Is it really fair for us to paint all megalomaniacs with the same brush – suggesting that it’s some sort of character flaw? If Emperor Qin unified China, standardized Chinese currency, built the Great Wall, and commissioned an 8000-strong, life-sized terra cotta army to guard him in the afterlife, aren’t those all good things? I mean….you might point out that no-one knows how many of the 750 000 slaves forced to work on his tomb over 50 years died (Qin died before the tomb was completed, but his heir ensured it was completed anyway)…and that many of his 3000 concubines hadn’t even met him when he died, but those who were childless still had to join him in the tomb (he took a chariot to the grave with him so he could round up more concubines; I suppose eternity is a long time to settle for only 3000 women)…or that he so incensed the peasantry that an uprising four years after he died unseated the Qin dynasty (the peasants destroyed most of the terra cotta warriors – guess they weren’t such a good military force after all)….but these are just details!
My day started with an adventurous 6am run with David – one of the guys on the trip. The night before, I mentioned I was planning to run in the morning in the park outside the city wall. He asked: “Think I can run with you?” I replied: “Not likely.” J He’s a really interesting guy – we had no shortage of things to talk about during out hour of running….Rather, our hour out. We ran, we stumbled where the path was uneven (we didn’t have any daylight until at least 6:30), we paused and contemplated how we would get through the busy traffic every time a road crossed the park (Chinese drivers are very good to avoid collisions, but they live up to the stereotype of crazy and erratic driving, as well as a disregard for traffic lights or right-of-way), we climbed over several large trees that had fallen across the path, scrambled up steep banks of loose dirt, dodged barking dogs (not sure if that was someone’s backyard??), hopped over a couple of fences, and found ourselves running along the city moat – a poor example of fresh clean water! It was quite the adventure! For the first time on this trip, I saw many locals out working out; some running, some using the stationary bikes along the path, and others doing calisthenics. This park wasn’t exactly my idea of a training haven, but apparently it is the local place for exercise. Nicer than a treadmill, that’s for sure!
Unfortunately, Sunnie announced this morning that she has been told by her doctor to stop working in order to protect the baby. As a result, we were handed over to Kelly for the remainder of the tour. Kelly is a really excellent tour guide – knowledgeable, friendly, and funny. However, she talks fast and…a lot! Here’s an example (I am paraphrasing, but not exaggerating): “Ok everyone, look ahead. That’s the bell tower. Look at the bell tower. Ahead, that’s the bell tower. Look. Look ahead. The bell tower. Look.”
However, her genuine enthusiasm, passion and knowledge are worth the verbal diarrhea sometimes. Truth is, I wasn’t too focused on our guide. We were off to see the warriors of Emperor Qin’s tomb!
On the way, I couldn’t help but notice a curiosity that – I hope – was a product of translation:
Please tell me that is a lottery in support of the welfare of Chinese people, and not a lottery targeted at welfare recipients!
Before getting to the warriors, we stopped at the one workshop licensed by the Chinese government to make certified replicas of the terra cotta soldiers. As Kelly explained, she wanted us to have more knowledge heading in to see the actual warriors, in order to better appreciate the experience. The factory was pretty cool (if you ignore that they are making a rather ridiculous tourist item). Originally commissioned as part of the exhibit – to teach visitors how the warriors were made – the sales of these replicas (apparently) only came as an afterthought based on requests from tourists. The clay used in replicas is the same clay that was used for the originals – sourced from the same land (do you “mine” clay?) and mixed with only water. We were shown how the craftsmen in the factory make the figures out of molds, fire them in an old-fashioned kiln for up to seven days, and paint them. Really very cool! Amazing to think of this work being done on such a grand scale thousands of years ago!
Such impressive artistic work! A process that hasn’t changed in millennia!
The workshop makes small replicas for your average tourist item…but also full-sized replicas for any emperors out there who want security in the afterlife.
Toward the end of this tour, our guide (not Kelly, a guide specific to the factory) let slip a minor detail. This isn’t how the terra cotta warriors were made. WHAT??!! The modern process uses molds. The old process was entirely by hand. So….why are we getting this tour? Notwithstanding the legitimate artistic merit in the production of these replicas, I was soured on the whole place. Seemed a bit of a sham.
Oh well, I didn’t come to see a modern factory, I came to see the real thing! Very soon, we were back on our way!
To my knowledge, the terra cotta museum is unique in that the exhibit halls – which from the outside look like any other building might – are simply superstructures built over the original pits where the warriors were found by farmers in 1974. They were trying to dig a well. They became national heroes. Not a bad stroke of luck!
My breath caught and my heart raced at the Great Wall. It happened again as I entered the hall over pit #1. It gives me goosebumps even now as I type:
An estimated 7000(?) warriors are in this pit, many of which have not yet been unearthed. When the first warriors were found, they still had the bright paint which had originally given them their lifelike appearance. Unfortunately, the paint quickly decomposed upon exposure to air. Unexcavated warriors are being left there while archeologists search for ways of preserving the paint.
Commonalities among the soldiers reflected styles of the time – hair pulled into a single bun on the right of the head, a scarf as part of the uniform, and standing in military posture. However, the faces are unique, stature differs, and minor details about clothing are intentionally inconsistent.
95% of the warriors did not survive intact, but the passage of time was not their enemy. Shortly after Emperor Qin’s death, there was an uprising among the peasantry. Angry farmers, enraged by over-taxation and the excessive conspicuous consumption of Emperor Qin broke into the warrior pits, stole bronze weapons, broke statures, and set the whole thing on fire. Ironically, this – coupled with the fall of the Qin dynasty – led to the tomb complex being forgotten to time, so it was relatively untouched by more modern grave-robbers when it was rediscovered.
Fire destroyed the wooden chariots, making for curious gaps between horses and chariot rider warriors.
Many of the figurines are covered in ash residue.
Whereas pit #1 is unequaled in sheer size and scale, pits #2 and 3 include more variety of warriors and weapons.
No...he’s not a kung fu warrior. He was holding a bow and arrow.
Based on hand placement, this warrior would have held a crossbow, long lost to fire and decay.
Two chariots were found in the pits as well. As they are made almost entirely of bronze, gold, and silver, it seems Qin felt a budget pinch and commissioned them at half scale. Maybe spirits are shorter?
I really can’t say enough about this exhibit! I wanted to call my old archaeology professor and tell her where I was! What an amazing experience! I will have to return once they figure out how to protect the paint, and see the next batch!
Dinner was another group affair, and the trend of better food in Xi’an continued. I got home in reasonable time, and will be in bed shortly. No need to set an early alarm, as we’re not departing until 9am tomorrow.