Xi’an -Part 1 The Terracotta Army

Today’s blog post is from another guest blogger, my husband Nathan.  Nathan joined us in Luoyang just a couple of days ago, and will stay for the remainder of our trip.  It is so nice to be able to have this experience as a family, and to have his perspective…especially his camera perspective.  Enjoy the photos and the words.

If you’ve ever watched the Amazing Race you would have a sense of how our trip to Xi’an went….It was an amazing experience full of awe, wonder and adventure.  Xi’an is one of the oldest cities in China, and the oldest of the Four Great Ancient Capitals.  As of 2018 it has a population of over 12 million people.  It’s the starting point of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang among other many wonderful sites.  I could spend many more days exploring this wonderful city.

I have found China to be an amazing blend and contrast of the ancient and modern.  Skyscrapers and modern downtown scenes similar to New York’s Time Square as the back drop to 2,000-3,000-year-old architectural relics.   It’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever visited.  This day was jaw dropping at every turn.

Our visit to Xi’an was so action packed that I’ll be breaking this post into three parts:

1) The Terracotta Army
2) Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
3) City Wall

Our adventure started at 7am when our new friend Harrison picked us up at the school’s front gate.  A short drive later, found us boarding one of China’s bullet trains.  As the name implies this thing moves fast.  The station and train has more of an airport and airplane “feel” than the trains I’m used to.  The top speed this particular train reached was 305k/per hour.   The fastest Chinese train can reach up to 350 km or about 218 mph.  The trip from Luoyang to Xi’an would normally be a 4-hour car ride but is reduced to 1.5 hours by riding this train.  China’s high-speed rail network is the longest in the world and includes nearly 27,000 kilometers of track.  In comparison, the US has 57 kilometers of high speed train tracks. (Doug, that is for you : ) even though you probably already knew it).

Once we arrived in Xi’an we took a bus to see the famous Terracotta Army.  They are part of an active Qin Dynasty (221 BC-206 BC) UNESCO World Heritage site.    Basically, it a large tomb/mausoleum complex that Emperor Qin (China’s 7th Emperor) built that replicated his Imperial Kingdom.  We are not talking about a miniature replica… this is a 98 square km (68 sq. miles) large.   It included examples of each aspect that made up his Kingdom.    Over 700,000 people worked on the complex for 38 straight years.

The army is a LARGE collection (8,000 +) life sized statues made of terracotta pottery.  Its suspected that each statue depicts individuals who served in Qin Shi Huang’s army.  There are statues of warriors, horses, chariots, archers (standing and kneeling), and generals.  One thing (of many) I think is particularly amazing is that each statue is unique.  They each appear to have different facial expressions, shaped noses, eyes, mouths, hair styles, clothing, shoe etc.  The attention to detail included in the statues is simply amazing.  I guess you can do some amazing things with a 700,000-work force and a few decades to work with.

Since the discovery of the army other figures representing acrobats, musicians, noblemen etc have been found.   These haven’t been made public yet because they are trying to figure out how to preserve the statues colors.  When unearthed, each statue is intricately painted.  However, the coloring fades quickly after being exposed to the air.

Our guide also mentioned that extraordinary effort was made to ensure the projects development was kept a secret.   I’m not sure how Emperor Qin was able to do this but one method he used was that he would eventually kill each worker.  The workers would be lured away from Xi’an to “work” on another project and then they would be buried alive!   So much for rewarding a good day’s work.  They have found mass graves with thousands of remains.  Not surprisingly, he was and unpopular and ruthless ruler who was also responsible for starting the Great Wall.  I guess he liked really big projects.

When one arrives at the site there is a nice 5-10-minute hike to the sites.  There is a newly constructed visitor/ticketing and parking area that now accommodates about 6 million visitors a year and growing.

After the short hike you come upon three different building each containing a different archeological site.   The structures have the traditional Chinese architectural feel complete with beautiful ornamentation along the roof tops and walls.  Each structure encases a  site or “pit” as some call them and were constructed to protect the dig site from the elements.  The largest “pit” has over 6,000 warriors statues and the building is massive (nearly 2.5 football fields long and 2 football fields wide). There is a walk way circumnavigating the entire site and in addition to being able to see fully completed warriors you also get to see statues in their various states of repair.  Each statue is painstakingly “rebuilt” like a giant 3D puzzle.  Only one statue has been found completely intact without any damage and that is of a kneeling cross bow archer, the Lucky Archer is now a symbol of good luck.

I found it interesting that this is actually a relatively new archeological site.   It was discovered in 1974 by five local farmers who were digging for a new water well during a great drought.   If they had been digging even a few feet in another direction, they would have never discovered the warriors.  The discovery is very important to the Peoples Republic of China and the farmers are considered great heroes.

If we had been competing in the Amazing Race our first “Road Block” of the day would have been to find one of the original farmers who discovered the site. Luckily, we did and we were able to shake his hand and get some photos.

So, what can we learn?  Great adversity can sometimes lead to unimaginable results,  just like those poor farmers struggling to survive a drought who stumbled upon a world treasure.  We all can grow from our own struggles and challenges with perseverance, a helping hand and hope for a better future.  Although, not all perseverance will be rewarded with a treasure the size of Emperor Qin’s mausoleum it can lead to a more meaningful and enjoyable life.

If this just wasn’t enough and you want to learn even more about the Terracotta Army check out the wiki page.

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