Ancient City Gates, Xian, ChinaThis is a look at a trip from the past, China in 1995, when we visited Shanghai, Beijing, and Xian. Although many things have changed in China since then, the terracotta soldiers in Xian remain one of China’s most memorable sights. Here is my diary account of our visit in the summer of 1995, beginning with our flight to Xian from Beijing.
I had a window seat on the plane. It was a clear day. We crossed a low mountain range and then flew over a broad plain of brown fields. When we emerged from the airport in Xian, it was like walking into an oven– 100 degrees Fahrenheit and no humidity. The airport is an hour’s drive from the city. We passed endless flat fields punctuated by grave markers of ancient emperors.
Our hotel, the Jinjiang, was next to the zoo on the northeast side of the city. For supper we ate at a Chinese restaurant in the hotel where a woman was playing a zither-like instrument. In the morning, we had a Western style breakfast. The dining room was filled with a busload of Swedish folk dancers on tour.
Terracotta Soldiers, Xian, China from the Qin Dynasty, 3rd Century BCWe left at 8:30 for the terracotta warriors–located about 30 km outside the city. They had been discovered in 1974 by farmers digging a well. The weather was overcast and somewhat cooler than the day before. Because of construction on the main road, we drove along a bumpy narrow road through pomegranate groves and got to the museum by the back way. At the site (flanked by numerous souvenir stands) there were three main buildings–#1 with the vast army; #2 where archeologists were currently digging (not included on our tour); and #3 which showed a partially excavated site. Although photos are strictly forbidden, one could pay 150 yuan (about 20 dollars) to be photographed in front of the soldiers so we did one group photo that was delivered to our hotel that night. One can also purchase photos. Our last stop was a museum of weapons (still razor sharp because of their advanced knowledge of metallurgy) and miniature 3-D displays of how the terracotta figures were made.
Museum model showing how terracotta figures were paintedAfter lunch we drove to the Banpo museum to see the excavation of a Neolithic village 5000 years old. While we were at the museum it started to rain (although only for 10-15 minutes), cooling the air somewhat. The whole region was suffering from drought. Most fields around Xian were bare and one quarter of the city was virtually without water. Our guide was staying in the hotel because he had no water at home in which to bathe.
Weaving Silk Rugs, Xian, ChinaWe then went to a jade “factory” cum souvenir shop where we watched women making silk rugs. After that we proceeded to the Provincial Museum, a huge modern structure filled with sculptures, ceramics, and other historical items. The following morning we visited the old city gate and wall, where we climbed to the top for the view. Buildings on top of the gate had been used to house the garrison guarding the entrance to the city. (The city walls date from the time Xian was the capital city of China, between the sixth to tenth centuries AD.) To enter the city one had to go through one gate to an inner courtyard and then another gate to the city. If an enemy came through the first door, the gate could be closed and soldiers could shoot down on them from the walls above. The watch towers along the wall were set to be an arrow’s shot distance apart. A moat also surrounded the city.
Wild Goose Pagoda, Xian, ChinaWe then went to the Wild Goose pagoda, another Buddhist temple, and after that to a lacquer factory. We then had lunch and headed for the airport. We had had a full two days in the ancient capital.
Note: Since our visit to Xian in 1995 we’ve seen two excellent traveling exhibitions of the Terracotta soldiers at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California. I’d love to go back to China someday and see them again in their original home.