Xian

(Pronounced SHEE-AHN)

Known in former times as CHANG’AN, this city served as the capital of ancient and medieval China for 1000 years. Though it may be old, it is not, in this writer’s opinion, very interesting, and could easily be eliminated on a China tour except for one thing…THOSE INCREDIBLE TERRA COTTA FIGURES. They, alone, just may be reason enough to visit China in the first place. Because Xian is old, it has the usual city wall surrounding it, but the wall is more or less intact. The city is also very dirty, even by Chinese standards, and the downtown section is surprisingly modern. Since the discovery of those Terra Cotta figures, Xian has begun to enjoy its new success and has become very commercial to the point of being the “rip off” capital of China.

THE BELL TOWER: This is often used as the symbol for the city and was built in 1384. It is 117 feet high and occupies over 10,000 square feet. On the north side of the balcony, there is an iron bell weighing 2 1/2 tons. Next to the Bell Tower is THE DRUM TOWER, which is of similar construction. It was built under the Ming in 13/5.

NEOLITHIC SITE AT BAN PO VILLAGE: This Neolithic site, which was an early matriarchal society was discovered in 1953. Excavation was completed in 1953 and a museum was built over “the digs”, here you will see some of the foundations of early houses, pieces of pottery, and tools. It takes a lot of imagination to actually picture it. Basically, it looks like a huge section of grass-less earth with some holes in it. As an added touch, the Chinese erected a huge granite statue of a woman with bare breasts who stands at the front of the museum. A modern touch that seems very out of character. Recommendation: Unless you really understand archeology, you’ll find it more interesting to stand outside in the courtyard/gardens and deal with the vendors. (The excavated village dates from B.C. 6080).

BIG WILD GOOSE PAGODA: This pagoda, built of brick, was originally 5 stories high, but cracked a short time after it was constructed. During restoration, two more stories were added. Today, it is 225 feet high, with 4 arched doors leading to the interior. Wooden staircases allow access to the various levels, and there are nice views of the town from the terraces. In the courtyard is THE TEMPLE OF GOOD WILL, completed in A.D.652. The first temple here houses 3 statues of Buddha. The next temple houses a gilt bronze Buddha and is much more impressive. The reason for the name “Big Wild Goose” is unknown.

LITTLE WILD GOOSE PAGODA: This pagoda was built in A.D.707 to house the writings of Buddha. Originally, it was 15 stories high, but was severely damaged in a series of earthquakes. During one of those quakes, the top two stories fell off and were not replaced during restoration.

TERRA COTTA FACTORY: Here one can see how the copies of the life-size figures are made…supposedly like the originals.

CLOISONNE FACTORY: This might be another factory you’ll visit. If you don’t know how Cloisonné pieces are made, you’ll find it very interesting. You’ll be able to look over the shoulders of the young ladies at they begin with a brass pot…glue on raised brass designs…fill the raised designs with enamel paint… and finally fire the piece. NATURALLY, there will be a shop here where you can buy the finished pieces. Because Xian is a “rip-off”, the prices will be higher than you can buy them elsewhere.

HOT SPRINGS OF HUA QING PALACE: This is a lovely garden outside the city, which was constructed by the Emperor Xuan Zong. It’s a favorite spot for the Chinese…and is typical of many gardens with water, pavilions, walks, etc. It has another claim to fame. Here is where General Chiang Kaishek was held prisoner in an unsuccessful attempt to get him to form a united front with Mao Zedong during World War II. The general managed to escape in such a hurry that he left his false teeth on the stand beside his bed. The Hua Qing Hot Springs has served as a resort for Emperors for over 3000 years.

FRIENDSHIP STORE ACROSS THE HIGHWAY FROM HUA QING HOT SPRINGS: After visiting the Hot Springs, you might be given an opportunity to visit this “Friendship Store” for shopping. It is my un-substantiated belief that this is not really an AUTHORIZED Friendship Store, and that the merchandise is not top quality. Among the items you’ll see everyone scrambling to buy are copies of the famous “terra cotta figures” that your tour is destined to see later in the day. These copies are NOT as good as the ones in the museum at the actual spot. The finish even comes off on your hands. But your local guide will be in no hurry for you to leave here. There are also vendors on the highway selling similar items…VERY CHEAPLY. You will be told that THEY are inferior.

THE TOMB OF QIN SHI HUANG DI: After leaving the Friendship Store, you’ll pass the tomb. Hopefully you’ll be able to stop. It’s only a few miles from the Hot Springs. This emperor began to build his tomb at the beginning of his reign (B.C.211-209), and thousands labored to complete it before his death. After completion, it was covered over with earth and planted with grass to make the tomb resemble a hill. Records indicate that all who worked on the tomb were buried alive so that they could not reveal the secrets of the design. If you only drive by the tomb, you’ll be able to see a surrounding wall with an open gate…and the mound that is the actual tomb. It has not been opened. It is believed that the tomb was looted shortly after the emperor’s death.

FUNERAL VAULTS OF QIN SHI HUANG DI (TERRA COTTA FIGURES): This is one of the greatest archeological finds in the world, and was discovered accidentally in 1974 when an UNKNOWN farmer was digging in the area. What he found was a life size head, made of clay, of an early warrior. Shortly afterwards, his discovery became known to the world and the first “digs” began. What has been uncovered SO FAR are over 6,000 life-size figures, lined-up, in battle order, rank by rank, along with horses and carts. The figures represent individuals of the Imperial Guard and each has a different expression and costume. NO TWO ARE ALIKE! Originally, they were planned as part of the Emperor’s Tomb and were housed in a wooden structure with a wooden roof. At some unknown time, the building caught fire, and the burning roof fell on the figures, burning them black in the process, as well as all the swords and chariots which were made of wood. Before the fire, all the figures were painted in natural colors. Now they are black and/or reddish from being buried in the red clay soil. Shortly after serious excavation got underway, a structure was built over the area, and the world began to beat a path to Xian, to see these figures made of clay.

When you enter the courtyard, you’ll be facing the curved structure over the “digs”. To your left will be a special museum, which you’ll probably see first. To your right will be another small museum which houses 9 of the original figures and 1 horse, along with photos of the early excavations. That museum on your left is a must. Housed here are two bronze pieces, which were discovered near the terra cotta figures. They are about 1/4 life size and represent 2 chariots, each pulled by 4 horses, and THEY ARE EXQUISITE! The first chariot is driven by a “guardian” who clears the path for the second chariot, which contains the “soul” of the emperor. Both chariots are beautifully displayed in this new museum. Do notice the photographs on the wall, which show the process necessary to re-assemble these bronze treasures. After this museum, if you can wait, I strongly recommend that you go to the museum on your right and see some of the original life-size figures up close. Study the details so you’ll be better prepared when you encounter the vast army.

Now, go to the main building where the digging still continues. Upon entering this great hall, walk to the edge of the “balcony” and BEHOLD THE GREAT ARMY OF TERRA COTTA WARRIORS. That first glance will leave you totally speechless. You will look down on the warriors, because they have been buried due to soil build-up and that earlier fire. Now you can walk all around the outer edges of the excavations…and across one section in the middle. Here, in the middle, you’ll be able to see some figures and horses that are still partially buried…and where archeologists continue their work. ONE CANNOT COMPREHEND THE TOTAL SCENE. And, as if this weren’t enough, archeologists have now discovered two more nearby areas where they expect to find as many, if not more, of the same type of soldiers.

And that unknown farmer who made this fantastic discovery? Under Communism, everything belongs to the people. Therefore his name was “unimportant” and was never recorded. He received no individual reward, but the entire city of Xian was given the right to sell their products freely.