile and very heavy, weighing between 250 and 350 kilograms each. The packing and transport had to be organized by professionals,” says Saloniemi, who travelled to Xi’an with a fellow courier to pick up the warriors and escort them on their journey – a process they describe as a “real road movie”. 
The painstaking process of packing the exhibits was completed on site at the Museum of the First Emperor’s Terracotta Army. They were then ground-transported over 1,000 km from Xi’an to Beijing and flown from Beijing to Helsinki by Finnair. The warriors enjoyed their journey in recumbent position, but the oversized horse – being too large for the cargo hold of the Beijing-Helsinki aircraft – took a detour via Amsterdam.  

Art of logistics

“When transporting art, you have to ensure that the whole chain of transport is handled the safest, most secure and quickest way, using only reliable and professional partners,” says Pirjo Niskanen, Fine Art Logistics Coordinator at Beweship.
“It was a challenge finding a routing and carrier that would carry such a large volume – 34 crates in all – within a very short period of time. As everything was well planned in advance, there were no big surprises. Finnair Cargo terminal service was excellent and very professional. It took us about 1.5 hours from the landing of aircraft to get them out of the terminal,” she adds.
When the warriors finally arrived in Tampere a week after leaving Xi’an, they received a red carpet welcome. “We feel like it’s Christmas! We have waited so long for the warriors to arrive and so many people have worked so hard to make this happen.  Everything went exactly to script.”
The Terracotta Army and Treasures of the First Emperors of China will be on display at Museum Centre Vapriikki in Tampere from June 14 to December 1, 2013.
Text by Silja Kudel
Photos by Finnair & Vapriikki

Published June 14, 2013

Category: Collaboration