Local Color: If you plan to go
Xian is a modern city with several other attractions: Dayan Pagoda (better known as Big Wild Goose Pagoda); Banpo Village Museum, featuring dances and a reenactment of village life; the largest and best-preserved Moslem Mosque in China; and Nine Dragons Hot Spring at Huaqing, an hours drive.
The city is a stop on several 2008 Olympic packages from Beijing and is featured on itineraries for most wholesalers selling China tours.
Asia Classic Tours has a 13-day Beijing/Xian/Guilan/Shanghai tour at $1,899. Call (800) 717-7752 or visit www.asiaclassictours.com.
Pacific Delight World Tours includes Xian in its 14-day Imperial Experience tour that cruises the Yangtze, starting at $2,899 land/air. Call (800) 221-7179 or visit www.pacificdelighttours.com.
XIAN, China --
Xian, just over an hours flight from Beijing, was the cradle of
ancient Chinese civilization and the capital city for 11 dynasties.
Its where the Silk Road begins. A massive wall and moat surrounding
the inner city serve as monuments to the importance of Xian in
The discovery of
the bing ma yong, the terra-cotta warriors, in March 1974,
transformed this 3,000-year-old city, which today has a population
about that of Singapore, into one of the four most important cities
for tourism in the Peoples Republic of China, taking its place
alongside Beijing, Shanghai and Guilin.
The story of the
clay figures -- more than 8,000 horses and soldiers with bronze
weapons --, and how they were placed in the mausoleum with a dead
Qin dynasty emperor as troops at his command, and how they were
unearthed by farmers sinking wells during a drought 2,200 years
later, is an amazing tale no matter how often its been
News of the
discovery reached the local government, and archaeologists arrived
at the site within four months to begin the dig. With the
excavation of the first of three pits, this one containing some
1,000 warriors and horses, that portion of the site was opened to
Since then, more
than 50,000 historical and cultural relics have been uncovered. In
1980, a bronze carriage trimmed in gold and silver and drawn by two
horses emerged. In 1991, during roadway excavation for a new
airport, another burial ground turned up. It contained figures that
stand only about 25 inches, with heads the size of a fist. They,
too, were made of clay, but with wooden arms. The clay
disintegrated, causing the arms to fall off.
workers expect to have the figures ready for viewing by 2013 at the
Terra Cotta Museum, which was built in Xian in 1994 and is said to
be the largest on-site museum in China.
terra-cotta warriors, up close
I visited Xian
recently. In the first of three excavation hangars appeared a
dazzling sight: row upon row of life-like figures standing at
attention, a thousand in all, no two alike. All were in need of
repair. The sight defies any pictures Id seen of the terra-cotta
Three vaults of a
total 86 are open to the public. (Vault is another name for the
actual pits and hangars that house the statues and reconstruction
work.) A viewing platform, a little wider than a catwalk, overlooks
each deep pit where restored figures are lined up in sunken rows.
Working assemblage areas are off to one side or in the rear. Each
hangar has an unobstructed view.
Vault One, by far
the largest, displays more than 1,000 life-size soldiers, war
chariots and horses. Vault Two, less than half the size of Vault
One, contains 1,300 soldiers and horses, plus 89 war chariots. In
Vault Three, the smallest, 68 warriors stand at attention alongside
one war chariot and four horses.
infantrymen and cavalrymen are distinguishable by dress according
to their rank or station in life. Some were generals or middle- to
lower-ranking officers, and some were ordinary soldiers or armored
warriors. Uniforms distinguish the higher ranks, while headgear
determines the regular folks. Most soldiers have a protruding
topknot hairdo, while peons wear a square scarf or a cylindrical or
sheer size reminds one of how painstaking is the restoration work
under way to complete these figures. Each has been reconstructed
from hundreds of smashed pieces. Clay remnants of the terra-cotta
warriors are infected with eleven different types of molds, and
Chinese archaeologists are knowledgeable in removing only eight of
them. So help with preservation problems was solicited from Italy
and other countries that have had experience with similar
hands with farmer Yong
The complex also
houses a cafeteria-style restaurant and a gift shop. In the gift
shop, I shook hands with a man called Yong.
I was told that
Yong is one of the three farm brothers who discovered the relics.
His age seemed to fit.
Now retired, Yong
appears a few days a week to sign books, shake hands and be
photographed with purchasers -- at the governments request. Its
interesting that the literal English translation for bing ma yong
is soldier horseman.
the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].