Innovation on Earth

Global Citizenship Resources for Innovation Academy and Beyond

Archive for the tag “History”

Chinese History Lesson #2: Terracotta Warriors

KapeckasI’m so jealous that IACS Middle School Principal Melissa Kapeckas got to see the Terracotta Warriors in China. Next time I go back, I would love to see this! Mrs. Kapeckas is traveling as part of a delegation of Massachusetts school leaders participating in the US-China Administrator shadowing project. Check back soon for more entries throughout the month of April.


Today, we saw what is sometimes described as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, the Terra Cotta Warriors. This archaeological site was discovered in 1974 when local farmers began digging an irrigation ditch.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 8.25.13 AMThis army of warriors was formed to protect the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, who ruled from 220-206 BC. Despite ruling for a relatively short period of time, Emperor Qin Shi Huang was an important figure in history. After conquering seven distinct states and creating one unified china, he undertook major projects, such as building and unifying various sections of the Great Wall of China, standardizing a system of weights and measurements, the currency, and creating one unified system of writing.

Soon after he became ruler, he began construction of his city-sized tomb guarded by a life-sized army of an estimated 8000 Terra Cotta warrior statues. Emperor Qin Shi Huang hoped to live and rule for a long time to come, believing that his spirit would prevail in the afterworld and protect his dynasty.

Screen Shot 2013-04-08 at 8.25.28 AMEach terra cotta warrior is thought to be unique with a rough cast made in molds shaped like infantrymen, generals, archers, and charioteers and then unique facial expressions were carved by hand. Once complete, the figures were placed in a series of pits in a precise military formation according to rank and duty. Most originally held real bronze weapons, such as bow and arrows or spears, but they are thought to have been looted shortly after creation of the tomb and pieces have also rotted away.

Archaeologists are going through the painstaking process of cataloging and restoring the warriors to how they presume they appeared over 2000 years ago when they were first created.

Simply amazing.

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-Melissa Kapeckas

The Center of the Middle

I found out that Chinese people do not call their country “China.”  This was a shock to me! In fact, their name for their own country is Zhong Guo.  This sounds nothing like “China.”  Long ago, Westerners named them after the nice porcelain goods that they got from Chinese traders, but China named itself Zhong Guo, which means “Middle Kingdom.”  For hundreds of years, Chinese people have thought about themselves as the center of the world.

Today, we visited the Forbidden City, which is the center of Beijing, the capital of China.  It’s where many emperors used to live along with their many servants and other staff.  It’s huge.  We walked around for hours and only saw a small piece of the massive complex.  At the front entrance, the Gate of Heavenly Peace overlooks Tiananmen Square, a place full of its own history.

I might not have mentioned it, but I am having such an amazing time so far! I’ve only been here a week and a half, but I am learning so much and really enjoying our little community.  The students and staff are fabulous, and our days are packed with adventure.  Here’s a little taste of some of the silly side of the past 24 hours:

The required jumping photo from our photo scavenger hunt this morning in Qianmen.

A new friend that I made in the hotel lobby:

Here’s a shot from a store window, featuring Obama in Superman underwear and Chairman Mao, in doll form.

Chinese BBQ! We’ve been trying lots of new foods, from lamb (pictured here) to Peking Duck tonight.


Chinese Time

Last night, we had a workshop about the history of the Chinese dynasties.  Well before the United States even existed, Chinese emperors were taking over huge areas of land, building thousands of miles of the Great Wall, and developing all sorts of new and creative systems for society.  It’s hard to imagine just how they accomplished so much with such little technology.

The other day, we visited the Drum Tower in Beijing. It was really neat to walk up the steep steps to the top, where we could look out over the city.  We saw a performance of drummers, which is what they used to use to communicate the passing of time. I took a little video to give you a sense of what it was like:

There were also amazing exhibits to show various interesting ways that the people used to keep time. They were so creative, using things like water and incense to keep track of passing seconds.

They used to burn these incense, and they acted as a certain kind of clock. When they were finished burning, they knew how much time had passed.

This was one of my favorite time innovations. As the incense burns, the bells on the dragon drop, and indicate the passing of time, like a cuckoo clock.

The Chinese have really figured out a lot of interesting innovations throughout history.  Today, they are still leading the way into the future.  One in five people on Earth is Chinese today, and their economy is one of the fastest growing.  I didn’t make this video, but we watched it the other night, and I think it shows how powerful China continues to be today.  Watch it and let me know what you think.  Is China still a cutting edge society for today’s time?

Land of the Cossacks

Here’s a question of the day: Yesterday, Loki learned about the Cossacks.  Who were they?

  • a) People who lived in Southern Ukraine and Russia during the 15th – 18th centuries
  • b) Warriors who fought against the Turkish people and many other groups
  • c) Members of a Democratic society, where knowing how to write and share your voice was valued
  • d) Rough guys who used bad language and stole things when needed
  • e) All of the Above

Your challenge is to find out about who the Cossacks were and why they are important in Zaporizhya. This relates to MY challenge from last night, which was to understand a play which we went to see on Khortytsia Island. It was a beautiful play performed outdoors right by the Dneiper River, at the Sich Fortress (the place that is like Plimoth Plantation). It was a warm, sunny afternoon with a perfect breeze, and the play featured horses, fabulous costumes, and beautiful music. The only problem? It was in Russian. Lydia was sitting next to me translating bits and pieces.  So, I know that the play featured a Cossack guy named Mamai who was separated from his brother when he was small.  His brother converted to Islam and joined the Turkish side, who were the Cossacks’ enemy.  Can you understand anything else about the plot by watching this video?

Mamai is a famous fictional character from Cossack legends. In fact, there’s even a sculpture of him on the island. Carol and I call him the “Cossack Buddha” because of his round shape in this statue. Actually, we went to a museum today and saw real Cossack artifacts.  Check it out!

Visit to Khortytsya Island

Zaporizhia’s most famous landmark is Khortytsya Island, which sits in the middle of the Dneiper River.  The city of Zaporizhia is on both sides of the river, around the island. The island has a rich history, including that it was a base for the Cossaks, the warriors of the region. People lived there way back, thousands of years before American history even began.  Also, during World War II, when Ukraine was occupied by the Germans, some important battles happened there.

Since today was Saturday, our host teacher, Lydia, and her husband, Sergei, took me and Carol to the island.  We had a fabulous visit. There’s an area like Plimoth Plantation, with a recreation of a big fortress and the whole settlement.  It’s interactive like Plimoth, and I got to try shooting an arrow and making my own coin.  Check out the video to see how similar it actually looks!

We also trekked around the island, along the coast and into the woods. We even saw a HUGE wild boar, which I didn’t get to photograph.  I was too worried about getting trampled to take out my camera!  It was very cool to see though. At the end of our visit, we had a picnic and I taught Carol and Lydia a few balloon tricks. What a wonderful day! Check out the video to see it for yourself:

A few more favorite pictures:


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