Friday, August 28, 2009


as asked by not one but two of my offspring.: ...”What are the Terracotta Warriors made of?” Answers please on the back of a postcard.

Xian is a city with a population of about 8 million people. It is also undergoing massive reconstruction, and much of this is due to it being the location of the Terracotta Army. What I had not known previously was that Xian – historically known as Cháng'ān was the capital of China for over a thousand years including the duration of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618 – 907). (I can’t help myself with the historical details – I blame my education.) Because of this it is an archeologist’s paradise. As you drive from the airport to the city there are burial mounds in every direction – emperors, empresses, princes, princesses, concubines, rich courtiers....

A word now in praise of A&K. When one sees the word ‘Museum’ crop up on ones itinerary it isn’t guaranteed to gladden the heart, even with an old foggie like me – but we visited four museums in the 48 hours we spent in Xian and every visit was superb. Basically our guide in the city made sure we saw the highlights including this lady – one of 13 ‘Fat ladies’.

The porcelain we saw was simply astonishing in that it looked exactly like the kind of things up market stores like Heals and Harrods would sell today – simple, classic designs – yet they were 1500 years old.

It would be an unusual visitor to Xian however who did not come away saying that the visit to the Terracotta Warriors was not the highlight of their stay there. Reidski and I did go to the exhibition in the British Museum last year, but nothing could ever prepare you for the first site of 1200 of these unearthed warriors in row after row, there to defend the Emperor Qin Shi (BC 221-210) throughout his afterlife. I deliberately avoided looking until such time as I was stood right at the front and would have a clear view of them. I nearly collapsed when I did focus upon them.

Qin must have been truly remarkable. He was the first Emperor to unify China- and lets not forget just how fucking big China is. How would one even start to unify an area that huge even with the communications and transport systems we have today? He standardized money, as well as weights and measures, and he began the construction of the Great Wall...not personally like – he had many thousands of minions to do that – even after he had set many other thousands of minions to work on his tomb.

For those who don’t know the story of the discovery of the warriors in 1974 9 farmers were digging a well when about 12 feet down they discovered a sizable chunk of one. They took it along to the museum and – not unusually Xian being the aforementioned archeologist’s paradise, there was a visiting archeologist there who was intrigued enough by this particular find to go back to the area and start digging. Thus began the unearthing of what they believe will total an army of 8,000 warriors by the time they have finished. I should say – by the time they have finished digging that particular section. Qin’s tomb is over a kilometer away. He was preparing everything he would need in his afterlife and so far they haven’t found a single woman. Even in the event that Qin was a confirmed bachelor he would need them for the cleaning – there is so much more to be found – let alone what will be in his tomb itself. Scripts that have been unearthed talk of rivers made of mercury and stars made of diamonds and pearls. I really hope I live long enough to hear what is actually in there.

Incidentally, if the farmers had dug one metre to the east they would not have found anything. They just happened to come across a warrior in the very front row, and in the left hand corner.

The museum, very sensibly, is built on the site of the discoveries. The Chinese seem to do this quite a lot – another museum we visited in Xian (The Hanyangling Museum) is actually underground so you walk alongside the treasures from an emperor’s tomb at the level they were discovered...over 3,000 of those thus far!

Millions of people have visited Xian since the Warriors were discovered, and so it was interesting to learn that the 9 farmers received $400 in recognition of their find – between them. This was after all Communist China and everyone had the same income. However, as they saw the area transformed financially because of their find they went back to the authorities and argued they should be entitled to more. That argument ran and ran. Following the death of Mao though a deal was reached whereby the farmers take turns in the museum gift shop (home of the £12 fridge magnet) and sign the guide book. For doing this they get a percentage of each book sold. There are only four of them left alive now.

The museum gift shop also sells, in addition to signed guide books and vastly overpriced fridge magnets, life size terracotta warriors. Some of these (my children please take note) are made from terracotta. Some are made in solid jade. “Who in their right mind? “we wondered, “would buy one of them?” This question was partially answered on our return to England. My car was at the home of or friend who funded this trip. She lives in Loughton, Essex. As we drove in our mini bus down her road I saw a terracotta warrior in her neighbour’s driveway. No one believed me so we had to reverse and have a proper look, but sure enough, just round the bend from where Anne lives someone who may or may not be in their right mind, has a life sized terracotta warrior in their front garden. There truly is ‘Nowt so queer as folk.'


Yorkshire Pudding said...

You're right there is nowt so queer as folk! And may I say that I take exception to your sexist remark that the emperor would need women in the after life to do all his cleaning! After all, women have at least two other uses.
Sounds like a brilliant experience and I am amazed that there could yet be other jawdropping archaeological discoveries in the Xian region.

jay said...

Oh, wow .. you have to tell me what road that is, in Loughton! Next time we find ourselves down there I must go and see if I can find it! LOL!

Seriously, I have never, ever had the slightest urge to visit China, but if I did, and if I could only see one thing, I think the Terracotta Army would be it. It really must be quite awesome, in the true sense of the word.

Jennyta said...

I've never particularly wanted to go to China either but if ever I did, I would love to see the Terracotta Army. Enjoy the rest of your trip. It sounds brilliant.

naldo said...

Sounds flippin amazin, ta for all those historical bits.

What's China like for veggie friendly scran?

J.J said...

YP - I am an unreconstructed sexist me ;-)

Jay - St John's Road!

Jay and Jenny - I have to be honest and say that China was not ever somewhere I had thought of going, but having now been I just have to tell everyone - Go to China! It was simply magical, endlessly fascinating, and I loved every minute (even the day in Chongqing!)

Ah Naldo - bad news there as the Chinese can not get their heads around veggies at all. It is a cultural thing around no meat meaning poverty. You would be fine - so long as you like pak choi which is the Chinese equivalent of frozen peas and turned up at every meal we had. It would be like going to France as a veggie in the 1970's - dull on the culinary front.