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The Magical China Trip 2012

Xi’an and Vicinity – October 20 – 22, 2012

CHINA | Monday, 29 October 2012 | Views [17106]

Terracotta Warriors, Pit 1

Terracotta Warriors, Pit 1

Daen finally arrived on Friday afternoon, October 19th, exhausted but happy to be in China.  I was greatly relieved and happy to see him.  He had his own adventures getting there, including having to travel all the way across Seoul, Korea, from Incheon to the Gimpo airport via a special railway.  He said Korea was very clean and, at 5 a.m., almost empty of people.


China, on the other hand, especially Xi’an, has many, many people, including locals plus tourists from China and all over the world.  Xi’an felt like a tourist town to me.  After the comparative quiet of Baoji, Xi’an seemed frenetic and even a little artificial.  This is not to say I know much about Xi’an.  We stayed at a hotel near the very center of the city with many exclusive shops, restaurants, and hotels nearby.  It was interesting to see, but a lifestyle that is more foreign to me than China itself.


Terracotta Warriors

One of the first places we went was the Terracotta Warriors archeological site.  On our way, we stopped at a factory that makes the warrior figures in many sizes from small to life-size.  It was interesting to see the kilns and the process, which uses the same clay as was used by the original creators.  The factory also displayed incredibly beautiful (and expensive) lacquer furniture that practically made us drool.


At the archeological site there are three “pits” dug into the earth.  When you think “pit” think football field.  The first pit is at least that big.  Pits 2 and 3 are a bit smaller, but no less impressive.  There is also a museum of selected items that have been removed from the pits.  Interestingly, “reproduction” equates almost with the genuine article in the Chinese displays.  If an item is a replica, it is stated on the description card, but it is nonetheless valued.  Things like the bronze chariots were crushed long ago; wooden staffs that the warriors held have long crumbled to dust; the original paint on the army figures disintegrates upon its first contact with the air; thus, much replication/reproduction is required.  What impresses me most is the Chinese capability to do the replication using the ancient methods.


Actually viewing the digs is almost indescribable given the age, artistry, and magnitude of the find.  The terracotta army is considered funerary art for Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇, pronounced chin shur huahng) the first emperor of China.  It includes something over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried in the pits near Qin Shi Huang's mausoleum.  Other terracotta non-military figures were also found in other pits and they include officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians.  The figures were discovered in 1974 by farmers in the Lintong District of Xi’an as they were digging a well.  Today Lintong is a bustling tourist town for both domestic and foreign visitors.  Daen and I actually got to meet one of the farmers to whom we immediately took a liking.  He is probably my age (possibly older), dignified and friendly.  He autographed the book we bought that tells about the discovery and the site.


Although it was crowded (because we visited on the weekend), it was a wonderful experience, something not to be missed if you are coming to China.  It rather sets the stage for grasping the magnitude of Chinese engineering projects and architecture; such as, the Great Wall, the Grand Canal, or Yangze River Gorge Dam.


You will also notice a change for the better in the character of the photographs I’m posting to this blog.  I have passed to baton to Daen for the interim.  He is enjoying taking the pictures, and I’m happy for him to do so.  If I see something I particularly want to photograph, I do, but otherwise most of the shots are from those Daen is taking.


Huaqing Hot Springs

Next, we went to Huaqing Hot Springs.  It was built in 723 by an emperor of the Tang Dynasty as part of the Huaqing Palace, using the local hot springs for geothermal heating.  It is famous as the supposed scene of the emperor’s romance with his consort, Yang Guifei, a woman considered to be one of the four most beautiful women in all of the history of China.


The grounds of the hot springs are being restored so it can be a more attractive tourist site.  I continue to be impressed by the use of the old methods for making new things and repairing existing things.  China is fortunate to have the artisans who are able to continue this kind of work.  The new structures being built at Huaqing Hot Springs, like the old ones, are being built without the use of nails – it is all tongue and groove.  One particular structure under construction reminded me of the Amaraji Maha Marai family’s chapel, which our brothers have been working on all this past summer.  It is also built completely using tongue and groove.


At Huaqing Hot Springs, many of the old pools are pretty well dried up, partly because the water has been diverted to convalescent homes and other uses.  However, one can imagine the beauty of this place in its heyday:  elaborate pools of warm water of different temperatures to ease arthritic joints, sore muscles, and luxuriate in.  This site was also the scene of the 1936 “Xi'an Incident,” when Chiang Kai-shek was kidnapped by Yang Hucheng and Zhang Xueliang so that they could convince the Generalissimo to work together with the Chinese Communists in resisting the Japanese encroachment on the Chinese mainland.  After several days, Chiang was rescued and Yang and Zhang arrested.  Zhang was fortunate in being placed under house arrest; Yang was executed.


Forest of Stele Museum and Imperial Tomb Statues

The Forest of Stele Museum presents a large number of stone tablets upon which have been written the Confucian rules, mores, and teachings; the oldest collection of the Confucian classics, cut in 837 CE.  Each tablet stands well over six feet high and is about three feet wide.  Not only is the message on each tablet significant for Chinese history and culture, but the handwriting style of each writer is also distinct as an art form.  Rubbings are taken from the tablets by applying rice paper to the surface of the tablet and wetting it down.  Next, it is rubbed gently, but vigorously, to transfer the indentations from the carving to the paper, while also securing the paper to the tablet.  When the paper has dried to the correct level of dryness, black ink is patted onto the surface of the paper using a round applicator and refillable ink pad about 7” square.  The result is a white on black rendering of the stone tablet.  I found it fascinating.


Other exhibits on this site include early sculptures and objects from Imperial tombs, many of which are statures of the Buddha.  One of the statues of Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, had been particularly well loved by the people.  Because of that, it seemed she was still inviting people to touch her and accept her blessing.


Ancient City Wall

In Xi’an, the walls, ramparts, gates, and watchtowers form one of the oldest and most complete city defense system still around.  Built in the 13th century on the foundations of the original Tang Forbidden City, it completely surrounds the city center.  When the weather is good, one can walk or rent a bike or rickshaw or an electric cart travel around the full 14km circuit.  Unfortunately for us, it was raining so we took a quick look from under umbrellas and then retired to our hotel room.


Shaanxi (Province) Historical Museum

The history of Shaanxi is said to be the history of China, and this museum is one of the nation's best.  Four major galleries in large, Tang-style buildings house a vast collection of artifacts.  It took quite a while to go through it all.  Beginning with prehistoric man, the museum presents the history of China through the various pre-dynastic and dynastic periods.  We took a lot of pictures of interesting items.  As with any large museum, it was too much to absorb in just one visit.


Banpo Village Relics

The Banpo museum depicts the remains of a 6000-year-old Neolithic community discovered in 1953.  There are two exhibition halls displaying items from the site such as stone tools, spinning wheels, pottery, and daily living utensils.  The third, the Site Hall (a bit over half an acre), demonstrates the residential, pottery making and burial sections of the village, including huts, kilns, and tombs.  Although this is a fascinating museum, I found it hard to know what was authentic from the archeological dig and what was a “replica.”  Some of the confusion for me comes from the fact that, unlike the archeological sites I am familiar with in the western world, Chinese sites are covered by buildings to protect them from the elements.  The other confusing factor for me is that the digs are so clean and neat.  The walls seem to have been either dug or shored up to keep the displays intact.  Western digs always look not only messy, but also rather precarious.  Furthermore, the archeologists here work at night so they are not bothered by visitors.  Thus, the dig looks like a replica of the real thing.  At the site of the Terracotta Warriors, the very size of the dig indicated its authenticity; but here at a small site, it was harder to tell.

Tags: banpo village, shaanxi historical museum, terracotta warriors, xian

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