There are various estimates as to the size of the population of Xi’an, China. A tour guide told me that there were as many as 12 million people living there. Another estimate said about 6.2 million. However, Google said 8.706 million. Whatever the exact amount is, the city is very crowded!
Xi’an has a long history. It was the ancient capital of 13 different Chinese dynasties over a period from 3,000 to 1,000 years, ago. The city was the eastern end of the famous Silk Road which was traveled by the explorer Marco Polo. In the 14th Century, the Ming Dynasty officially bestowed the name Xi’an on the city which meant “Western Peace.”
Today, Xian is a very modern city that has several industries which focus on Aviation, Technologies, and Information Technology. However, tourism is a primary industry in Xi’an, too. The main attraction that brings tourists to Xi’an is the Terracotta Warriors. This is a famous archeological excavation site that has often been referred to as the 8th wonder of the world.
What are the Terracotta Warriors? No, they aren’t the Xi’an professional soccer team. Actually, the Terracotta Warriors are an army of clay soldiers that were created at the direction of Qin Shi Huang, the First Emperor of China. Qin Shi Huang united the 7 waring kingdoms and created today’s China. In doing so, he founded the Qin Dynasty and declared himself the first emperor. He reigned from 221 B. C. to 207 B. C. The start of the Great Wall of China was one of the emperor’s achievements.
Concerned with his afterlife, Emperor Qin began building his massive mausoleum, about 26 miles east of current day Xi’an, almost immediately after creating his empire. In addition to his huge burial site, he wanted to take an army with him for protection in the afterlife. This army consisted of individually unique clay statues, each being 6-feet-tall and weighing over 600 lbs. Included in this army were more than 8,000 soldiers consisting of infantry and archers. There were all ranks from generals to foot soldiers. The army included 130 chariots, 520 horses, and 150 cavalry horses. Each statue was painted and had an original facial feature. This indicated a very high level of craftmanship and artistry. In addition to the soldiers and horses, a huge arsenal was also created. 40,000 bronze weapons were provided for the army. These included cross bows, battle axes, arrowheads, and spears.
An estimated 725 workers created these statues and placed them in 3 different chambers. Construction of this army continued until Qin Shi Huang’s death in 207 B. C. At that time, he and the army were entombed. However, the Emperor’s mausoleum was located several miles from his clay army. Both the emperor and his army remained underground for over 2,200 years.
On March 29, 1974, 3 farmers were digging a water well when the earth gave way and revealed numerous pieces of what appeared to be pottery. Calling the local government officials, it became apparent that the farmers had stumbled onto a truly unique archeological find! They had discovered the clay army of Emperor Qin She Huang. Excavation began, and it was soon realized that this “Dig” covered an area of over 175,000 sq. ft. They also discovered that as soon as the statues were exposed to air, the paint on the warriors rapidly began to peel away or disintegrate.
This created a great concern. Because of this, it has been determined that the tomb of Emperor Qin She Huang will not be opened until a method of preventing the disintegration of the paint and other damage can be implemented. Only time will tell when this process will be developed, and I have discovered that the Chinese are known for their patience in such matters.
A visit to the Terracotta Warriors had long been on my bucket list-ever since I saw a National Geographic special about them. My day began with a 07:15 pick-up at the hotel in a van with driver and English-speaking guide. Our guide’s name was Rosalie. From there, we drove to two other places in Xi’an. First stop was a youth hostel where Jen, a college student from Key West, Florida joined us. Next, we visited another nice hotel where Kim and Rob from Australia joined us and completed our group. Kim and Rob are a unique couple by any standard. They’ve been divorced for about 12 years but still love to travel together. They are a great couple and get along famously. We spent the hour-long ride through Xi’an traffic and the 26-mile trek to see the warriors, getting to know each other.
On the way to the Terracotta Warrior exhibit, we stopped and visited a factory that re-created the clay statues in various sizes and styles. The statues are made with a similar process that was used centuries ago. They used the same type of clay and baking process, too. These statues are sent worldwide to every kind of venue that has an
interest in Chinese history. The Terracotta Warrior at your local P. F. Chang’s restaurant probably came from this factory. They were more than willing to sell me a statue. In fact, once I expressed an interest in one statue, the sales lady tried to convince me that I needed a soldier, an archer, a general, a warrior with a spear, and a horse. She was willing to give me a special price on those 5 pieces for about $1,000 plus the cost of shipping to America! I finally came to my senses and realized that I would have to put a new addition to my house for all those items! I hated the hard sell anyway and rapidly made my exit with the sales lady still trying to negotiate the price. What would I have ever done with 5 terracotta statues?
Once at the entry to the Terracotta Warrior Park, we had about a mile walk to the first of 3 buildings that we would visit. As we began walking to the first building, my heart sank just a little. There was a McDonalds at the entrance! Furthermore, there would be a Starbucks at the end of the tour. Oh well, they seemed to be doing a great business.
Entering the huge building, I was immediately impressed by the size of the excavation and the number of statues. Furthermore, upon closer inspection with my telephoto lens, I found the details of each statue to be quite remarkable. Their facial features were incredible. It was hard to believe that these statues were made over
2,200 years ago using comparatively primitive tools! I was truly amazed at what I saw!
The entryway led to a balcony where I could view the entire length of the excavation. The area seemed to be the length of a couple of football fields. Standing before me were hundreds of terracotta soldiers in battle formation.
There were infantrymen as well as archers. They appeared to be in squad formations that actually made up companies of troops. Standing among the soldiers were several horses. The whole order of battle gave, to a trained eye, an indication of battle tactics used over 2,200 years ago. I was truly fascinated by the whole scene.
Leaving the entry balcony, we were permitted to walk along the side causeway of the arena. This gave a ground level view of the warriors and allowed us to put the size of the statues in true perspective. As we walked along the side of the exhibit, we paused to take photos and admire the detail of the work created by those amazing artisans. At the end of this building, recently excavated statues were being prepared, photographed, and generally examined. It gave us an insight to the efforts being made to preserve these priceless artifacts. It also indicated that this is a continuing effort and the excavation is nowhere near complete.
The next building on the tour gave us an example of how the original excavation sites looked and the conditions of some of the statues. Furthermore, I gained a true appreciation for the magnitude of the creation of the Terracotta Army and the massive undertaking required to excavate this project. I became grateful that the Chinese government realized the significance of this discovery and took proactive measures to preserve it, while allowing us to visit this exposition.
The final building gave a history of mankind in China from the pre-historic time until the time of the Terracotta Warriors. It was interesting to see how villages and communities were formed. While there, I learned an interesting fact. As many of you know, Chinese writing is vertical. I learned why. Before, China had access to paper, they used narrow bamboo strips for their writing. Thus, it was easier to write vertically on the bamboo strips. I must admit that I didn’t previously know this.
At the end of the tour, we took the obligatory walk through a small village of souvenir shops and restaurants. Of course, McDonalds was there and so was the Starbucks. In the past, I collected Hard Rock Café T-shirts from around the world. I’ve switched to Starbucks coffee mugs. Those are more attuned to my personality and taste. I was able to get a nice mug from Xi’an with a terracotta warrior on it. I also got my single terracotta warrior statue of a general. I was happy with that and the price I paid for it.
I had told our guide, Rosalie, that I wanted a book on the Terracotta Warriors. We kept passing various shops that had such books, but she kept on walking. I had no idea what she was doing. Finally, we stopped at a small souvenir shop. Inside was a very old Chinese gentleman (80 years young) who was selling books. I realized why Rosalie had been ignoring my request to stop at previous book stores. She had hoped that Yang Ji-De would be there signing his book. You see, Yang Ji-De was one of the three farmers who were digging the well for water on
that March day in 1974 and discovered the archeological find of the 20th century! Now, I was going to have his book signed by him and my picture taken with him. Needless to say, I was thrilled! Later, Rosalie explained her ignoring my book requests was due to her uncertainty that Yang Ji-De was going to be at that book store. That moment was certainly one of the high points of this entire trip. Rosalie delighted in my enthusiasm in meeting such a prominent player in archeological history. I will cherish that book!
Making our way back the center of Xi’an city, we had an opportunity to experience the rush hour traffic of a city that has over 8 million people. They play by different driving rules than we have in America. Red lights and cross walks MIGHT mean something, but not always. Being a pedestrian is truly a dangerous occupation. I decided that I will never drive in a Chinese city.
Returning to my hotel, I had a quiet dinner and packed for my flight to Chengdu in the morning. There, I would visit the Panda Research Center and possibly pet a live panda! I was very pleased with my stay at the Crown Plaza Xi’an. They had given me an upgrade to a suite. By the first morning, the staff knew my name and greeted me. The manager even stopped by to welcome me. I was very happy there and would recommend that hotel if you ever visit Xi’an, China.
I hope you enjoyed our visit to Xi’an, China and the Terracotta Warriors. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions please e-mail me.