Yangshou to Xi’an was quite the contrast. Both are tourist destinations, but for very different reasons.
The terracotta army was fascinating. Three pieces of the puzzle that surprised me:
1. When you see photos of the lines upon lines of soldiers, what’s often left out is that these clay statues occupy about the first 20 yards of an excavation pit the size of a football field. The number of soldiers is often put above 6,000, but I’d guess that only a few hundred are on display. The other 75% of the space is still largely unexcavated – and at the pace their moving it could be generations before they’re complete.
2. The emperor’s tomb has never officially been excavated. The whole point of this massive army was to guard him into the afterlife. The story we heard is that he also wished to be buried in a beautiful landscape, with rivers that shimmered and all the rest. Apparently those shimmering rivers were comprised of mercury and the actual tomb is a toxic dump. We also heard that the emperor may well have killed himself ingesting mercury pills. Crazy to think that the same guy that built us the Great Wall and the terracotta warriors poisoned himself by age 50.
3. Upon the emperor’s death there was a massive uprising and many statues were knocked over or damaged by fire. Fortunately it seems that none of these pissed off peasants wanted a life-sized clay soldier as a keepsake.
Lastly, again there was the issue of not quite understanding how much of the display had been reconstructed. All of the partially excavated statues we saw were in shambles – many broken into dozens of smaller pieces. At the back of the main pit is an active dig site and you can watch soldiers get reconstructed from the found fragments. To my untrained eye, the soldiers that they’ve reassembled look identical to those featured in the front of the pit. Again, I don’t know why, but I want to know what’s truly original and what’s an attempt to recreate the past.
I’ve been meaning to look for a good article on these statues – I’m sure there’s a debate among archaeologists over how best to preserve and display such relics. I think there’s a reason why you don’t see Greek statues with newly mounted arms on display in The Met.
The other highlight of Xi’an was the Muslim Street. Great string of vendors selling all sorts of nuts, dried fruits, fried everything, and noodles. We watched a guy slapping around some big noodles – I believe the name was Bien Bien Mien – which were as delicious as they were entertaining.
I’m behind. Since leaving Xi’an we spent four days in Beijing, then my parents and Carrie flew home and Mike and I flew south to Yunnan province. We did three days hiking through the Tiger Leaping Gorge and today we’re headed to Dali. Dali sounds like a backpackers paradise – with an American diner and all – which I’m very much ok with at this point.