Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Absolute Favorite Part of the Entire Trip to China

So, after we biked around the Xi'an city walls, we met back up with Tracy (our guide) and headed out to a place where they manufacture replica terracotta warriors, which is where we found this:

Teehee. We all took pictures with it, but I figured you only needed to see one to get the idea. This place also manufactures all kinds of other stuff, including shishi dogs:

And also some really cool painted tiles. I ended up getting some tiles, but I haven't taken a picture of them yet; I think I need to get out all our souvenirs and just take good photos of those to show you what we bought. Anyway, they had a big room with the replica terracotta warriors in all sizes.

Lee got a small one (like 6 inches tall) of one of the kneeling archers. And after that, we headed out to the terracotta army museum, which was bar none my favorite part of the entire trip to China.

There's the main building, which is much bigger in real life than it looks in the picture. First, some history: way back in about 221 B.C., this dude by the name of Qin Shi Huang declared himself emperor of all China, and is credited as the dude who united China for the first time, making him the first emperor (if you saw the last Mummy movie, the Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, the movie character was loosely based on this guy). Qin Shi Huang was kinda obsessed with death and the afterlife (like a bunch of other ancient powerful men, such as Genghis Khan and Alexander the Great), so he built this enormous funerary complex (kind of the same reason why the Egyptian pyramids were built) including an army of terracotta soldiers, and to keep it a secret, he had all the workers killed when it was completed.

So around 210 B.C., Qin Shi Huang died and was buried in his super-secret tomb with his army of terracotta warriors to protect him. Two generals, Liu and Xiang, then fought over who would take over power. Liu eventually won, but not before Xiang broke into Qin Shi Huang's tomb (apparently he didn't keep it as secret as he thought) and stole many of the weapons from the terracotta army, smashed a lot of the soldiers, and set the place on fire.

Eventually the tomb was forgotten. Then, in 1974, a group of farmers digging a well rediscovered the tomb. When discovered, all of the terracotta soldiers were brightly painted, but eventually exposure to light and air has caused the paint to fade almost entirely. Today there are three buildings where you can see the pits with the terracotta soldiers, as well as several other sites that the government is keeping sealed until archaeology has improved to the point that they can be excavated without damaging the contents.

So, there's the history of the terracotta army. Here's what you see when you walk into the first building:

Ok, so Lee and I won't be standing there if you go look for yourselves, but you know what I mean. I cannot tell you how incredible it was to walk in there and see this massive site that I studied so much in college. Just unbelievable.

These pits used to have wooden roofs, which were pretty much destroyed by fire. The amazing thing is that each soldier is unique--the face is different, the hair is different, etc. and so far over eight THOUSAND soldiers have been excavated.

You can tell by the hairstyle what rank each soldier is, but all the ones in pit #1 are common soldiers.

Qin Shi Huang's army wouldn't be complete without horses, so he had those too.

A closeup of two of the soldiers.

We took this from maybe halfway back in this building. Up at the front towards the right is where the original well was dug; basically if they'd been maybe six feet away they wouldn't have hit the tomb at all. You can see the columned area in the middle, which was the front door; that was filled in with earth after the emperor was buried.

In the back of this building is what the archaeologists refer to as the hospital:

Remember I said that the evil general Xiang (he lost, so of course history says he's evil) smashed quite a few of the soldiers? The pieces are painstakingly excavated and then reassembled in the hospital.

My artsy shot, I thought it was fun to look at the hospital from the back where you can see the holes where not all the pieces have been recovered.

I suppose the hospital does double duty as a vet clinic since they've got the horses there too :) The horses had real tails when they were first made, but the tails have disintegrated, as have most of the bows and other wooden weaponry--at least, whatever was left after Xiang looted the place.

Once the soldiers and horses are done at the hospital, they are put back in the same place where they would have been standing more than 2200 years ago. Just think, this tomb is older than Christianity!! Incredible to think about, isn't it?

This is still an active dig site, so we watched the real-life Indiana Joneses doing their job for a few minutes.

This is in building #3, still partially unexcavated.

I think this was from a Han tomb that was put in pretty much on top of Qin Shi Huang's tomb; it was only like six to eight feet deep, so they didn't dig deep enough to discover the larger tomb. The Han dynasty was established by General Liu, and lasted for 400 years.

This is the kneeling archer, who was the first soldier to be found intact. He is also the symbol of the Shaanxi province where Xi'an is located because on a map, the outline of the province resembles a kneeling archer. That's why Lee chose the kneeling archer for his souvenir.

This is from building #3, where they haven't come through and reassembled all the soldiers and stood them back up. This is more or less what the whole place looked like when it was first excavated; about 95% of the soldiers had been broken in antiquity.

Last picture for the Qin Shi Huang museum (although we took probably at least a couple hundred, all told): two half-size bronze chariots were unearthed in the tomb complex. The emperor could have had one full-size chariot or two half-sized since it was so expensive to gather up that amount of bronze, so he went with the second option. This is actually a replica; the original was on display at the world expo in Shanghai.

Notice something that's missing? The Chinese archaeologists think they know where the emperor himself is buried, but he has not been excavated yet. They're waiting until better technology and preservation techniques are developed before they will allow Qin Shi Huang himself to be unearthed (hopefully with less dire consequences than in the Mummy movies, ha!) Hope you enjoyed this rather history-laden blog post :) As I said, this was my absolute favorite part about the entire trip to China.


Giffysk8s said...

I can see why it was your favorite part! I LOVED reading all of the history~thanks for taking the time to add it! People really haven't changed much in 2200 years, have they?

Aren't excavations fascinating? I can't believe that every soldier has its own unique features. Now I MUST go to China just to see this if nothing else! Of course, it won't be as awesome without you and Lee standing in the museum to greet me.

I can't wait to see ho you scrapbook this!

Giffysk8s said...

Or HOW your scrapbook this! LOL

Cindy said...

I've really enjoyed looking at all of your China pics - thanks for posting and sharing!

CCsMom said...

Wow, isn't that something? And the sheer vastness of the complex is amazing. When you see it in a book or on-line, it doesn't look that large until you think, "Hey, all those guys are life-sized! Wow. So glad you got to see it in real life. Gotta run to work, but it's FRIDAY!!! Love, Mom

CCsMom said...

Hey, I was just scrolling down to some older posts and enlarged that pic of you in the hotel room. Hadn't noticed you there before (yeah, I get my new glasses tomorrow -- can't wait). And I see Juan made a trip to China, too! Imagine that!