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Preservation and Tourism (lesson)

Cavalry Horse

Cavalry Horse, 221–206 BCE. China. Terracotta. Qin Shihuang Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum. Shaanxi.


Students will debate the pros and cons of excavating archaeological sites and tourism, and write a persuasive letter to the Chinese government advocating for the increase or decrease of excavation and tourist activity.

Approx. 50 minutes
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Common Core Standards
ELA-Literacy. WHST.6-8.1 Write arguments focused on discipline-specific content; WHST.6-8.2; WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Content Standards (California)
History/Social Science: 6.6 Students analyze the geographic, political, economic, religious, and social structures of the early civilizations of China; 6.6.5. List the policies and achievements of the First Emperor (Qin Shihuang) in unifying northern China under the Qin dynasty.

Introduction (10 min.)

  • Free-write Prompt: “A thousand may die so that a million may live.” Remind students that tremendous sacrifices were made for the burial tomb of one man. The First Emperor (Qin Shihuang)  justified this sacrifice by saying “a thousand may die so that a million may live.” What do you think? Is it worth it? Why or why not? Students should justify their thinking.
  • After about 5 minutes of writing, ask students to share their thoughts. As students begin to take sides, have them divide themselves in diff erent sides of the room based on whether they agree or disagree.

Vocabulary Extension
Preservation = the act of preserving something, or saving it for future use
Monochrome = being of one shade of color
Disintegrate = to break into pieces as a result of decay
Plaster = a mixture of cement and water for spreading on hard surfaces to seal cracks
Sustainability = conserving an ecological balance at a certain rate for an extended period of time
Tourism = vacationing or visiting places of interest outside one’s hometown

Class Activity (15 min.)
Reading and Discussion

Introduce students to the concept of preservation by reading the National Geographic article, Terracotta Warriors in Color

  • What techniques are scientists using today to help preserve the soldiers?
  • In 30 years’ time technology may have improved even more, revealing an easier way to preserve the excavations. Does that mean we should stop excavating until we discover that method?
  • What “mistakes” from the past do you think archaeologists have learned from?


  • As exciting as it would be to visit the Terracotta Army in China, there are pros and cons when it comes to being a tourist. On the one hand, the country of China benefits from the money they make from tourists who come to visit. On the other hand, with so many people moving in and out of the site that bring their germs and bacteria from all over the world, mold and fungi have started growing on the exposed soldiers, potentially ruining them for future study! What other positive or negative impacts of being a tourist can you think of?
  • Draw a two-column chart on the board and have students brainstorm both positive and negative impacts of tourism both in general and with particular regard to the Terracotta Army. As needed, ask prompting questions about pollution, littering, money, interfering with scientists’ work, germs and bacteria, etc.

Group Activity (20 min.)

  • Reveal to students that the First Emperor's tomb—the place where the Emperor himself is buried—has not yet been excavated. No one is certain what lies in his tomb, but it is believed to be a replica of the palace he resided in while living. The soldiers that have been restored are on display to the public, and some of the soldiers travel all over the globe as part of a traveling exhibit. Despite this, and despite the fact that other rulers have been unearthed and on display in museums (for example, the mummy of King Tut), the tomb of the First Emperor remains a mystery.
  • Think about all the people who might be interested in knowing what lies in this tomb: scientists, archaeologists, historians, the Chinese government, museums, students like you, and people all over the world.
  • Your task today is to create a letter on behalf of one of these groups of people and compose a letter to the Chinese government either a.) convincing them why they should begin excavation of the First Emperor’s tomb, or b.) urging them not to begin excavation of the tomb. Think about all the things that we have discussed that could help you convince them that your idea is the best course of action.
  • (As needed, teacher should review an appropriate rubric for evaluation, standard letterwriting form, etc.)
  • By the end of class, students should have a preliminary draft or outline of their position statement that clearly states their side and their primary supporting reasons. Work may be completed for homework or continued the next day in class.

This curriculum was designed by World Savvy in partnership with the Asian Art Museum.

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