Ancient China’s ‘Terracotta Warriors’ invade the Franklin Institute

“Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor” has 10 of the 8,000 warriors on display.
“Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor” has 10 of the 8,000 warriors on display. Courtesy of the Franklin Institute


What: “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor”

Where: The Franklin Institute is located in Center City Philadelphia, at the intersection of 20th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

When: Now through March 4

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Price: Adult $35 Child (3-11) $30

Info.: To plan your visit and for more information, check

PHILADELPHIA >> On a normal day in late March, 1974, some farmers in the Xi’an province of China needed a new source for water after their well ran dry.

So, they went out and started digging. They quickly hit something.

Turns out it wasn’t a gas line.

What they found was just the tip of what is still an amazing discovery.


Under the farm (and underneath the surrounding 38 square miles) was an army of soldiers, carriages, horses and anything else you might think of “protecting” the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang, who ruled in the late third century B.C.

Ten of the 8,000 warriors are now on display at the Franklin Institute in the new “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor.”

“The practice of burying symbolic figures to accompany you to the afterlife is a cultural tradition,” said Karen Elinich, the Director of Science Content & Learning Technologies at The Franklin Institute. “In the exhibit we have some from other tombs in the area, but normally they are small. (They are) truly symbolic and not really detailed.”

When you become king of one of the biggest provinces of ancient China at the age of 13, well, you might get a bit of a big head. Qin Shi Huang soon went from king to emperor and all the while the statues were being built.

“He wanted to rule the world,” Elinich said. “He had visions of power in life and in the afterlife. For his afterlife, he wanted to have the greatest burial complex of anyone in history.

“He took a tradition and just amplified it to an unprecedented level.”

The exhibit debuted at the Pacific Science Center in April and makes it’s only East Coast appearance at the Franklin Institute until March, 2018.

This is the first time in 30 years the warriors have appeared in Philadelphia.

“In 2015, the Franklin Institute formed a partnership with the government of China and the Pacific Science Center in Seattle to develop an exhibition that was unlike any Terracotta Warrior’s display in history,” said Franklin Institute President and CEO Larry Dubinski. “We have an unprecedented look at the scientific process surrounding the burial and discovery of the warriors and artifacts.”

Part of the exhibition includes a bit of Augmented Reality. An app funded by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage gives an up-close, high-definition view of the warriors and the surrounding area. You can even place a few of the warriors around your home. You can download the app prior to your visit at

If nothing else, the exhibit proves politicians haven’t changed much in thousands of years.

“The warriors, the military figures, were made to protect him in the afterlife. There are other artifacts like stone armor that is supposed to protect the spirit in the afterlife,” said Elinich. “He also went further and created non-military figures that would tend to other more relaxed parts of his life. There is a musician figure that was with birds in a separate chamber and a civil official to make sure taxation takes place in the afterlife.”