Sunday, June 8, 2008

I Have Now Seen China

Tourist information about China boldly declares that until you have seen the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xian, you have not seen China.

The Warriors are amazing as is the city of Xian and we are very glad we made this side trip between Judith’s work projects. But we have been to many places in China and seen many amazing things from China’s ancient history, as well as seeing the rapid modernization taking place.

Most tour groups from the States have Xian included in the package of visits to Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, with a possible river cruise down the Yangtze River. But would you agree that if a tour group sees the Grand Canyon, they have seen America? I think not.

The Terra Cotta Warriors can stand by themselves as a great experience to see without equating them to the essence of China.

Just a reminder here. Xian is the eastern end of the Silk Road. This is where trade started westward and Xian can rightly be called the cradle of Chinese Civilization.

We fly into Xianyang Airport early Sunday morning and taxi to the Sofitel Hotel on Renmin Square within the walled city. It is the best hotel in the city and is centrally located near the Bell Tower, Drum Tower, and Great Mosque. Within Renmin Square is The People’s Hotel built in 1957, which Judith and I refer to as a Stalin Hotel. This is where all important dignitaries used to lodge in this era. It is rated a 4 star.
On either side of this hotel are the East and West Wings of the Sofitel including more very fine restaurants. We ate at the Muslim and Japanese restaurants, but for some reason skipped the Chinese restaurant, the entrance of which is show here.
There was one great annoyance though. We could not get Internet Access due to Chinese restrictions. So for 4 days we were cut off. In Yinchuan, I could get on the Internet with my laptop, but could not get my web mail. But I could on Judith’s lap top.
In Beijing we had no restrictions and when we left Xian we had access again at Shenyang. So censorship in China doesn’t appear to be a monolithic nationally run system. Censorship varies depending upon local government.

The rescue efforts from the earthquake have ended by now and TV coverage shows all enormity of the destruction and the struggle to take care of the homeless and injured. While we were in Xian our driver stopped in traffic to observe the national morning period at 2:28, the time the earthquake hit.

In 221 B.C., Emperor Qin Shi Huang of the Qin dynasty established the first centralized feudal dynasty in China. After his death, he was buried at the northern foot of Lishan Hill in the east of Lintong county. The tomb has been reduced to half its size after 2,000 years of water and soil erosion, but still impressive--76 meters high and a fundamental space of 120,000 square meters. One unusual detail about the construction of the tomb is that the emperor had the building begin shortly after becoming king of Qin at the age of 13. This action contradicted Confucian wisdom that a son should demonstrate respect for his father by building as impressive a memorial as possible and that a man should never plan his own funeral rites. Presumably, the king of Qin did not consider himself a mere man! In fact, he ordered the burning of books of history and philosophy as well as the death of 460 Confucian scholars who had had the temerity to continue teaching principles drawn from the past. The tomb took 39 years and 700,000 workers to reach completion. It had pearls embedded in the ceiling to represent the stars, and rivers and lakes were modeled with liquid mercury. The tomb itself has not been opened yet.
In 1974, when digging wells about a mile west of the mausoleum, some peasants made the sensational discovery of the Terra-Cotta Warriors and Horses; these figures were distributed over three large underground platforms and formed part of the emperor's burial objects. Likely numbering more than 7,000 warriors if the site were completely excavated, the figures are cultural assets of considerable quality. In order to avoid the risks of weather damage, a giant hall has been constructed over the first excavation site to provide protection. Although the faces of the individual warriors all have different expressions (lifelike and colorfully painted), it is known that some were mass produced in large workshops.
After the Warriors and Horses were unearthed, their bright colors faded due to oxidation, so most of them have not been dug out until some way of preserving their colors can be found.

This is how the site looks now. In the middle 80’s Judith came here and there were no building, just an open pit. The bus ride there was so cold, no one wanted to get off the bus, but they walked around and returned to the bus ASAP. Back then Xian was just a small town, not the big city it is now. Most of the city was within the city walls. This is the first glance at the Terra Cotta Statues.
We walked around the entire building taking photos as we went.

This is the area they call the hospital, where remains are carefully placed together like a jigsaw puzzle.
More of the hospital. The color of the Warrior’s coat used to be red.
Here is what they have to work with.

This shows the colors before oxidation.
In 1978, a fourth pit was discovered; it is shaped as the Chinese character zhong (middle). In 1980, two bronze chariots with four horses were discovered.

And of course we can’t resist this.
From here we visit the Huaqing Pool or hot springs. This is where the emperor made the imperial bath, 3000 years ago, where the famous beauty of the Tang Dynasty, Yang Yu Huan, took her bath. The original pool still can be seen but the photo below is not it.
There are golf carts to take you around the complex and you get off and on where you want. The drivers kept pushing the gondola trip up the mountain and we resisted at first, probably because they were pushing it so hard. But then we decided to go. Skiers don’t especially get a thrill from a gondola ride itself, but we thought the view might be nice. At the top of the gondola ride we see that you can climb further up the mountain, if you paid another fee. But it was hot that day and the discovery of yet another fee to work climbing was not appealing. This mountain is called Li Shan and the emperor and his lady would exchange “love whispers” here. I don’t image they had to walk up though. Er, and what just what are “love whispers” anyhow. Here is the hazy view. What may look like a golf course to the left are actually a bunch of houses with green roofs located on a hill, evidence of the new wealth in some sections of the country
I bought a book filled with pictures called “Traveling the Silk Road”. In reading about the Xian area, I have found the location of photos people have sent me via email showing a perilous climb up a mountain. It is one of the five sacred mountains in China and the only one in the western part, the Hua Mountain. Here is what the book says “Hua Mountain is known to be the most dangerous to climb. There is only one path to the top. Qian Chi Chuang is the first difficult pass on the way. A stone piece in front of it says the ‘returning stone’ because the view from here is looking at the thirty meter path with steep steps that seem to be leading nowhere causing some to some second thoughts. The next difficult point is Bai Chi Xia, a very narrow path that seems to just hang in mid-air with nothing to hold on to. Going a little , there is another narrow path cut from the high cliff with one side a shear wall and the other side a steep valley. People have to be very careful as they move along the path, sometimes with their ears touching, hence the name “ear-touching cliff”. This must be the place. See photo below
We visit the Banpo Museum. The exhibits here show the matriarchal society of the Neolithic Age 6000 years ago. These people were the ancient ancestors of the Chinese people. The site is not a re-creation, but the actual site where diggings show huts, fire treated clay, graves, etc. Not really much to photograph but interesting.

We devote the next day to walking around the old center of town seeing the Great Mosque, Drum Tower and shopping area. We have lunch at a busy Chinese dumpling restaurant with the Drum Tower in view. The dumplings were very good and better than those found in Chicago’s China town.

The Great Mosque was established about 750 AD. The total complex is more than 33,000 square meters.
Looking down the long corridor of shops situated near the Great Mosque.
You can buy Terra Cotta Warrior small statues here at half the price compared to the gift shop at the site of the warriors. Of course, you must bargain.

And here is the Drum Tower with a modern building in the background.
From Xian we travel to Manchuria to Chicago’s sister city, Shenyang.

1 comment:

GETkristiLOVE said...

I hope you got me a little terra cotta warrior statue! Reading this really makes me want to go to Xian to see them, and to hike that scary mountain!

I took a Chinese Art History class in college and back then ('82ish), the discovery was still so new that we talked a lot about it.