Monday, June 26, 2006
Monday morning we flew from Chengdu to the ancient imperial capital of Xian, home of the most startling archeological discoveries of the last thirty years. Xian is most famous for its excavated "terracotta army" of soldiers buried to defend the Emperor Qin in the afterlife. Two thousand of an estimated 6000 warriors have been unearthed and painstakingly reassembled, having been smashed by a peasant uprising the year after Qin's death in 210 B.C.E.
The Chinese are intensely proud of this discovery, and have obviously devoted enormous resources to the site. They are proceeding with all deliberate speed; having decided that the technology does not exist today for the adequate preservation of the emperor's actual tomb, they do not expect to excavate that core area for generations. They have also deliberately slowed the recovery of the infantrymen, archers, officers, and chariotmen until they can perfect a compound to preserve the original colors (which fade quickly to brown when exposed to the air). Nevertheless, the terracotta army at Xian is one of China's "must see" destinations. Pictures from the vast "Pit 1" follow:
The terracotta soldiers had real weapons, but most of them were looted by the revolting peasants who trashed the tomb. The result is that the soldiers are strangely posed as if bearing arms -- sort of like boys who play "air ninja" in the living room. The picture below is of an archer, sans crossbow:
Twenty years ago, the Chinese could not be bothered with tourism. You could barely get the unreconstructed Commies of that era to rent you a hotel room. Today, they have embraced every technique for separating a fool from his money that P.T. Barnum might have imagined, and then some. Before the visit to the archeological site, for example, the tours take you through a factory where they make souvenir terracotta soldiers of all sizes, from teensy-weensy pocket-sized versions all the way up to full-sized replicas that you can order shipped to straight to your backyard in New Jersey. All-in price of a big one: less than $1500, including the shipping, tax and insurance. It occurred to me that a wealthy practical jokester would ship these unbidden to his friends around the United States -- imagine answering the door to find a huge crate with a terracotta charioteer on your front stoop.
Anyway, the souvenir terracotta factory includes a goofy cut-out for photographs in the front...
...and then the bastards trap you by inviting your kids to "make a terracotta soldier."
Naturally, we now own a couple of small, desk-sized terracotta soldiers, plus a couple of carved dragons, some colorful tiles and a couple of silk thingys.
On to Beijing tomorrow.