Did Chinese Emperors Really Bury Servants Alive?

The controversial and macabre practice of burying servants alive alongside Chinese emperors has long captivated the imagination and ignited heated debates among historians and archaeologists. One such instance is the renowned burial complex of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. The sheer magnitude of this colossal undertaking is enough to leave anyone awe-struck. The construction of his tomb began during his reign, and upon his demise, an astonishing number of 70,000 courtiers, concubines, servants, workers, and even their families were entombed with the emperor, facing an untimely and harrowing fate. However, it’s worth noting that the Chinese army's warriors were treated more favorably, a stark contrast to the rest who were condemned to an eternal burial chamber. While the evidence surrounding this ancient practice is shrouded in mystery, delving into the depths of history allows us to ponder the legitimacy and implications of this chilling chapter in Chinese imperial traditions.

How Many People Were Buried Alive With Qin Shi Huang?

The burial practices of ancient Chinese emperors have been a topic of fascination and speculation for centuries. One such legend surrounds the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. It’s said that upon his death, he was entombed with a staggering number of individuals – 70,000 courtiers, concubines, servants, workers, and their families. However, the notion that these individuals were buried alive is highly questionable and lacks substantial evidence.

According to historical records, it was common for emperors to be accompanied by their entourage in death. This practice was believed to ensure the emperors comfort and protection in the afterlife. The size of the entourage depended on the emperors social status, with higher-ranking emperors being accompanied by larger numbers of individuals. Qin Shi Huang, being an influential figure, may have chosen to be accompanied by a considerable number of people.

Instead, it’s believed that the emperors army, known as the Terracotta Warriors, were created and buried to accompany him in the afterlife. These life-sized sculptures were meticulously crafted to resemble real soldiers, horses, and officers. These terracotta warriors were intended to stand guard over Qin Shi Huang, serving as his protectors rather than living individuals.

Construction and Significance of the Terracotta Warriors: Explore the Process and Techniques Used to Create the Terracotta Warriors, as Well as Their Symbolic Meaning and Role in Qin Shi Huang’s Burial.

The construction of the Terracotta Warriors involved a meticulous process whereby each life-sized figure was individually crafted. Skilled artisans sculpted the warriors out of clay and then baked them in kilns to harden the clay. They added fine details to the statues, including facial expressions, hairstyles, and armor. These warriors were then painted with vibrant colors to further enhance their realism.

The significance of the Terracotta Warriors lies in their symbolic meaning and their role in Qin Shi Huang’s burial. The warriors were intended to accompany the emperor in the afterlife and protect him. They represented the emperor’s power, authority, and military might. Additionally, the sheer scale and grandeur of the Terracotta Army showcased the emperor’s wealth and the magnitude of his rule.

The burial practices of the Shang dynasty were characterized by the inclusion of significant items such as bronze ritual vessels, weapons, and jade. These artifacts were meant to accompany and support the deceased during their journey into the afterlife. In addition to these precious objects, the Shang also filled bronze vessels with food and wine, symbolizing the provision of sustenance for the deceased in the realm beyond.

What Were the Burial Practices of the Shang Dynasty?

The burial practices of the Shang dynasty were deeply rooted in their religious and spiritual beliefs. The Shang believed in an afterlife and the importance of providing their deceased rulers and nobles with everything they’d need in the afterlife. This led to elaborate burial rituals and the inclusion of various objects in burial sites.

Weapons were also commonly included in Shang burial sites. Weapons such as swords, axes, and spears were typically placed alongside the deceased, symbolizing their power and protection.

Jade, a precious stone revered for it’s beauty and symbolism, was another significant part of Shang burial practices. Jade was believed to possess mystical qualities and was associated with immortality. Jade objects, such as ornaments, pendants, and ceremonial blades, were often placed in the tombs as offerings to the deceased. The inclusion of jade in burials further emphasized the high status and significance of the deceased.

Furthermore, animal sacrifices were common during Shang burial ceremonies. Animals, such as cows, horses, and dogs, were ritually slaughtered and buried alongside the deceased. These sacrifices were believed to provide companionship and serve the needs of the deceased in the afterlife.

Source: SHANG DYNASTY RELIGION – Facts and Details

During their excavations, archaeologists working in the Shang dynasty unearthed not only six carriages but also the remains of several horses and individuals. Startlingly, these findings suggest that some of these people were buried alive, particularly those of high social status like members of the royal family.

Were People Buried Alive in the Shang Dynasty?

In recent archaeological excavations conducted in China, evidence has been found to support the controversial practice of burying people alive during the Shang dynasty. The discovery of six carriages, along with the remains of horses and humans, has shed light on the ancient burial customs of this period. It’s widely believed that these individuals, including members of the royal family, were intentionally buried alive to accompany the deceased in the afterlife.

The Shang dynasty, which spanned from the 16th to the 11th century BCE, was known for it’s complex social hierarchy and elaborate burial rituals. It was believed that by burying servants and other high-status individuals alive, their spirits would continue to serve the deceased in the underworld. This practice was thought to ensure a successful transition to the afterlife and maintain social order even in death.

As with any archaeological discovery, it’s essential to approach the interpretation of these findings with caution. It’s crucial to conduct further research and analysis to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the complexity and nuances of burial practices during this time.

This practice was deeply rooted in the religious and cultural beliefs of the time. The study of these burial sites offers valuable insights into the rituals and customs of this ancient civilization and highlights the importance placed on the afterlife and maintaining social order even in death.

Comparison of Burial Practices in the Shang Dynasty With Other Ancient Civilizations: Exploring How Burying People Alive in the Shang Dynasty Compares to Burial Practices in Other Ancient Civilizations, Such as Ancient Egypt or Ancient Mesopotamia.

When examining burial practices in the Shang Dynasty, it’s important to consider them in the context of other ancient civilizations. While there’s evidence suggesting that some servants were buried alive in the tombs of Chinese emperors, it’s crucial to note that this practice was not unique to the Shang Dynasty. For instance, in Ancient Egypt, servants and retainers were often sacrificed or buried alive alongside deceased Pharaohs. Similarly, in Ancient Mesopotamia, human sacrifices were known to occur during burials.

These burial practices were influenced by cultural and religious beliefs, where it was believed that sacrificing people would serve the deceased in the afterlife. It’s vital to recognize that these practices may seem extreme and cruel by today’s standards, but they were considered normal during those times. Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge that not all burials in the Shang Dynasty involved live burials; many individuals were buried traditionally.

By examining the burial practices of the Shang Dynasty alongside those of other ancient civilizations, we can gain a broader understanding of the complexities surrounding ancient cultures and their beliefs surrounding the afterlife.


In the case of the burial practices of Chinese emperors, particularly during the reign of Qin Shi Huang, the notion of burying servants alive seems to hold some historical merit. As the construction of Qin Shi Huang's tomb began during his lifetime, it’s believed that he intended to take with him a vast number of courtiers, concubines, servants, and workers along with their families in the afterlife. While it’s debated whether all of them were actually buried alive, it’s clear that a sizeable number of individuals were entombed. However, it’s worth noting that the Chinese army's terracotta warriors were given a more dignified arrangement, highlighting a distinction in burial practices within the tomb complex. The fascinating archaeology and historical records surrounding this tomb continue to captivate researchers and paint a vivid picture of ancient Chinese beliefs and cultural practices surrounding death and the afterlife.

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