Around the World... One Journey at a Time. Around the World... One Journey at a Time.

China: Day 8

by Kathy 20. July 2010 23:00

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<< Day 7: Xi’an—Hiking on HuaShan | Day 9: Lijiang—Black Dragon Pool >>


Xi’an—The Terracotta Warriors


My shallow sleep was pierced by loud, repeated shouts of “HA!” The sounds were coming from the local police squad performing early morning physical exercises across the street. Added to this was the music and call to prayer from the nearby mosque, and a stream of boisterous workers waiting to pile into some trucks that were idling noisily under my window. I was wide awake for the day.

Genevieve had her usual sparkle this morning. To our vast relief, she had no ear pain or stomach ailment. Whatever had caused her severe discomfort yesterday had packed its bag and left overnight. Hurray!

Our plan today was to see the Army of Terracotta Warriors, which was the primary reason why we came to Xi’an. Afterwards, we would be catching an evening flight to another city.

Jeff was right on time to pick us up. He had been expecting a call from us in the middle of the night regarding a doctor for Genevieve, and he was glad to hear that she was feeling much better. We settled into the van for the 1 hour drive to the Warriors.

In a busy intersection, a traffic officer worked her magic:

These soldiers were carrying books in their hands, not weapons:

Sebastian quickly fell asleep in the back seat:

After her 12-hour sleep last night, Genevieve had no need for rest:

We passed the Xi’an Polytechnic University.

Jeff told us that there are 72 different universities in the Xi’an area.

The entrance to the Terracotta Warriors site was part of the current construction boom in China, with new buildings, shops, and a large plaza.

This heavily padded baby was playing near some newly planted trees in the plaza.

While I was admiring the baby, Genevieve and Sebastian found this millipede:

The Museum of the Terracotta Army is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. To protect the Warriors from harm from vehicle exhaust, there is a large green buffer zone that separates the parking lot from the museum. At the entrance, there was a map showing our starting point (in the lower left corner of the green area) and the different paths leading to the museum site.

We could either take a 10-15 minute walk or ride an electric cart. Jeff suggested the cart.

A large jack rabbit hopped across our path.

It stopped a short distance away, keeping an eye on us, and causing much excitement with Genevieve and Sebastian.

We arrived at the main plaza in front of the museum.

Across the plaza were three different buildings that have been constructed over the excavation sites where terracotta figures have been found.

This museum area is surrounded by rural fields. The clay warriors were discovered here by a group of local farmers in 1974, when they were digging a well. The area was then besieged with archeologists and historians, who have now found about 10,000 life-size figures, including some clay horses. The figures are over 2200 years old, and each of the warrior faces is unique.

The soldiers were buried here 2200 year ago when emperor Qin Shi Huangdi died.  It is believed that their purpose was to help protect and fight for the emperor in the afterlife. Qin (the “Q” is pronounced as “Ch”) unified six countries into one large country—“China”—in the year 221 BC. He was the emperor who first began constructing large portions of the Great Wall. He was also a brutal ruler and enslaved hundreds of thousands of people. Over 700,000 workers spent about 40 years building Qin’s own tomb, located under a large mound about a mile (1.3 km) from the Warriors. (Although it is purported to be the “largest tomb in the world”, with a multitude of riches, various accounts tell how it also contains rivers of mercury and numerous creative defenses designed to incapacitate trespassers. The tomb has not yet been excavated fully—maybe it is “too dangerous” to search, or perhaps archeologists are waiting for better technology in order to preserve what they might find.)

In the past, it was traditional for all of the emperor’s favorite people and things to be buried with him when he died. One story is that Qin’s Prime Minister convinced him to bury clay warriors instead of live ones, thereby saving the lives of all of the real soldiers.

Pit #1 is very long (754 feet--over 2 ½ football fields) with a curved roof, similar to a large airport hangar.

Inside Pit #1 is the largest display of terracotta warriors, about 1000.  The rows and rows of warriors, each with unique facial features and clothing details, were jaw-dropping spectacular.

I had seen photos of the interior before; however, I was not prepared for just how wonderful the actual experience was of being there in person, surrounded by all of the warriors.

The horses were once attached to wooden chariots, which have long since deteriorated.

Many of the soldiers have hands that once curled around wooden weapons.

Behind the figures, we could see chaotic piles of buried warrior parts.

Each warrior had been painstakingly assembled, like a large 3D jigsaw puzzle, from bits and pieces that had been carefully unearthed.  In the far back of the pit were some standing figures that were in various stages of completion.

Some figures have taken 2 or 3 years to piece together; others 7 months or less.

The excavation is an ongoing process. Only about 1/3 of the pit has been excavated so far. The detailed archeological work commences each day after all of the visitors have left. We could see some covered areas that marked the current work sites.

Genevieve and Sebastian were fascinated by the clay warriors, and Jeff was very patient in answering all of their questions.

He also explained how the thick wall between the soldiers once supported cross beams of wood that held up a roof. We could see the curved indentations where the wood used to be.

We also learned that the soldiers were arranged in a fighting formation, with three rows of vanguards out front.

(Vanguards are the lead soldiers who move at the head of an army.)

Behind them were the charioteers and infantrymen. There was also one row of infantrymen facing outward on each side and in the back, to guard the main body of troops.

Some horses with a charioteer were standing in the back.

Jeff explained that the horses found here were smaller and more flexible than the horses of today. These could run 1000 kilometers (600 miles) without water or food. Unfortunately, the last of this kind died out about 200 years ago.

In one area, we could see the imprint that of a large wooden wheel from a chariot.

More infantrymen:

The figures were so amazing. It was hard for me to break away and move on to the next pit, #3.

Pit #3 was much smaller and is considered the “command post” because of the general and other officers that were found here. Much smaller than Pit #1, it is shaped like a “U,” with only 68 figures inside. The excavation work in Pit #3 is complete.

One chariot was also found, along with a general.  Archeologists moved the general to Pit #2, however, for better preservation. In the 3rd photo below, the general was found at the site of the large “36” marker.

Photos on the walls of Pit #3 showed how the soldiers’ armor once had color.

However, when the clay figures were unearthed and exposed to air, much of the colored paint disintegrated and disappeared.

The final pit, Pit #2, was large and had the newest building over it. Here is the exterior:

Pit #2 contains an estimated 3000 warriors, but most of them remain unexcavated. Archeologists are waiting for the invention of technology that will preserve the paint and other details. The interior of Pit #2:

There was a chart that showed the locations of all of the figures and horses that archeologists believe are under the hard earth:

A special “archer” section was discovered in Pit #2, contained 160 kneeling archers and 172 standing archers.

On display in a special case was one of the kneeling archers, who once held a crossbow in his hands:

The detail of craftsmanship was astounding--the facial features, hair, armor, and even the tiny tread on the bottom of his right shoe.

Here is one of the standing archers, posed as if he were ready to shoot:

A member of the cavalry stood beside his horse.

Jeff pointed out that the horse did not have stirrups to assist the rider in mounting.  He said that members of the cavalry had to be 1.8 meters tall (5 feet, 9 inches) in order to get on the back of the horse.

Two officers were also displayed in cases. First, there was the “Middle Ranking Officer”, with his flat hat, knee-length robe under the armor, and slight paunch indicating that he was well-fed:

There was also the General who had been found in Pit #3 and moved over here.

The General's high rank was reflected in his headgear, his clothing and his body shape. His robes were double-layered, and his armor was decorated with 8 knotted ribbons. His fancy headgear was tied under his chin, and his shoes had square toes that curved upward.

Over 40,000 bronze weapons were found in the pits, some with a chrome-saline oxide coating that protected the weapons from corrosion. Here was a chrome-plated sword that had a chromium surface:

A nearby sign stated that the Germans and Americans invented chrome-plating technology in 1937 and 1950, respectively; however, chrome-plating had been used in China 2,200 years earlier. The sign added, “How amazing it is!”

Next to the pits was the Exhibition Hall, which contained many relics. We gravitated to these modern (and magnificent) marionettes that were hand-built for the 2008 Olympic ceremonies.

The warrior was 23 ½ feet tall, and the girl was about 14 ½ feet tall. During the Olympic ceremonies, the performance with the ancient warrior and modern girl told a tale of friendship and peace.

At the museum gift shop was a large collection of warriors for sale, made with “authentic” materials and techniques.

Sitting at a table and signing museum books was one of the 4 farmers who had discovered the Terracotta Army—his name is Yang Xinman, and he is 80 years old. 

Leaving the museum area, we passed through another new plaza with many shops.

For lunch, Jeff took us to the “largest restaurant in the area.” I must admit that I groaned silently when I saw the large tour buses outside, and again when I saw that the interior was full of Western tourists. However, the food was surprisingly delicious—fresh juices, a local pork and broccoli dish (with no bones!), fried chicken and cashews, crunchy strips of sweet potatoes. Yum! Everything was exeptionally good.

And the women’s room had seats AND toilet paper. Genevieve experienced double happiness.

On the way to the airport, we passed this modern sculpture:

North of Xi’an, apartments were being demolished and crop fields bulldozed to make way for this huge new train station. 

I would miss the Terracotta Army, but I was glad to be leaving the milky skies of Xi’an.

Our next destination was the city of Lijiang, which has been called “the best preserved ancient town in China.” We arrived very late, due to a cancelled flight and several long delays. Cars are not allowed in the Old Town area, and our taxi dropped us off at the edge. A man from our hotel was waiting to lead us through the darkness to our creekside rooms.

We were looking forward to exploring the narrow streets and alleyways tomorrow.


<< Day 7: Xi’an—Hiking on HuaShan | Day 9: Lijiang—Black Dragon Pool >>

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Places We’ve Been, w/Quick Links

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Anais Nin