‘Breathtaking’ Terracotta Warriors opens at Te Papa

Following an incredible 200 strong karakia and pōwhiri, Te Papa’s landmark Terracotta Warriors exhibition officially opens to the public today.

The ancient terracotta warriors and a group of delegates from China’s ancient cultural capital Xi’an were welcomed by local iwi Ngāti Toa Rangatira and Te Ātiawa, and Te Papa’s iwi in residence Rongowhakaata.

The powerful pōwhiri was held at dawn on Thursday 13 December at Te Papa in front of Rongowhakaata’s Te Hau ki Tūranga whare whakairo, the world’s oldest surviving carved 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).

Te Papa’s board chairman Evan Williams says: “It is a huge honour to be entrusted with these greatest treasures of China. We embrace the responsibility of being their kaitaki and this opportunity to share China’s ancient history with New Zealanders.”

The Honourable Minister David Parker, who spoke at the exhibition launch event later on Thursday evening said the exhibition “offers us a rare opportunity to have an immersive encounter with an ancient and remarkable civilisation.”

After travelling more than 10,000 kilometres from Xi’an, China, the 2,300-year-old terracotta warriors are finally ready for their New Zealand audience.

Local school kids from Mt Cook School got a free sneak peek at the exhibition and were very impressed with the ancient warriors.

"All of them are so different, I really like how there's so much detail put into it," said Lily Reid.

"It makes me dive into what the times would have been like, when I look at the soldiers I can picture the people making it and the King's [Emperor's] ideas," said Amalie Hendy.

The unmissable exhibition features eight life-sized warriors and two horses from the buried army that guarded the tomb of China’s First Emperor.

Also on show are over 160 exquisite treasures from imperial tombs in and around China’s ancient capital, Xi’an.

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality 秦始皇兵马俑:永恒的守卫 opens on 15 December this year and runs through summer until 22 April 2019. Tickets available from tepapa.nz/terracottawarriors


For interview requests, please contact Andrea Tandy, Senior Communications Advisor, Te Papa
on 029 601 0010, andrea.tandy@tepapa.govt.nz

Background information

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality

For more than 2,000 years, an underground army secretly guarded the tomb of Qin Shihuang, China’s First Emperor. It was discovered by chance in 1974 by a farmer digging a well, and is one of the greatest archaeological finds of the 20th century– an eighth wonder of the world.

What’s in the exhibition?

Only 10 items from the famous Terracotta Army are allowed to be loaned at one time.

Te Papa’s exhibition will have two horses and eight full-sized warriors: an armoured general, an unarmoured general, two armoured military officers, a kneeling archer, a standing archer, an unarmoured infantryman, and a civil official.

The life-sized, lifelike soldiers each weigh 100–300 kilograms. They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. Originally, the figures were painted with bright pigments, but much of the colour has faded over time.

The remarkable terracotta figures are 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 dynasty (1046 BCE – 220 CE).

The curator says:

Dr Rebecca Rice, curator of the exhibition, says: ‘At Te Papa, we’re offering visitors an immersive and intimate experience – a chance to see the terracotta warriors up close in breathtaking 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 Dr Rice.

By the numbers

2,300 years: age of the terracotta warriors

10 items from the Terracotta Army: the maximum number that can be loaned at one time

8 full sized terracotta warriors

2 full sized terracotta horses

100–300kg: weight range of the warriors

180cm: average height of the warriors

2 half sized replica bronze chariots, each drawn by four horses

160 exquisite ancient Chinese artefacts crafted from gold, jade, and bronze

3,060 years: age of the oldest item on display

$2.6 million: cost of the exhibition

$500,000: Major Events Development Fund investment from MBIE

Indemnified by the New Zealand Government

100,000: estimated expected exhibition visitors

$33 million: estimated economic benefit to Wellington

The buried army

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 8,000 soldiers in total, with approximately 3,000 excavated to date – this work continues daily.

The First Emperor’s tomb itself has not been excavated and may never be. Historical records tell of rivers of flowing mercury and constellations of precious stones in the First Emperor’s tomb.

Scholars continue to debate the function of Qin’s Terracotta Army. Some think that because 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.

Previous visits to New Zealand

Terracotta warriors first visited New Zealand 32 years ago. Over the spring and summer of 1986–87, they toured to Christchurch, Wellington, and Auckland.

In 2003, there was a seven-week exhibition in Auckland only.

Exhibition partners

Te Papa has developed the $2.6 million landmark exhibition with support of up to $500,000 from the Major Events Development Fund, administered by the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment. The exhibition has been indemnified by the New Zealand Government.

In addition to the Major Events Development Fund investment from MBIE, Te Papa also acknowledges the support of Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Bureau, Shaanxi History Museum (Shaanxi Cultural Heritage Promotion Center), Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum, Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Wellington City Council, Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency, and a number of partners that are working with Te Papa towards supporting this momentous cultural exchange between New Zealand and China.


With 2019 being the China–New Zealand Year of Tourism, this exhibition provides a foundation stone of New Zealand’s exciting tourism programme.

Terracotta Warriors will be supported by an extensive programme of free cultural events, including Chinese New Year celebrations in collaboration with Wellington City Council and Wellington’s Asian Events Trust.

Another highlight is The Lanterns of the Terracotta Warriors, a spectacular display of 40 terracotta warrior lanterns that will feature in Te Papa’s forecourt 5–24 February.

Ticket information

Tickets to Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality are on sale (adult $19.50, child 3–15 years $9, concession $17, Friend of Te Papa $16 adult price). Book tickets now to secure your preferred date and time: tepapa.nz/terracottawarriors

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality


15 December 2018 – 22 April 2019

Toi Art at Te Papa, Level 4

Exhibition catalogue from Te Papa Press

A highly illustrated companion book, featuring striking images of all the objects on display which has been edited by curator Dr Rebecca Rice. She and local scholars Duncan Campbell and Nathan Woolley, both experts on this period of China’s history, have contributed fascinating essays that consider the Qin and Han dynasties and their legacy, and provide background to the creation of the objects and their ongoing discovery.

Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality, Edited by Rebecca Rice, Published by Te Papa Press

RRP $35.00. Available from the Te Papa store and all good bookshops from 14 December

Kerry Ann Lee, artist biography

Kerry Ann Lee is a Wellington based multimedia artist and designer of Cantonese Chinese heritage. Her practice explores the cultural intersections between public and private spaces, and the issues of Cantonese Chinese settlement in New Zealand and the Pacific region. While playful and engaging, her work interrogates issues of identity and place, and the use and dissemination of cultural forms.

Lee has worked on projects and exhibited across New Zealand and internationally. In 2008, she produced the artist book Home Made, which investigated the cultural history of Chinese settlement in New Zealand. In 2014, she was commissioned by Te Papa to produce a work for the lightbox tables in the creative maker space within Ngā Toi | Arts Te Papa (the then art galleries) titled Knowledge on a beam of starlight. Lee is currently a Senior Lecturer at the School of Design at Massey University and was the Creative Director of the 2018 Asian Aotearoa Arts Hui.

She is also a familiar face within Wellington’s DIY, punk, and experimental music and art subcultures (and co-founder of Up the Punks). She has been producing zines and artist publications since the late 1990s.