China Part 2 : Xian and a certain army

Welcome to the second part of my memories of when I went to amazing China.

Xian is more inland and used to be the capital before Beijing took over. The population is still a respectable 12 million.

We first visited the Han Tombs in Xian. These were built as a mausoleum for Han Emperor Liu Qi and house thousands of clay figures of warriors and animals for the Emperor to take into the afterlife with him. The floor is glass so you can see how the actual dig is proceeding which is interesting. The scale of the mausoleum is breathtaking, especially when you think that the Emperor was only on the throne for seventeen years.

I loved Xian, it felt more like the China I was expecting and a bit more manageable than the metropolis of Beijing. Our hotel was across from the ornate Xian South Gate and I woke up to the huge pagoda outside my window. In the morning we walked along the wall and could see how the city was fortified, they sure knew how to protect themselves.

The main highlight from probably most tourists who come to Xian are a certain terracotta army and without playing favourites these were the highpoint of my holiday. I hadn’t expected it to be but the whole experience got me.  The scale of this devotion to Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China is vast. Whilst most of the artefacts remain buried until they can devise a way to unearth them without the colour and perishables disintegrating immediately, they have estimated that there are over 8000 life sized soldiers under there, each one having individual features, hair styles and expressions. There are also chariots and horses in there as well as acrobats, and musicians.

What you do get to experience is a huge aircraft hanger, filled with these figures. They go on for ever, all in regimented rows, as a procession to the afterlife for their Emperor. I’m not ashamed to say that I almost shed a tear, its just crazy moving. They say that over 780,000 people worked to create this legacy for their Emperor, whether that was through choice is open for discussion.

Perhaps the most mind blowing part of this is that they all lay undiscovered until 1974 when a local farmer was digging a well and found the first figure.  Apparently he makes quite the lucrative business signing guide books at the site but he wasn’t there the day we went.

Back in Xian we had a tour of the city, which has been redeveloped massively. From a tourist point of view this is sad as the traditional China is slowly being corroded by huge skyscrapers and massive shopping centres.

One funny thing that happened was during a stroll in the park, I got the feeling I was being watched and when I turned around, there were two very giggly Chinese ladies who had been taking my picture. Our guide explained that for many Chinese, particularly those from rural areas, Westerners were still a source of interest. I offered to have my picture taken with them which they were over the moon about and a very complicated series of poses with each lady ensued. They still followed me for the rest of the park, giggling and hiding behind trees. This was very endearing but a bit odd as they were both well over forty. Our guide told me that when they go back home, they will make a point of showing everyone that picture and it could even be framed as it is seen as a status symbol that you’ve been to the big city. So it’s safe to say there is a village in China where I’m a pretty big deal.

That night we were treated to a dumpling banquet. I love dumplings but eighteen courses of those bad boys, fish, meat, sweet, savoury and I had to go and lie on my bed, hoping that I wouldn’t see another dumpling for quite some time.

So that was my time in Xian up. The next stop was Chengdu and a certain black and white animal I couldn’t wait to see.

Have you been to Xian? If so, let me know your experiences in the comments below.

2 comments

  1. Not been to Xian but we’ve been looking at some river cruises that include a couple of days there so it’s probably going to happen in the next few years. Love that tale about the photo-taking. We had a similar experience in Tiananmen Square; I was busy taking pictures when I felt a tap on my shoulder and a girl in broken English asked if she could have a photo with me which her friend took. I smiled, they bowed, they took the photo, bowed again. I looked around and a queue had formed so my wife and I ended up posing for over a dozen pictures with strangers. Somewhere in China there are families with pictures of us in front of Mao’s portrait on the walls in the background. Like you, we were told that people from outlying districts would possibly never have seen a westerner and as many of the people visiting the tourist locations were from outside the capital city we would be just as much of a draw as the things they’d come to visit. I like that we can have that sort of positive effect just from being a tourist ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

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