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Daily Drip

Terracotta Warrior Figurines Go Viral as Taobao Commodifies China’s Museums and Landmarks

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The Palace Museum, aka Beijing’s Forbidden City, may have blazed a trail with its marketing tie-ups in recent months — we’re talking everything from makeup to Oreos — but other museums around China seem to be catching on.

Xi’an’s Terracotta Warriors have wowed visitors since the subterranean army went on display to the public four decades ago. You’ve long been able to pick up replica soldiers of varying sizes from souvenir shops surrounding the site, but now China’s internet shoppers are going crazy over an officially-licensed set of Terracotta Army figurines.

terracotta warriors action figure china unesco

It may seem a slightly odd way to render the 2,000-plus year-old warriors, but the 10cm-tall figurines flew off the virtual shelves, with a limited edition run of 600 selling out in under an hour.

The items are now trading on Taobao for as much as 20 times their original price according to The Paper, though the most expensive we’ve spotted so far is 599RMB (around 87USD), still a marked increase on the original price of 99RMB.

taobao terracotta warrior army action figure

The figures, which are around 10cm tall, are part of a push by Alibaba-owned e-commerce platform Taobao to officially license a whole string of merchandise for China’s widespread museum network.

Side note: turns out there’s a whole load of not-so-official Terracotta Army stuff on Taobao (shock), including Kaws- and Simpsons-inspired figurines and old-school army action figures:

Taobao plans to “match cultural institutions with designers and manufacturers in its ecosystem to create custom products for young Chinese consumers, based on their art, artifacts and other intellectual-property assets,” according to an official statement.

The Dunhuang Museum, “as well as historical landmarks, such as the Great Wall of China and technological wonders, such as the 500-meter aperture spherical radio telescope, or ‘FAST'”, have already signed up as part of the programme, leading to this FAST-like, err, cat bed:

cat bed fast telescope china taobao

Seems like there’ll be a lot more where this came from.

Jake Newby
Jake Newby is a Shanghai-based writer and editor with more than a decade's experience living and working in China. Previously managing editor of Time Out Shanghai, he's also written for publications such as South China Morning Post and the Financial Times.