(Note – this is a repost of a blog from my last visit to China in 2014. I am currently traveling in China again, but unable to blog until next week. So please enjoy this post again about Surprising China, and watch for a new Surprising China World Heritage Sites post next Friday!)
I managed to see two sites on my Asian trip that were bucket list items. Being in China of course means seeing the Great Wall, easily accessible and visited by most American’s who travel here. It was astonishingly beautiful on the clear and cold, crisp day we stood upon it. A site even better than you ever imagined it.
But it takes a bit of an effort to get to Xian, China, the location of the second bucket list item. Xian is a six-hour train ride from Beijing. Xian is home of one of the most amazing things I have had a chance to see in my life, the Terra Cotta Warrior Army of the first Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
How is it that this mind-boggling 2000-year-old relic of ancient Chinese history was only discovered 40 years ago? The accidental discovery by a local Chinese farmer has transformed this community as well as the understanding of Imperial China.
The Terracotta Army is a collection of hollow terra cotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BC and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife. The vast discovery includes thousands of warriors from archers to generals and everything in between.
Seeing it first hand was worth the effort it took to get here. Photos no way do it justice.
I’ve always been fascinated to see nineteenth and twentieth century discoveries; items of lost treasures and civilizations where years of exploration or half hazard circumstance have unearthed. My travels have provided me the opportunity to see some of these treasures first hand; Ephesus in Turkey, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Forum in Rome and Mesa Verde in Colorado are things I have stood next to and asked how? Additionally I’ve stood with wonder at other sites never lost but yet still flabbergasting in particular Stonehenge in England and Lalibella in Ethiopia. It’s that feeling of awe and amazement that inspires me to travel. The Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian gave me the goose bumps I crave.
My first question is why were they lost to start with? In the case of the Terra Cotta Warriors, it was done on purpose. The superstitious Chinese culture, both then and now, have strong beliefs in preparing for the afterlife, while here in this life. Afterlife preparation of Emperor Qin Shi Huang began years in advance of his death, when he was as young as 13. Emperors spent as much time preparing to go into battle in the afterlife as they did in this life here on Earth. Tens of thousands of warriors, each different down to the fingerprints, would go in to the afterlife battle with him. And that is where the hollow, life size, each unique terra cotta soldiers are going. For 2000 -years they waited, buried anywhere from 12 to 30 feet underground (depending on rank) for battle. Until the day a Chinese farmers decided to drill for a well. His unexpected discovery made him a local and national figure. But, being this is China, it didn’t make him rich. He continues to live in Xian and spends most his days signing books for tourists.
The discovery was made in 1974 and by 1976 Xian was welcoming visitors to see the soldiers. Immediately upon discovery the oxidation began and the pigment on the soldiers began to disappear. Today the soldiers you see standing just as they were placed 2000 years ago, have no color due to the unfortunate oxidation. In fact, the lacquer covering the paint can curl in 15 seconds once exposed to the dry air of Xi’an and can flake off in just four minutes.
The soldiers have been restored piece by piece in a painstaking and remarkable process. The gigantic exhibit at Xian shows the restored soldiers and horses, then progressively a section showing how most of the relics were found in hundreds of pieces, then finally the still covered tomb where additional soldiers wait their turn to see the light of day. The Chinese government has continued restoration efforts on many additional pieces. However, it has been determined that thousands more soldiers remain buried. And that is where they will stay; until research can provide an answer to preserve the colorful paints those soldiers still bare.
In my fabulous fifties I have an insatiable appetite to see, learn and be inspired. My travel list is long, but at the top are such sites as Easter Island, Victoria Falls, Camino de Santiago, Angkor Wat, Jordan’s Petra, Melrose Abbey in Scotland and the Pyramids of Egypt. All places with a rich cultural history and connection to lost civilizations.
Will I get to all of these? Damn right I will. Ask me where I have been we can talk for an hour. Ask me where I am going we can talk for days.
Let me inspire you to go. See. Do. Live. It’s now or never.
(Note: Our time in China was made special by the first class service we received from Beijing Champagne International Travel Service
I cannot recommend them highly enough. Our drivers were conscientious and safe. But our tour guides are what made us enjoy our travels so much. Lucia was our guide in Xian and Rogin was our guide throughout the rest of the trip. I would welcome them both into my home; this is how highly I regarded their care and expertise they provided. We could not have possibly enjoyed our time in China to the full extent without the help from all of these people. If you are going to China check out Champagne and personally request Rogin. Shi Shi.)