Friday, March 16, 2012

秦陵兵马俑 Qínlíng Bīngmǎyǒng Terracotta Warriors and Horses

Meals in China excite the senses, and I doubled up for breakfast—a noodle-stuffed homemade bun plus deep-fried bread crammed full of noodles beans and lotus root.  Lotus root resembles a giant pickled watercress.  We would need fortitude today, because we were going to face off an army of terracotta warriors.

Our bus ride to the terracotta warriors offered us our first full glimpse of Xi’an, and for me and Kelly, our first true gulp of China.  That gulp, of course, was fully flavored, since the smog from unseen factories belches its sickening intestines into the already thick air.  Our driver, Mr. Chen, led us on an exciting drive that resembled a mix of dodge-ball, chicken and an obstacle course.  China is a world of paradoxes, a true clash of classes, insomuch that beautiful, well groomed parks lie millimeters away from trash heaps.  In the midst of construction stretches rice paddies.  The push to build rushes the landscape to a cacophonous chaos; all around is a constant churning of movement and silent upheaval.

When we arrived at the burial ground of the famed terracotta warriors, Xiaolan informed us that our connections had given us VIP status—always nice to hear.  Our van quickly bypassed the main gate with its huddled masses of common-folk and drove directly into the compound.  Before us stretched Pit One, the site of the most impressive army of terracotta warriors, conscripted to protect the emperor in his afterlife.  The design of such works of art itself must have required an army of artisans.  Each face is slightly different, giving each figure its own character.  Some archeologists theorize that two artisans worked together, each copying the other’s faces.

The terracotta army, as it appeared prior to excavation

The terracotta warriors—known in Chinese as the 马俑 (Bīngmǎyǒng) or warrior-horse-statues—were found beneath a wooded mound-apparently designed to blend in with the surrounding hills.

We walked through the main door of Pit One, joining the multi-national multitudes to stare across the field of upright soldiers.  Our English guide and Xiaolan rushed us along; our apparent VIP status did not afford us the luxury of long contemplation.

Although the warriors and horses were discovered in 1974, they are still very much an archaeological "work in progress" 

When the warriors were discovered, most were found in ruin, shattered in pieces by an unknown destroyer.  However, their feet were still set in the obvious rows, thus allowing the archaeologists to piece together the artifacts that we were observing.
These high ranking headless officers may have been the head-men of the immobile army
We journeyed on to Pit Two, the smallest of the three pits.  Apparently this was headquarters to the underground army, since here were buried the high ranking officers.  It is hard to imagine that these are merely representations of beings and not the very beings themselves.  Archaeologists have studied the bones of real warriors of the time and found that these terracotta imitations are truly larger-than-life, made, likely by the emperor’s decree, to be somewhat larger than the average person.

From Pit Two, we made our way to Pit Three, an archeological dig in the works.  It is estimated that there are still possibly a thousand unearthed terracotta warriors buried in this pit.  However, our tour guide informed us that archeologists are awaiting better technology before they begin work on this pit.

After the massive pits, we were led to the reduced-sized versions of horse drawn chariots.  Each chariot is drawn by four horses, these smaller versions imitate the larger ones found with their counterparts in the other pits.
This lucky archer apparently looks like Shaanxi province.  Obviously Italy and Michigan don't have a monopoly on object-resemblance.

Our visit to the terracotta warriors was complete with a gift shop, selling all sizes of figures.  We purchased my personal favorite—the archer.  The archer is “very lucky”, we were told, but, beyond luck, it cuts an interesting figure, replete with detailed buttons.  Additionally, the shape of the archer is said to resemble Shaanxi province…of which Xi’an is the capital.

Xiaolan had called reservations for a posh restaurant, and to find it meant almost driving down the steps of the entrance way and the wrong way on one-way streets.  We, of course, knew nothing about the reservations.  Our purpose in life so far has been to follow, generally just a nose-breadth into the future, so we were surprised when we walked through the restaurant doors.  An enormous chandelier dangled from the ceiling and the three women at the front desk wore elegant red evening dresses that clashed harshly with our grubby excursion outfits.  We were lucky, however…no foreigners allowed.  Of course, my pride was hurt, after a brief taste of what the meal might have been, to have been turned away simply because of my nationality.  Nonetheless, driver Chen saved the day by suggesting another restaurant that served us a feast just the same (cf. ).

Thus, ended a week-long morning.  Now we could finally say that we had arrived in Xi’an. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the history lesson. I had seen pictures on the internet of those soldiers and read a little about them.. Sounds like you are having a very interesting time.

    Bruce Keever