The Great Mystery China’s First Emperor Left Behind

The great mystery left behind in Xi’an by China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huang within his tomb remains unsolved, as the latest suggestion to use muons for extremely accurate X-ray imaging has not yet been approved.

Nearly 50 years ago, the famed Qin Shi Huang’s tomb was found. Since then, every detail has been explored save for the Emperor’s tomb. Scientists do not dare to touch it for a good reason.

The Great Schemer

A farmer named Yang Zhifa and his five brothers started drilling a new well in the spring of 1974 close to Mount Li (Lishan), which is situated in the northeast of the Shaanxi Province. When their shovels hit something hard, they instantly heard a sound.

A life-size clay statue suddenly materialized from the ground after they first saw a head, torso, and then a head. Arrowheads, pottery skulls, and terracotta bricks were all lying around. Two full carts of diverse artifacts were gathered by the diggers. Yang made the decision to sell it in order to profit from his discoveries. However, he was only able to collect 10 yuan in all.

The irate farmer had no notion that it was a precious scientific gift. Chinese archaeologists started investigating the excavation site at the top of Lishan that same year. They uncovered and brought to the surface hundreds of additional artifacts layer by layer.

The initial location, which had 6,000 clay troops, horses, and chariots, was made public in 1979. These statues are collectively referred to as the Terracotta Army in modern times. The mythical Emperor Qin Shi Huang is to be safeguarded in the afterlife.

Exhibits of the Qin Shi Huang Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum in Xian.

Yang had stumbled across the imperial tomb. In Chinese history, Qin Shi Huang has a very significant place. The future emperor, who was given the name Ying Zheng when he was born in 259 BC into a family that was the governor of the Zhao state, climbed from low aristocracy to become an all-powerful ruler thanks to good fortune and his fierce desire.

After succeeding to his father’s reign in his forties, he set himself the Herculean job of unifying the whole nation. By sending his forces to invade nearby countries one after another, he made quick work of it.

Ten years later, Ying Zheng succeeded in unifying the seven at-the-time-warring nations into one enormous nation. He adopted a new name once his war was successful, Qin Shi Huang (literally, “Great Emperor, founder of the Qin dynasty”).

Having finished the war, the ruler moved on to civil affairs. He carried out administrative reform, dividing the country into forty districts, thus weakening the local nobility, his direct rivals. Later, he went on to establish a single coherent system that set new regulations covering everything from currency to carriage width. Qin also managed to unify Chinese script.

He ordered the eradication of all earlier chronicles in order to bury the past. The only records still in existence were those kept in his native kingdom.

The graves of the Knights Templar, a mysterious holy group that appeared in the 12th century, have been found at a church in an English village. This discovery is considered one of the most important of its kind in the country.

In Search of Immortality

Another method to put his imperial name in the annals of history was via construction. Soon after assuming the throne, Qin Shi Huang started to construct grand palaces and other structures.

A modern statue of Qin Shi Huang (the first emperor of China) near the Terracotta Army in Xi’an

The Great Wall of China was conceived as a coherent series of fortifications along the northern frontier to protect the nation against warlike Hun assaults. Later, in order to link the Xiang and Lijiang rivers, Qin Shi Huang commanded the construction of a canal.

The massive building understandably required a lot of resources, yet thousands of slaves worked valiantly to complete it. The number of deaths at the scene is still a point of contention among historians.

When he began work on his personal tomb, the emperor was exceptionally ardent. It took more than 30 years to finish. The end result, however, was not just a tomb, but a whole miniature city, complete with tombs for its constructors and noblemen, as well as mansions, gardens, barracks, and stables.

Qin Shi Huang was adamant about taking all of his goods with him into the afterlife. The emperor’s superstitions can be primarily blamed for this circumstance. Chinese historians claim that the monarch was preoccupied with immortality from a young age.

Sima Qian, an early Han Dynasty Chinese historian, claimed that Qin could not stand to discuss the “fragility of human existence” and frequently gave his subjects the assignment of looking for an elixir of life.

Tomb of the First Emperor Qin Shi Huang, Xi’an, China

Chinese archaeologists discovered a group of bamboo tablets with various royal decrees in the Hunan Province six years ago, according to their findings. The majority of them mentioned an immortality potion. Both government representatives and common citizens in China were instructed to acquire pertinent information and instantly transmit it to the capital.

Legends are True

The emperor passed away in 210 BC without ever discovering the elixir he so desperately sought; sadly, there are no miracles. Although the exact cause of death is yet unknown, mercury poisoning is thought to be the likely culprit. On the recommendation of his court alchemists, Qin Shi Huang habitually ingested tablets containing mercury. They believed that the poisonous metal was a necessary ingredient in the elixir.

In addition, mercury is the cause of the specialists’ continued inaccessibility to the imperial burial chamber. Sima Qian claims that the monarch was informed about a distant region with silk trees and magical rivers, where anybody who drank its water would experience neither death nor misery.

Schematic layout of the burial chamber of Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum.

The historian said that the emperor built a replica of the scene in his own tomb. The coffin served as the focal point of a map of a remote, magical region that was painted on the floor, and the ceiling was adorned with valuable stones that represented the starry sky.

The rivers, though, were the tomb’s most priceless feature. Because mercury was thought to have magical capabilities at the time, the builders filled them with it. Researchers in 2020 inferred the supposition in an indirect manner. Measurements in the chamber revealed that the substance’s concentration was substantially higher than permitted near the tomb.

But curiosity still rules. Scientists are continually working to develop fresh strategies for evading ancient traps. For instance, they advocate the use of muons, basic subatomic particles similar to electrons. They serve as extremely accurate X-rays, allowing one to see through the structure without compromising it. This strategy hasn’t, however, been totally accepted yet. As a result, the famous Qin Shi Huang’s tomb enigma is still a mystery.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. The emperor displayed a mindset very similar to Alexander the Great, who died the previous century. Reincarnation? Or were they guided by the same custodial power?

  2. Great reporting! Use of muons at the tomb would IMHO be tricky for 2 reasons: (a) What would be the impact on artifacts inside? (b) How would Chinese traditionalists react? The Chinese seem to interpret time differently than Westerners. Once asked by Dr. Kissinger what effect the French Revolution had, Zhou En-Lai replied, “It’s too early to tell.”

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