Xi’an and the Terracotta Army

Twenty-four days out of  Qingdao here is my current position in China:

I finally rolled into the ancient and culturally important city of Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province. Called Chang’an in ancient times, Xi’an is one of the birthplaces of ancient civilizations in the Yellow River Basin area of the country. During Xi’an’s  three thousand year history, 13 dynasties placed their capitals here.  Xi’an must be considered as one of the great ancient capitals in world history, along with Athens, Cairo, and Rome.

In 221 BC Qin Shi Huangdi waged war on all his neighbors, and kept winning, so that eventually he unified China for the first time, and launched the Qin dynasty. China would have emperors, on and off, for the next 2000 years.

 Qin Shi Huangdi imposed the Qin state’s centralized, aristocratic system on his new empire. Centralization, achieved by ruthless methods, was focused on standardizing writing and currency, legal codes and administrative procedures. The Qin script characters became the standard language for the entire empire. The length of the wheel axle was also unified and roads standardized to ease transportation throughout the country. To silence criticism of imperial rule, the emperor banished or put to death many dissenting Confucian scholars and confiscated and burned their books. This centralized mentality would carry over into successive dynasties, and its influence is still felt today.

To prevent future uprisings, Qin Shi Huangdi ordered the confiscation of weapons. A national conscription was implemented. To fend off a barbarian intrusion, a great wall was built, which is usually recognized as the first Great Wall of China, although the present, 4,856- kilometer-long Great Wall of China was largely built during the Ming Dynasty. A number of public works projects, including canals and bridges, were also undertaken to consolidate and strengthen imperial rule.

Qin also commissioned a lavish tomb to ensure his comfort in the afterlife. At 50 square km, it is the largest tomb in the world. It took 750,000 workers 40 years to build it. Now isn’t that just a little egoistic even for an emperor? And that’s not all: An army of life-sized terra-cotta warriors, numbering 8000, were built to protect him in the afterlife. He was one crazy dude.

The terracotta figures, dating from 210 BC, were discovered in 1974 by several local farmers.  The figures are made of a type of ceramic and include warriors, chariots, horses, officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians. In addition to the 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses were also created, the majority still buried in the pits. No two are alike and they are said to be modeled after actual soldiers of the time. Pretty cool stuff.

The head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Studies show that eight face moulds were most likely used and then the clay was added to give them individual facial features. Once assembled the intricate features such as facial expressions were added.  They were made in an assembly line style of production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired as opposed to crafting one solid piece of terracotta and subsequently firing it.

Here are a few photos.

A view of the bell tower in central Xi’an.

There is a substantial Muslim population in Xi’an. Here are a few pix from what is known as the Muslim quarter.

 Making noodles

Central Xi’an is still surrounded by a huge thick wall, built between 600 and 1300. It is the most complete city wall in China and one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. The wall stands 12 meters (40 feet) tall, 12-14 meters (40-46 feet) wide at the top and 15-18 meters (50-60 feet) thick at the bottom. It covers 13.7 kilometers (8.5 miles) in length with a deep moat surrounding it.

Here’s a few pix

Safe from the barbarians.

Some folks playing checkers. They were really getting into it: slamming pieces down and yelling in triumph after a strong move. The onlookers were not shy in offering their advice either.

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