Xi'an -- Terracotta Warriors and Tang Dynasty Performers - May 27

The breakfast buffet in Xi'an was so long and so spread out that we took an extra fifteen minutes for breakfast. *laughs* I had a pumpkin congee, fresh longan fruit still in their shells (and peeled and bitten they looked just like the dragon's eye they were named for), an almond croissants, and one of the fruit yogurt cups that were designed for straws, not spoons. I was impressed to see sushi, grilled fish, various dishes, hot soy milk, and tofu gnar (tofu brains... *laughs* it's a very soft custard made from tofu that's good sweet or salty).

As I was walking through, I heard one of our European friends exclaim, "Thank God they have museli! Prepared, even!" It had been pre-mixed with milk and served appropriately.

So we were well-fed and onto the bus to see one of the great wonders of China, the Terracotta Warriors.

Xi'an has a lot more agriculture than Beijing did, and it shows in all kinds of small ways, and the interesting turn of the city from what it once was seems an interesting state of how the politics have moved in the country.

2400 years ago, when the Confucian ideals were first being spread, Qin Chi Hwen took all of them on and won in 221 BC. He did three big things: standardized the written language (to tabulate tribute), created a standard set of measuring units for tribute, and created a standard of currency (again for tribute). The interesting thing is that all of these three things also allowed consistent communication across the country and allowed for freer trade. The coin was round with a square hole, because it represented the Earth within Heaven.

One interesting thing about the Chinese language. The things the Western world calls dialects? They're all really independent languages, with their own grammar, completely different words, and even different means of pronunciation. Cantonese has sixteen tones. Mandarin has only four, and what means what sounds completely different in the different languages. The only thing that unifies all of them is the Chinese written language, and that is because it's mostly representative. Japan's kanji consists of exactly the same characters with much of the same meanings. But again, the words are pronounced entirely differently, they just have the same meaning.

These are some of the old Qin-style characters on the sign for the first of four pits that were found at a site that was actually as some distance from Qin's Tomb.

By the time Qin came around, the technology for war was on a pretty high level in China. All of these warriors were equipped with crossbows and arrows, they used silk for bow strings, bronze for shields, and had all kinds of armor. Shelly told us that Alexander the Great sent an army of 3000 troops into China, trying to bring his war of conquest into China, and only 500 survived to bring back the news that China was not his to take. And because they'd heard the Dynasty name of the Emperor Qin, they told him that the nation's name was "Chin", so the Western world started to call the country China.

When Qin died, the peasants of China rose up and overthrew his son. In the process, they ransacked the pits of the warriors, took all their weapons, and burnt and broke all of them but one. Only one crossbow man was left intact. Everyone else was busted, and every other terracotta warrior you see that's whole was pieced together.

This is a small scale model of the whole burial area. The bundle of gray buildings on concrete, are the four pits of the Terracotta Warriors. There were four pits that were created, but only three will filled with the guys. They're all pottery representations of the finest of Qin's armies of millions of men. The first pit held most of the younger guys, the infantrymen, the charioteers, and the younger officers. The second held higher ranks, and the third was the command center with all the officers and, perhaps, a likeness of the Emperor himself.

The fourth pit was never filled, and when they found it, it had all the same foundation and structures of the other three, but no warriors in them. The fourth pit was covered over, and the other three were open archaeological digs for a while, until they realized just how much damage the open air was doing to what they found. So, today, they have buildings over the pits and climate control. All the pits are nearly a mile to the East of Qin's tomb, which supposedly contained a mercury river and a model of the capitol.

Right on Qin's tomb they found two miniature chariots made of bronze, and those were pieced together and are now displayed in a new museum on the grounds right by the pits that held the pieces of the terracotta warriors.

After all the introductory information, we finally headed into the biggest building, built over the first pit full of warriors.

Terra Cotta Pit 1

When I walked in, I just stopped in awe. I had this feeling of okay, this is why we went to all the trouble to be here in the flesh and see these in person. I'd seen a few of the pieced-together warriors in LA when I was a child, along with the jade armor, and other treasures that go traveling around the world. That, however, paled compared to seeing all of them Right Here, in front of me. Peaceful, still, rank upon file of individuals, as still as the tomb, seemingly waiting for the signal, the magic that would bring them all to life to walk into battle again. What truly struck me, however, was how beautiful they all were. How cleanly coiffed, neatly arrayed, all presented at their best for what was to come.

I could totally see why all the movies loved having them represented in them. The feeling of all that power frozen still in time, lasting for thousands of years, waiting to be unleashed.

Dark Faces
Dad says that the last time he was here, the other two pits weren't open, nor was there another museum for the chariots. This was the only area that one could go to, and it was packed, from front to back, solid with people. They were all crowded in so closely, it took a lot of time just to jostle ones way to the front where one could see, much less take a picture.

With all the other structures, now, and the fact that it was Monday morning and it wasn't the height of summer, yet, the place was relatively empty compared to Dad's experience. We had plenty of room to wander, and lots of good rail space to take pictures from, and we could go around the whole building with no problems whatsoever.

We took a lot of pictures. Go ahead and click on any one of these, and you can go through the set where we have them all. The main reason for so many pictures is because all the warriors are unique. They all have different faces, many have different builds, different skin tones, different details of their uniforms and armor, and differences in their hair or features. The warriors they were supposed to emulate came from Africa (yes! Some had clearly darker or even black skin), Southeast Asia, Persia, Mongolia, all the provinces, and outlying areas.

When the pieces of the warriors first came out of the earth, many of them were colored, painted with bright paints that faded from oxidation within hours of being uncovered. This is why, as we went through, nearly two-thirds of the pits haven't even been dug into, yet, they want to figure out a way to stop the oxidation effects before they go any further. It's another reason why they haven't gone into Qin's Tomb, though they know pretty much where it is, they're not sure what's in it and what they need to do to preserve what's in there.

All the warriors were buried facing East. The Tomb was created in the West side of the country, so all the enemies that might come at the Emperor in his afterlife were from the East.

The first pit was discovered by a farmer trying to dig a well. He dug and dug and found a head, which he threw away in the trash, but then he came up with more heads and various limbs. Thinking that he was encroaching on ghosts and the dead, he finally decided that he had to talk with government officials about what it was he had found! He was given a few bags of wheat as his 'bonus' for the find, at first, and he asked for an education for all his grandchildren.

Eventually, they moved all the farmers out, compensated them for their crops, and when the full extent of the find was revealed, the farmer came into better and better fortunes for it. All three of his grandchildren got their education. He was signing books about the Terracotta Warriors in the gift shop when we went through there. That's basically now his job.

Piecing together....IMG_7219Terra Cotta isn't that much different than DirtThe Back Ranks

Moving through the west side of the building, we got to see more and more of how they were putting together all the pieces. Telling the difference between the fired clay and the earth wasn't too hard, as the ceramic has a very different texture than the packed earth, still, looking at the trays of what they had to sort through was daunting.

Putting It Together
The other thing we all noticed was that the methods of those that were putting things together weren't quite the same as we see in the Denver Museum of Natural History or other places, where it seems forbidden to put human hands on artifacts. Here, it's pretty obvious that they're working bare-handed, bare-headed, and don't seem to worry to much about what contacts what. Still, given how many thousands of these there were, I could see getting more practical about handling them.

We saw some of the same methods in the trenches along the East side of it all, too. At the very back of the room were billboards covering some of the history of the pits themselves, with diagrams of the layouts. Pit 1 is pretty straightforward, with straight rows. Pit 2 is more varied with eight short infantry columns, three long columns filled with chariots and infantry, and then three rows of cavalry with their horses. Pit 3 was the Headquarters, so was fairly small with just an entry way and three branches with 'offices'. Pit 4 was built, but never filled, and they say that the emperor died before it could be.

There is an estimate of 8000 terracotta figures in all the pits. Pit 1 is about half excavated. Pit 2 is 95% underground, but with x-ray technology they've seen that there's around 2000 in that array. Pit 3 has only 68 officers and soldiers and has been opened completely.

I think that the thing that struck me the most about all of this is the sheer amount of human effort that was involved. Not just in the making of all these guys, but all the work that was needed to bring them back. In a way, all of these had been destroyed once, and the effort people were putting into making them whole again was probably beyond what it had taken to make them in the first place. So, as a whole, it represented an enormous investment in human time, effort, patience, skill, and attention.

We went all the way around, and on the north wall we were able to see all the trenches that they haven't completely uncovered, yet. There were a tumble of pieces, and people were stationed at various places in order to uncover what was already partially uncovered, and put those pieces back together again.

Each of the warriors took about a month to make. They would mold the head separately from the shoulders. The torso, legs, shoes, and armor were shaped by hand. They were fired, colored, fired again, and then fitted together. Each firing took two or three days to build the kiln up to a high enough heat.

The statues all stood on a square flag stone. They were for stability, and each of the flagstones was signed by the man who made them. This wasn't so much a matter of pride as of accountability. If the resultant warrior didn't resemble the man it was modeled after, the worker who made him and their entire family would be executed for the shoddy work. Each of the stones also carried the name of the person that was supposed to be represented by the statue.

Official Replicas
Each of these statues was supposed to represent only the strongest, most courageous, and most powerful of the people in Qin's armies. This did mean that they were taller than usual, but not taller than the people they were modeled after. The General is 1.9 meters tall. One of the Charioteers looks like a fourteen-year-old and is tiny. There's one statue that they call "Yao Ming" because he's 2.25 meters call.

I liked that our guide, Sherry, really wanted to see the rest of the warriors that were buried, in part because there haven't been any women discovered, yet. She was pretty sure that there were women in the calvary of that time, and she wanted proof in the form of one of the statues.

These are the official replicas that were for sale in the very gift shop where the farmer signs books. There was also a little theater that did a dramatic reenactment of both Qin's conquering of all the city-states, the building of the tomb and the warriors, and then the revolution and destruction of them all.

We did the movie thing and then wandered over to Pit 2.

Chrome Plated Sword
Most of Pit 2 was covered up, still, all the warriors still under dirt, though there were also bits of bone, things that were dumped underground in the two millennium that passed by while they resided in the earth. So they had a bunch of displays along one side, things that were found in the Pits.

One of those things was this chrome-plated sword. It has a twenty millimeter thick plate of chrome. The sword itself was made of bronze, but with a higher tin content (21.3%) than usual, and it resulted in a metal that is as hard as tempered carbon steel, when plated with chrome, it kept its sharpness, didn't oxidize, and they tested the sharpness by cutting through 20 sheets of paper with one cut.

It's still pretty impressive and shiny! Since I've been reading a lot of Lord of the Rings to Jet, lately, the chrome-plate bronze made me wonder. If contact with the Chinese made the myths of Elves in the first place, maybe chrome was mithril? Just idle speculation that is making certain tales in the back of my head start to spin.

Middling OfficerHigher UpThe One Whole StatueColor on the back

The one on the far right is the one guy that made it through whole. He's a crossbowman, who was on one knee, and had the crossbow by his hip. The detail on him was intricate and complete, even down to the texturing on the bottom of his shoes. The others are minor and middling officers, who were pieced together.

Left side</a>
Pit 3 was the smallest of the pits, and completely filled with high-ranking officers. The entry ramp to this pit had four horses in front and four charioteers behind, and a form that might have been the emperor behind them, but as you can see here, nearly all of these statues have lost their heads.

The destruction of the figures in this pit seems to have been more thorough than in the other pits, they deliberately took the heads from the sockets for the shoulders and either smashed them or took them far away. This was the headquarters of the whole thing, and some of the statues were setup so that they looked like they were consulting with each other in groups.

The walls for this particular pit were very well defined, and the branch to the right actually still holds a jumble of pieces that they're trying to fit together.

After that display we were taken to a gift store sort of setup, with a restaurant in the upper two stories, and the first story was completely packed with people. So much so that we had to be moved upstairs in order to find enough room for all of us. While we were waiting down there, though, I caught a glimpse of a person cutting noodles from a log of dough! That was so exciting. I'd heard of knife cut noodles, but had never seen them made before.

Pulled Noodles
When we got upstairs, a man started on these pulled noodles. He would take a long rope of dough, bang it and knead it until it was the right consistency, and then he would take the dough and pull it, double it up, and then pull and double it again, and again until he had thousands of noodles between his fingers.

He then cut them off the blobs he was using as handles and put them all gently into boiling water. When they were cooked, he would pull them all out and serve them in bowls of clear broth. There were adds on the side, so you can put in scallions and dried fish or other things you wanted in your bowl, and then you'd eat 'em.

They were amazingly good. They also brought up trays of the knife cut noodles in a spicy meat sauce, and we ate those up, too. There was also a little buffet that had salads, rice, and a few dishes, but it was pretty clear that the highlight of the place was the noodles.

Bronze CharriotsSilver Moon Chariot RestoredGold Sun Chariot as restored

After lunch we went into a darkened museum that showed other things from around Qin's Tomb, including these one-third-sized bronze chariots. They were supposed to be messenger and transport for the soul of the Emperor. There were all kinds of treasures in the museum, too, including another big, bronze sword, "pillows" that were most like stands made of wood or jade or stone, big ceremonial pots and urns, and a single crane that had been so oxidized by time and burial that it was nearly green.

There was also a stone armor pit, which contained stone replicas of 89 suits of armor and 43 helmets. There were also comparisons of the officers, and the pictures showed how the higher rank you were, the more armor you wore and the more curled your shoes were.

After that, we headed back to the hotel, and were given some free time before dinner and an evening show. So we went shopping!

Shoe Store!
We just walked down the street, and I found a little tea shop that sold the ever-present double-walled glass tea jars. They had some beautiful ones, and I got a big one and a tiny one for about fifteen US dollars all together, and she threw in several vacuum-packed packets of tea as well. She refused to bargain down from that, and I was all right with it, as I can't find those tea glasses for much less than $20 each, and only for the ten ounce ones, not the big one with a bullet-proof exterior plastic sleeve and crystal glass interior.

A little further down the street, Dad found a shoe store that carried some of the tai chi shoes that he likes to wear. It really is just this tiny. One lady owns it and runs it and she just stocks what this can hold. All the stores were about this size, though the tea shop I was in was about twice as wide, but about as deep.

The boxes on the right really are up against the right wall. Dad managed to find what he wanted, and bought them for about ten dollars as well, though he did bargain them down a little.

We cheerfully walked along, and it was a much rougher neighborhood than our Beijing one had been, and I could see why they warned us against being out at night. It was more of a working, living neighborhood, with some cheap fashions right there, but there were grocery stores, produce places, and stores that people might visit every day on their way home from work to get what they needed for tomorrow. It wasn't the posh mall atmosphere of the walking mall near our hotel in Beijing.

After the walk, Dad took a small nap, and John, Jet, and I went swimming.

Xian City Wall
On the way to dinner, we got a glimpse of the big city wall that Xi'an still boasts. It's big, thick, and used to only have one gate to let people in and keep people out, but for a modern city, it was too restrictive.

They've actually opened up the wall so that several of the major roads can just go right through, but as you can see behind Dad and Jet, there's no opening in sight. It's still one of the things that makes for more congestion in the city than there might otherwise be. The tradeoff of having it and dealing with the traffic it creates was pretty clear as we headed into town for the evening. They still have both Bell and Drum Towers and use them for the morning and evening soundings.

We had two destinations. The first was a Dumpling Feast, with fifteen courses, most of them individualized dumplings with all kinds of fillings, shapes, and textures and different wrapper makeups. The second was the Tang Dynasty Show, which was going to have music, dancers, and evening drinks. *laughs* Sherry said that the Tang Dynasty was one of the good ones, so Xi'an often chooses Tang Dynasty architecture cues when they rebuild buildings. They choose that style as often as they can, and the show, tonight, was a tribute to that time of prosperity and artistic endeavor.

Pickles and SaladsPeanutsShrimp and MushroomTomato FilledBunnies!Panfried Pork and VegitableCelery?

From left to right: Appetizer course and salads, peanut-filled, shrimp and mushroom, tomato-filled, baked bunnies with red bean paste, pan-fried pork and vegetable, and one with celery, egg, and chives. Jet loved the peanut ones, and I liked the bunny ones!

Monkey HeadsLeek and EggChicken Wing DumplingsPumpkin and ChickenSpicy ChickenDuckDon&apos;t Remember...

From left to right: Monkey Heads (filled with a savory pork and mushroom filling, John, Dad, and I liked them), leek and egg filled, chicken wings (shaped like the name), pumpkin and chicken, spicy chicken, duck, and a Don't Remember. The duck ones were very nice. Dad, John, Jet, and I both forgot what the second to last one was. *laughs* And we compared notes before the performance just to see what they were! But no luck.

The last one was a dry baked "dumpling" that was more cookie like. They were shaped like a walnut and filled with a date paste studded with walnut pieces. I didn't like them very much, but John really did! So that was cool. He thought they were tasty and had a cool texture.
We were pretty full by the the time the last course came through.

The dumplings were pretty amazing in variety, but their taste and texture were very similar to each other. A few stood out, and Jet was so tickled by having one that was filled with peanuts, he just really loved those. But it really was more the inventive shapes they could use that they emphasized, rather than the taste.

On the way out was a display of all the various kinds of dumplings they had made. Some of them were familiar from what we'd been served, but there were all kinds of colors and shapes on the display trays. There were two or three tables filled with them.

From there we headed to the Tang Dynasty Dinner Theater, It was set up like many dinner theaters, with a few hundred in the audience, and a feeling like everyone there had a day job, but were here to have fun and entertain. Everyone had their table, and ladies came around asking you what you wanted to drink. John had a beer, Dad had water, Jet got an apple juice, and I decided to have a "champagne cooler".

It was actually pretty good, a mixed drink of champagne, Sprint, and fruit juice with a few slices of pineapple in it. Then the announcer came on and in English described all the things that were going to do and what they were for. I scribbled madly, in the dark, in to my journal, about each piece, but then I had to just drop it all to watch.

Tang Dynasty Costumes
They started with an introductory piece that had all the ancient instruments, the drums, the dynasty dress, and the choir up on stage, the singing is very distinct. Many of the instruments aren't used anymore, today, but I was pretty bemused by the sheer amount of amplification they gave all the instruments. Yes! That one in the middle is just like the one used by the old man at the Temple of Heaven!

Up in the upper right of that picture is one of the various drums they used. Another huge one was on a stand right in the middle of the stage. They did a number of songs just to show off their range and then went into the dances.

Waving Silk
These cloth dances were used to demonstrate the lightness, sheernees, and strength of the silk that was made in China, and these two ladies were amazing at making it float through the air in wave upon wave of cloth.

The Sorcerer's Dance and the Warrior's Temple Dance were done by a bunch of very very enthusiastic men. They had a lot of fun, but I couldn't help but wish that they had a better choreographer or more time to coordinate their moves. *laughs* But their costumes were bright, and they gave a huge amount of energy to their performances.

Based on a Dream
The Rainbow Costume Dance had a really interesting history and a beautiful rendition. It was the story of one of the Tang Dynasty Emperors going to sleep and having a dream where he went to the Palace of the Moon. There he saw a goddess washing under the light of the moon, and women dressed in a rainbow of feathers. When he awoke, his favorite concubine did her best to create a dance and all the costumes based on his dream.

That particular dance has been passed down and performed as a classical dance.

I have to admit that my favorite part was where the handmaidens were pouring buckets of water onto the stage, knowing that someone below was either catching it in something, or it was being poured onto something to contain it below... I also really liked the "rosy hued lanterns" that were also part of the dream.

Sword and Streamer Dance
I had to go out to use the restroom at one point, and when I wanted to go back in I had to wait because the Emperor was going on stage. *laughs*

He was going to see the village dances, and while the announcer said something about a peasant clog-dance, what I saw was a lion dance! With those enthusiastic guys leaping all over each other, doing the rolls, and having a grand time with the lions. That was really fun to watch. I also really liked this girl with her sword dance from a lotus blossom. Finally, the Emperor got up and danced with his Empress, and Dad said, "Now that's a very modern Emperor if he dances where people can see it." I liked that.

They also brought a world-renowned pi sho player. The pi sho is a blown instrument like pan pipes, and there was a piece created during the Tang Dynasty in honor of the aureole bird. That was pretty amazing, as the pi sho player could emulate the aureole calls exactly. Though with amplification, it got to be pretty piercing. But he ended with dozens of calls as his finale, along with a video of real aureoles calling. Wow.

The City Wall at Night
While we were filing out, Dad was talking about some of his past decisions about jobs he'd taken or hadn't taken, and it amused me to find out that there was a time, after he'd worked for IBM in Poughkeepsie, NY, that he might have taken a job in North Carolina.

So I might have grown up with a North Carolinian accent! *grins*

This is one of the main gates of the City Wall of Xi'an at night. They really lit it up. I was surprised, while I was doing all the searches of the Temple of Heaven, to find out that they light it up at night, too! I was impressed by the color matches, but a lot of the historical buildings here seem to get this treatement.

I'm not exactly sure what I think of it, but I will admit to being surprised. Though, I have to admit that they do light up the Denver Capitol pretty brightly around Christmas. *laughs*

Next Entry >
Tags: ,
This is amazing. I envy you your view of the warriors, I envy you your dumpling feast, I envy you your Tang dinner show. What a wonderful day!

Also didn't know that the warriors had been deliberately smashed. I assumed it was just earth caving in that did it. My sensibilities, honed on ancient Egyptian practices, say 'You smash all those statues and don't loot the tomb? What's the point of that?'
Yes, a wonderful day. *sighs happily* Thank you!!

I love your Egyptian sensibilities!!

The tomb was more than a mile and a half away... and they looted all the weapons they could get. The tomb itself... it really is like the Egyptian tombs with curses, rivers of mercury, traps and poisons galore as well. The myths are numerous and there might be something to them as no one has gotten TO Qin's tomb... yet.

Edited at 2013-07-08 04:15 am (UTC)
D'ohh. Heat-fuzz, hadn't registered that the statues were holding real weapons. Yeah, you'd want you some of those.

I vaguely recall that lake of mercury or whatever it was. Does mercury ever go inert?
It never stops being poisonous, so far as I know. There's also the whole problem of the fact that the warriors first came out of the ground with colors, and they faded within eight hours of being excavated, so if they dig up Qin himself, they really want to have the technology to preserve what they find.

Yeah! I had no idea they had weapons, either! And bronze ones with the hardness of tempered steel... which were then plated in chrome of all things.

It just fascinates me.