4.30am wake up call. Ouch and very unhelpful while dealing with jet lag. Breakfast in a box on the bus to Beijing airport. HB joked that it would be ham sandwiches, and lo and behold it was: ham and cheese sandwich and a boiled egg – a Chinese view of what westerners eat. Quick bus journey and we were soon headed on a plane for Xi’an a couple of hours west of Beijing in Shaanxi province. The flight to Xi’an took us out over the mountains; another endless great expanse. You really start to feel the vastness of the country and understand how it affects the whole psychology of the people of China. The final descent into Xi’an was very impressive – views over paddy fields and open countryside. We were picked up by a new tour guide for the airport, who was funny and very knowledgable about the city. He was happy to discuss ancient history and switch to modern economics as we passed one of the seven power stations in the city. 9m people and Pollution count of 170; the smog was obvious and unpleasant.
First stop straight from the airport was the Terracotta Army, one of the things I’ve always wanted to see. Our guide told us of the history of the very first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, who was the first man to unify China and end a long period of war. He was crowned (?) at 13, and already fearful of the afterlife, ordered work to begin on his tomb. The museum was amazing and very well done, showing the archeological work which has been done on preserving and restoring the parts of the huge site which have been excavated so far. Words cannot describe it and pictures do no justice to the endless rows and rows of ceramic warriors and horses which stand guard of the body of Emperor Qin.
The tomb of Emperor Qin itself has not been opened, officials waiting for a time when China has the technology to preserve the grave goods know to be inside – apparently worth some significant % of China’s GDP. More evidence of the incredible Chinese long term view – this would be unheard of in the UK. The army was found by a farmer a few km from the hill where the tomb is thought to be. They are buried in long rows and were original,y positioned in long corridors with a wooden roof structure over them. Unfortunately, two years after the death of Emperor Qin at 50 years old, a peasant revolt saw the whole lot burned down, collapsing the roof onto the heads of the standing soldiers. This crushed many of the Warriors, and over the last 40 years, each man and horse has been reconstructed piece by piece. Only a few thousand left to do…
Each of the soldiers faces are different, and very realistic, based upon the different ethnic groups present in Qin’s army at the time. I had heard that the potters of the time are likely have been influenced by Greek portraiture as this type of realism in ceramics hadn’t been seen before in Chinese art. So incredible, and somewhat creepy. This army would scare anyone, even from the afterlife.
After the museum we went on to the Winter Palace, built for the Lady Yang during the Tang Dynasty. She was a concubine of one of the Tang Dynasty emperors, apparently famous for being very beautiful and a bit plump. The palace was destroyed many centuries ago, and rebuilt completely in 1980. It gave us a rather odd feeling wandering around a reconstruction, which was only casually dropped into conversation by the tour guide. The Lady Yang Wei Fei had some fascinating stories associated with her, including a meteoric rise up the ranks of the concubines from 7th level to 1st level in two years. Complicated business all these concubines and wives.
After the palace we went to dinner and then out for a walk near our hotel. We accidentally happened upon an amazing night Market – feeling like a glimpse into real China at last. Amazing Street food – meat or chilli tofu skewers, twirly bread sticks, flower pepper peanuts, pomegranates, watermelons, fried noodles as well as stalls of random stuff from beads to socks to iPhones.