Basing on Wikipedia:

Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses

around 8780 human-sized figures were made to satisfy the Yellow Emperor's will. The army looks incredible, even more that it was made only to be buried with the emperor.

I have a couple of questions about the economics of this enterprise:

  1. How many hours would a contemporary art student need for making one single terracota soldier.

  2. Is there any estimation on how many people worked on the project 2200 years ago?

  3. How long did they work? Ideally, I would love to know some estimates on the number of working hours spent in total.

  • 1
    1) Would not be representative, unless we know for sure which techniques they used. I saw a documental of people trying to reproduce the process and they spent many time trying different technicques, comparing the results and finding out if they were useful for mass production. Much like anything mass produced, the prototipes are extraordinarily expensive; series production not so much.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 4, 2017 at 20:42
  • I understand, the estimates for such enterprises are very difficult to measure and might even differ by orders of magnitude. Anyway I would love to hear from you what where the results they attained in the documentary. Also, if possible, please share the link to it.
    – GA1
    Feb 4, 2017 at 21:11
  • 1
    I would have posted it if I had it, I saw it in TV and forgot its title. In case it rings a bell for other readers, it did take into account issues like weather and location; since inner China has continental climate with very hot summers and very cold winters, it would have reduced the time in which they could work with terracotta to a few months; unless they had done the work inside caves where temperature is more constant.
    – SJuan76
    Feb 4, 2017 at 21:49

1 Answer 1


Firstly, I'm not sure about the source of the numbers given in the Wikipedia article. In 2007, the British Museum in London hosted an exhibition of the Terracotta Warriors. They published a book to accompany the exhibition, edited by Jane Portal, titled The First Emperor: China's Terracotta Army. It states that:

To date, more than 1900 sculptures of foot soldiers have been unearthed. The majority of the figures are still underground and untouched. It is estimated that all three pits contain around 7000 sculptures of soldiers, 130 chariots withe 520 chariot horses, and 150 cavalry horses.

That gives a total of just under 8000 statues. The army was completed in about 11 years (construction of the mausoleum took longer), so they were producing, on average, about 700 sculptures a year.

As for your first question, I can't offer a figure for a modern art student, but the PBS documentary Secrets of The Dead: China's Terracotta Warriors shows the process carried out by teams of skilled replica makers in China. It took about a month to complete a single figure based on a normal modern working week. (I think this may be the documentary mentioned by @SJuan76. I'm pretty sure it's available on YouTube).

The master craftsmen who built the original figures signed their work. So far, 87 names have been identified. Each master craftsman would have had assistants working for them. The current best estimate is that about 1000 people in total worked on the project. With 87 teams, each led by a master craftsmen, working on the project, each team would have to produce an average of just over 8 warriors per year for 11 years (in reality, the actual number would have been higher due to wastage).

Recent research at UCL suggests that the craftsmen were organised in a sophisticated labour model known today as 'Toyotism', which would have greatly improved the efficiency of the production process.

When they started the project, they had to learn how to make a terracotta army from scratch. It had never been done before. The rate of production would have been much lower in the early years, and would have improved over time as they gained experience. The experiment with the modern replica makers shows that it was quite possible to produce at least 12 figures per team per year once they had developed the skills.

We have no records of how long the working day would have been for the craftsmen who built the Terracotta Army. However, with 87 teams working a typical 40 hour week (based on the modern experiment), and each team producing a new figure per month, they could make 1,044 statues per year - more than enough to complete the 8000 figures within the 11 years.

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