The terracotta warriors have arrived at Te Papa

After travelling more than 10,000 kilometres from Xi’an, China, the 2,300-year-old terracotta warriors have arrived at Te Papa.

The imperial icons were welcomed on 22 November with a small informal blessing as each crate of precious cargo was brought into the national museum. A formal private pōwhiri and blessing will take place ahead of the public opening.

The unmissable exhibition 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.

Until then, a team of Te Papa installers, mount makers, conservators, exhibition designers, curators, and technicians, alongside four colleagues from China, will be installing the ancient treasures in their new temporary home.

The exhibition features eight life-sized warriors and two horses. Also on show are over 160 exquisite treasures from imperial tombs in and around China’s ancient capital, Xi’an.

Te Papa’s Head of Art, Charlotte Davy, says: “We’re honoured to be the kaitiaki for these incredible works of art and to enable New Zealanders to come close to this ancient history.

“I’m blown away by the epic stories behind these ancient items. It’s awe-inspiring to think that they were created before the reign of the Egyptian pharaoh Cleopatra, the construction of the Colosseum in Rome, and the major eruption of Taupō in New Zealand.”

Terracotta Warriors is the first international exhibition to be held in Te Papa’s new art gallery, Toi Art, which opened to critical acclaim earlier this year.

Te Papa has commissioned a New Zealand artist to create an artwork in response to the visit of the ancient terracotta warriors from Xi’an.

Local artist Kerry Ann Lee has created the immersive installation Return to Skyland.

“It was important to us to have a contemporary response by a Chinese New Zealander, and to support the production of new artworks by New Zealand’s best artists,” says Ms Davy.

Kerry Ann Lee’s work is displayed within the exhibition space of Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality.

Kerry Ann Lee – Return to Skyland

Inspired by the idea of physical and spiritual journeying, Wellingtonian Kerry Ann Lee has created a ‘dreamscape transit lounge’. Visitors to Terracotta Warriors: Guardians of Immortality can enter her multimedia installation to rest and reflect on their experience before continuing their journey through the exhibition.

Custom-designed wallpaper lines the room, created from images and illustrations from Chinese publications belonging to the artist’s family.

The installation also features Distant resonance, 2018, a video work by Kerry Ann Lee that uses images of Chinese objects from Te Papa’s collection. These are combined with lines from the poem ‘Looking over Sian at night’, 1954, by the New Zealand writer Rewi Alley, who lived in China for 60 years, becoming one of the country’s best-known and best-loved foreigners.

Kerry Ann Lee’s Return to Skyland offers a playful look at the idea of identity while also reflecting on the experience of Chinese settlement in New Zealand.

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 breath-taking 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.”


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). Book tickets now to secure your preferred date and time at

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


For interview requests, please contact Andrea Tandy, Senior Communications Advisor, Te Papa
on 029 601 0010 or

Background information

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.

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.