Emperor’s Ghost Army

In central China, a vast underground mausoleum conceals a life-size terracotta army of cavalry, infantry, horses, chariots, weapons, administrators, acrobats, and musicians, all built to serve China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di, in the afterlife. Lost and forgotten for over 2,200 years, this clay army, 8,000-strong, stands poised to help the First Emperor rule again beyond the grave. Now, a new archaeological campaign is probing the thousands of figures entombed in the mausoleum. With exclusive access to pioneering research, "Emperor’s Ghost Army" explores how the Emperor directed the manufacture of the tens of thousands of bronze weapons carried by the clay soldiers. NOVA tests the power of these weapons with high-action experiments and reports on revolutionary 3D computer modeling techniques that are providing new insights into how the clay figures were made, revealing in the process the secrets of one of archaeology’s greatest discoveries. (PBS.org)
Year Released
Running Time
60 minutes
Average: 4.5 (4 votes)


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8,000 Strong

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies
Posted On: 01/12/2020

Amanda H.
4th Grade-MVE
The documentary “Emperor’s Ghost Army” was a fascinating journey into the terracotta army of China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huang Di. From the beginning, the narrator clearly states the very objectives that are to be accomplished throughout the documentary. Objectives such as why would someone want it built, who built them, how they were built, what it tells us about Chinese history, as well as the fate of those that built the statues.
What is now known as the eighth wonder of the world was first discovered by a farmer in 1974. He was digging a well when he came across pieces of one of the warriors made of the clay. Scientists and archeologists have been working over 40 years unearthing the massive 8,000 strong army that is well over 2,000 years old.
Many interesting discoveries have been made about the clay army. We learn that all of the warriors were once painted, that they held weapons, were each unique…right down to the shape of their ears, and was made over the span of 37 years. We also learn about the weaponry.
In this documentary we learn that although Qin Shi Huang Di unified China, he was a cruel tyrant. He led by fear. The people he forced into making the clay army were scared of the consequences that may be brought down upon them if they did not produce what was asked of them. Therefore, perfection of the army was achieved through fear. Bodies of these workers have been found in mass graves with “dog tag” style identification.
The metal parts of the weapons that have been found (the wood had deteriorated) have been unused. Scientists say that there are no indications of usage meaning that the weapons were made and delivered straight to the terracotta army. The documentary goes into detail about the crossbow, how it was used, and how the arrows for it were made.
Now for the big, “why?” Qin feared the afterlife. He was a cruel leader and treated his people poorly. He wanted the army made to help protect him in the afterlife. The location of the army is also important. They are facing the East towards the states that he subjugated, standing guard between his tomb and those states incase their spirits were to come back for revenge.
I can see being incorporated into a class to teach about ancient Chinese history, the culture, ancient technology and weaponry, and as an introduction to the art of terracotta. However, I would probably only show parts to my students to focus on a particular aspect of the documentary such as the science being used to uncover more details of the army, the art of the terracotta, and to peak their interest into history. I see it being geared more towards middle/high school though versus elementary school students.
I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary and I hope that Nova makes another documentary updating the world on more discoveries of the Emperor’s Ghost Army.

The Emperor's Ghost Army - Video Report

Field of Interest/Specialty: Fourth Grade
Posted On: 01/07/2019

I found the documentary The Emperor’s Ghost Army very fascinating. The documentary is about an epic discovery in 1974. During a drought that year, a local farmer in China began to dig a well. As he dug several feet down he began to find broken pieces of pottery that was shaped like human body parts. Since then this has become the eighth wonder of the world, and the biggest archeological find of the century!
Over the last 40 years there has been five ongoing archeological sites uncovering an astounding number of Chinese soldiers, horses, chariots, and other objects. To date, according to the video there exists 8000 terracotta soldiers. These soldiers are lined up in columns and rows. When they were first discovered the soldiers had broken in to pieces over the last 2,200 years. The teams have spent the last 40 years reconstructing them, studying them, and analyzing their weapons. After much study the scientist have come to the conclusion that the terracotta soldiers were created by 91craftsman. The craftsmen were in charge of a team of 10 workers. Together they worked for 37 grueling years, in fear of their lives, to make the soldiers. Each soldier is unique. Some scientist think that they are portraits of real people that lived in that day and served the Emperor. They have studied the ears and other body parts. No two are the same. They have different facial features, hair styles, skin tones, and head dresses. The paint found stuck to some parts of the figures suggests that they were once very colorful.
The big question that the video asks is, why? Why would anyone undertake such a monumental task in such large proportion? According to history the first Emperor of Qin Shi Huang Di was a cruel and harsh leader that feared the after-life. He was attributed to have unified what is now China by making laws and government, one written language, and one type of currency. However, he is also responsible for working his people to death in the elaborate mausoleum that he built to protect him in death. He had the army built in hopes it would protect him in the after-life. This was at the expense of his people that were forced into hard labor, and found in mass graves.
The video also discusses in detail the invention of the Chinese crossbow. This weapon was centuries above the European crossbow in technology. The terracotta soldiers were outfitted with brand new state of the art lethal weapons that were never used. At the time of the discovery all that was found was the brass portions. The wood had long rotted away.
I really enjoyed this video. I love learning new things about history and lost civilizations. I would like to present this video in my fourth-grade class as a lesson in ancient weapons and art. I think this video would be interesting and entertaining for many ages. My granddaughter watched it all the way through without stopping. She is in first grade! She said it was spooky. It really is in a sad fascinating way.

Emperor Ghost Army PBS/NOVA

Field of Interest/Specialty: Social Studies 5-12
Posted On: 01/05/2019

Melissa Curtiss
Grades 6-8
Social Studies
Harts PK-8
The film Emperor Ghost Army from PBS/Nova was a very informative documentary. The purpose of the film was to answer the following questions. How/Why was the army created? What can it tell us about ancient China? Who were the people that built the army? What were the builders faint? All these questions were address throughout the documentary. The scientist explained in detail how each of the soldiers were unique and completely different from all the others. I enjoyed the documentary especially the craftsmen’s process of making the soldiers. I used this film in my world civilization classes the students had to fill out a graphic organizer 5W model. My students seem to focus more on the weapon making than the process of building the soldier themselves. I would recommend this film documentary for use in a middle to high school level course on ancient China. It gives students a small picture of life for the people living under the rule of the first emperor.

Emperor's Ghost Army

Field of Interest/Specialty: History
Posted On: 02/02/2018

Film Review by Alan Dines
American History/World History
7 – 9 Grade
Geibel Catholic Jr/ Senior High School
Film: Emperor’s Ghost Army
Grade Level 9-12
What would I want to know about this film? Is the intent of the directors to present the subject as an overview of a larger period of events, or is the film giving a singular history of an event? Also, there would be a need to assess the value of the content to the lesson’s objective.
The film is a very good documentary on the creation of the ghost army of China’s first Emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di. It is weak in its overview, but it does discuss and explore how the army was created and armed. The film explained and demonstrated, in great detail, how science played a role in the techniques used by the workers to build the ghost army. Thus, because the film focused on the how and not the why, it may lose the interest of a younger group of students. This film would be better suited for classes relating to art, industrial arts, or science. It really does not address the history of the Ghost Army, rather it highlights the army’s methods of construction. I would use parts of it to introduce the Ghost Army to my students so they could develop interest in doing additional research on the Emperor and obtain a better understanding why he had it built. The film is very well made; however, its value would depend on the age and maturity of the audience.
I would give this film 3 out of 5 stars.