As I expected, the kids LOVED the over-night train. It was a double whammy for them, not only were we catching a train, but we were actually ‘sleeping’ on it. We all had our very own bunks and as Jed excitedly told me,
‘and there was a restaurant carriage and everything!’
It was a huge novelty for Jed and Deni and I was pretty happy that I’d made the call to take the train. I had to smile to myself as I lay there listening to them whispering and giggling and wriggling about in their cosy little spaces above me. My sweet little travelers.
We arrived in the city of Xian, home of the famous ‘Terracotta Warriors’ at a reasonable hour – about midday. Spent that afternoon just wandering around, finding our feet, and a little bit of ‘chilling’ – something that I always try to fit into our schedule when embarking on a transit that takes us through the night.
One thing I’ve quite enjoyed about these few weeks is finding our way around using public transport. The city Metro and the buses are all super efficient, clean and really very easy to figure out, actually a whole lot easier than taxis, who, more often that not, seem to refuse your fare – argh!
Long distance train travel would be my preferred way to get around this huge country. The station in Xian puts the Beijing International Airport to shame – that’s how popular and user-friendly the train travel is here. The other reason for using public transport when we can is for the kids experience. On a very basic level I think it lets them see that the big wide world isn’t a scary place at all. And sometimes what looks to be the ‘hard road’ actually turns out to be the complete opposite, plus jumping on the Metro, or squishing onto a bus full of locals is a whole lot more interesting and fun than a boring old taxi!
The sole reason that we were in Xian was to see the Terracotta Warriors, deemed to be the most important archeological find of the 20th century! Big call, but fitting.
The sheer scale of this significant site blows your mind, let alone the history behind it. China is all about history, and the Terracotta Warriors will give you a fair dose of that! I find it all so fascinating!
Inside the protective and enormous aircraft-like hangers there are said to be 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 670 horses, with over half of the site yet to be unveiled. Only 1800 warriors have been uncovered and restored so far, so you can just imagine the enormous amount of work that is still needed to unveil the entire site. I’m not too sure how accurate it is, but our guide told us that Pit #1, the biggest to date, still has another 40 years of work left to bring it to completion. And then you have pit number’s 2, 3 and 4, and the area surrounding these pits that is also yet to be unearthed. A mammoth task!
Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di is the man behind the Terracotta Army. His actual tomb lies under a mound of earth about 1.5km away from the main site. It’s thought that the underground tomb itself might hold much more treasure and artifacts that are to be found in the already discovered pits. 2,000 years ago, a historian named Sima Qian wrote that
‘the tomb contained a world with mountains made of gold, stars represented by pearls, jewels, and flowing rivers of mercury’.
Modern tests on the tomb have revealed unusually high concentrations of mercury, which gives credit to at least some of the historical account. Due to these dangerously high levels it’s highly unlikely that archeologist will be able to excavate this area of the emperors mausoleum, so I guess all the stories and myths of ‘walls studded with gems and bling’ will remain just that for now – stories and myths!
Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di’s demand was that his army needed to replicate an actual army. The purpose of his army – the warriors, the horses, the chariots and everything surrounding that – was to accompany him into the afterlife.
The warriors themselves are a sight to behold. Each one of them is different, … men of actual size made out of earthly terracotta, all standing perfectly in line. It really is a dynamic and powerful sight. From a distance they all look the same, yet once you get a little closer you can see the different features that each one displays. Different body shapes and facial structures, some are short, some tall, some are robust and some lean and skinny. The detailed goes as far as the shoes they wear, and even the way their hair is styled. It’s said that it’s possible that the prisoner (or I think artesian is a better title in this instance) have made the particular warrior that they are working on to resemble themselves, this is how each one is not only so realistic but also so different from the others. Archeologist say that there was possibly 9 moulds used for the heads, then the artisans would use loose clay to create the features.
The sheer scale of this site is just phenomenal, to think that one man, or should I say one ‘Emperor’ (BIG difference here in China!) can order this kind of construction. Personally, I found it all grossly decadent and an act of pure self-indulgence, which of course it was. It’s said that by commissioning and constructing this army, Emperor Qin Shi put his country into bankruptcy, as well as negatively affecting so many lives around him. This army was under construction for over 40 years, and even then wasn’t fully completed. It’s thought that 700,000 craftsmen and slaves built this complex then were put to their death to keep the mausoleum a secret!
I was full of mixed emotions when I listened to the history of the Emperors. Yes, it’s fascinating, and interesting, and shocking, but the way it’s delivered is even more fascinating to me. It seemed that not matter how great, or cruel, or unjust the atrocities were that the Emperors handed out, they are still never ‘bad’ in the eyes of the Chinese people. The Emperors are seen as God-like figures, beyond royalty. It amazed me when our driver, a well-educated and very switched on young man, spoke about the behavior of some of the Emperors, Emperor Qin Shi Huang Di in this case. When I mentioned the killings of so many of his countrymen, ordered by the Emperor, his response was quite simply,
‘Oh, he was never bad, some things he did were wrong, but he was never bad’.
Hmmmm … close to a million people killed by his order and he wasn’t bad? Certainly not something that I could get my head around, BUT lets face it – I’m not Chinese!