After our short stay in Taiyuan we took an overnight train to Xian. For many of us, it was our first time sleeping on a train and we were surprised to find what a pleasant experience it was. We played cards, read, snacked and slept while the train took us south to the city of the Terracotta soldiers.
Xian is most well known for the Terracotta soldiers, but in fact it is a culturally important city in China for many other reasons. For instance, Xian was the capital of China for several hundred years, during some of the most important dynasties in Chinese history. The city was also the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. Today, it is one of the few economically-booming cities in the Western interior of China. With a population of about eight million, it is much smaller than Beijing or Shanghai (the two other large cities that we visited) and thus, more accessible than either city.
We were fortunate enough to stay inside of the city wall, a remnant from the imperial capital era. This arrangement allowed many of us to experience the city on foot and even bicycle. Some students accompanied professor Benard on a bicycle tour on top of the city wall! My favorite part of the city was the Islamic quarter, an enormous area where Muslim Chinese sell delicious foods and sweets along with local handcrafts. In one night, several of us ate spicy noodles, fried green onion pancakes, beef noodles on a stick, garlic flatbread, spun sugar and gelatinous bean paste treats, all for a few bucks each. So delicious!
Despite the thrills offered in the city, perhaps the most awe-inspiring part of our visit to Xian was visiting the museum of the Terracotta soldiers and horses. The army of over 8,000 life-size, individualized soldiers, in addition to 500 horses and 130 chariots, dates back to 210 BC. The clay figures were constructed as part of China’s first emperor’s tomb and together with the other parts of his tomb took 700,000 workers several decades to complete. I was not surprised to learn this same emperor, of the Qin dynasty, was responsible for the construction of the Great Wall as well. However, unlike the great wall, the tomb was buried and left undiscovered until 1976 when a farmer digging a well stumbled upon it. The Terracotta army was constructed solely for the purpose of “protecting” the Emperor in his afterlife. Thus, upon visiting this site I was perhaps equally impressed as depressed, that one man, in his preoccupation with death could command so many people’s artistic work and labor. Nonetheless, it was quite incredible to witness such a feat, preserved to such a great extent for over 2,000 years.
(Pictures coming soon)
(Article by Jessica)