A Chinese Odyssey travel blog

A smoggy Xi’an sunrise

Sculpting a souvenir Jade buddha

Making a Jade Family Ball

Don’t lose your head!

A factory replica

The shopping gauntlet, en route to the warriors

Our first view of the ranks of warriors - impressive!

Up close

Repair work

The restoration area with horses in slings

No 35 is one of the few warriors to retain its original...

Emerging from the earth

Emerging from the afterlife

The horseman is intent on his job

The horseman and his steed

The kneeling archer

Who are these ring-ins?!

The bronze war chariot

The charioteer, just as impressive as his Terracotta colleagues

A mini-carriage for the Emperor’s soul

Tang Dynasty theatre

Lots of dumplings!

Spectacular show!

Great music

The cast take a well-deserved bow.

On our budget trip, we had expected to be taken to shopping outlets but it certainly hadn’t been excessive up to now - that changed today! Our first visit was to a jade factory to learn about the different types of jade and to see how it was crafted by the artisans to transform a single piece of stone into a work of art. The presentation and workshop were very interesting and informative, but the objective was to have us spend in the showroom. There was a great range of excellent items to choose from and - mostly - we didn’t feel too pressured. When we did, we simply walked to another counter. Nevertheless, we still managed to pick up a couple of small items, so I guess the shopping trip worked!

The next destination was also a shopping stop, again prefaced with a presentation and walk through a Terracotta Warriors reproduction factory. It was actually very interesting to learn how both the reproduction and original warriors were made. It was particularly fascinating to watch a craftsman sculpt a customer’s head from photographs, using the same techniques employed more than 2000 years ago. That head will be mounted on a full sized reproduction - we didn’t find out the cost, but you probably need a huge ego and bigger wallet to buy one of those! Once more, we parted with a few Yuans, but only on items we wanted.

Lunch was in the factory restaurant, then we finally made our way to see the real Terracotta Warriors, Ray’s Number One attraction for the trip. This army was ordered by Emperor Qin Shi Wuang, so that he would have protection in the afterlife, and it was huge by any stretch of the imagination. There were around 8000 soldiers of different ranks and specialisations, such as generals, middle officers, archers and spearmen, each with their own personality and real (not clay) weapons, as well as horses and support staff.

The most unfortunate members of this army, though, were those in the vanguard. The role for these poor souls was to take one for the team! The army was constructed along the lines of a real army of the Emperor and the front three ranks were occupied by the vanguard. Without benefit of weapons or even armour, their job was to absorb the initial engagement with the enemy, so that the real soldiers could be more effective. Survivors, if any, could expect promotion. Any volunteers for vanguard duty?!

Powerful as this army may have been in the afterlife, they never stood a chance against mere mortals. With the death of the Emperor in 210BC, the natives grew restless and, within a mere four years, the new Emperor was gone, and the Terracotta Army had been destroyed by the rebels and their weapons stolen. Over the next two millenia, the Terracotta Army drifted into obscurity until, in 1974, a farmer digging a well came across some broken pieces of arms and torsos.

From that chance finding, the rest of the army was discovered and a huge process of restoration was begun. Now, a significant part of the army has been restored and soldiers repositioned to their original location, but much more remains to be uncovered, as we found. The excavation - and construction of the buildings that now house the Warriors - has so far taken around 40 years, and barely a third of the site has been fully explored.

After a fairly long walk through a shopping trap and park, we arrived at The Site. At last, we were going to see the Warriors in the flesh - so to speak! The Army is located in three main pits, with a fourth containing bronze chariots - of which, more later. The first pit is the largest and contains many of the Warriors that have been seen by the outside world through photographs.

Walking into the pit hall was overwhelming on so many levels. First, was the sheer size of the area - not much more than a third of the pit has been fully excavated and the warriors restored. The rest is in various stages of excavation, some parts have barely been touched at all. Secondly, the detail of the Warriors is incredible. Every one has different features as each one was sculpted with a different live subject. Then, the Terracotta Warriors are all a little larger than life size, and therefore imposing - the average height of the warriors is around 1.78m, while the average height of the Chinese, at the time, was only 1.65m.

Pits two and three are equally impressive, though smaller. It was in Pit two that some of the more significant characters were discovered, such as the kneeling archer and the horseman with his horse. We were able to see these figures up close, as they are not in a pit but on display in glass cases.

In close proximity, the detaIls are even more astounding. From the scales of the armour to the dynamism of the poses, the intent - and unique - expressions to the detailed hair styles that signify role and rank, these two figures represent amazing persistence and consistency in method over almost four decades. The uniqueness of the Warriors is a result of the bodies and heads having been made separately, with the heads crafted using a different person as the ‘life model’ for the sculptors. The consistency of method produced an imposing and realistic, 8000 strong army.

A fourth building houses two sets of bronze horses and chariots, discovered in a separate pit some distance from the clay warriors. One appears to be a war chariot, while the other is a half size replica of the Emperor’s personal chariot. The story goes that, since only the Emperor’s soul would need a chariot in the afterlife, it didn’t need to be big enough to hold his body as well. With that logic, an army of 8000 oversized warriors would have been truly impressive in the afterlife.

With more than a little reluctance, we left the Warriors and returned to the coach to be taken to our optional tour for the evening - a Dumpling Dinner and Tang Dynasty show. The dining hall was massive and contained several hundred patrons. There were dozens of wait staff to cope with the crowd and the pace of service was insane. A share plate of two or three different dumplings would be delivered and almost before we had finished one plate, another would arrive. The dumplings themselves were, almost without exception, excellent and we enjoyed the variation from the banquets (mostly pretty good, it must be said) that comprised our usual lunches and dinners.

The show began right after the last plate disappeared and, for the next hour and a quarter, we were very well entertained by a number of talented dancers, musicians and singers, who performed a number of items from the period of the Tang Dynasty. My words can barely do justice to the quality of the show, so I shall post some video, if what I recorded turns out to be any good! Suffice to say, the dinner and show was an excellent finale to a very busy day.

A guided tour has pluses and minuses. On the one hand, we have been able to visit a great variety of sites and attractions;but on the other, the time available at each location is often limited. Today, by guided tour standards, we probably did as well as we could have expected, having had most of the afternoon to visit the Warriors; however, left to our own devices, an entire day would probably not have sufficed. Still, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience and feel quite satisfied that we have now visited the Warriors and can take home some great memories.

The nature of this tour - where we are visiting so much, in such a huge country and in a fairly short period of time - is relentless. Tomorrow, we are up early for our trip to Beijing by Bullet Train. It will be an experience!

Happy trails!


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