Natalie & Nick In China (Day IV Xi’an) – The Terra-cotta Warriors & Tang Dynasty Show

Day 4, our 2nd day in Xi’an, may have been my favorite day of our tour. We were well-rested and the weather was once again remarkable. We met our guide Melissa at the hostel at 9 and then headed out to see The Terra-cotta Warriors. During the drive Melissa regaled us with stories about Emperor Qin and his mausoleum and the discovery of the clay army, so that by the time we got there about an hour later, we had a good basic understanding of all we were about to see. I loved seeing The Forbidden City and The Great Wall, but for some reason, The Terra-cotta Warriors really struck a chord in me. At first I thought maybe it was simply being able to get so close to many of the pieces with the camera, but I’m not sure what it is that affected me so strongly. Anyway, it was cool.

In March of 1974, local farmers from XiYang village In Shaanxi Province were drilling a series of wells in search of water. On the 29th of March, they discovered some pottery fragments and ancient bronze weapons. That simple discovery led to what many now call the 8th Wonder of the World, Emporer Qin’s Terra-cotta Museum and we were on our way to see it. The archaeological wonders discovered there came as a shock to China and the world. The museum now receives more than 2 million visitors a year and was placed on the UNESCO list as a world-class cultural heritage site in 1987.

We were fortunate, as on the day we arrived, one of the farmers present during the discovery was at the museum signing books. That is Yang Zhifa (杨志发) below with the kids. Interesting name, Yang is the family name. Zhi means dream and Fa means discovery. Melissa suggested that perhaps he was sent there by God to find The Terra-cotta Warriors. I’m pretty sure he was probably just looking for water. Right-place, right-time. Still, his life changed forever that day and it was  cool to meet him and get the autograph. 20 RMB ($3) for the photo, 120 RMB ($18) for the book.

Yang Zhifa – 杨志发

So… time for your history lesson. There have been a lot of important men to cross the Chinese historical stage in the last 5,000 years and Emperer Qin Shihuang was one of the most important. He was just 13 when his father died and he became King of Qin and he claimed the throne in 247 BC. Qin eventually conquered the six other states that existed at the time and in 221 BC, at the age of 39, he declared himself the first emperor of China. He established the centralized state, abolished the feudal system and divided the country into 36 prefectures. He standardized the system of weights and measures, even mandating that the width of carriage axles be exactly six feet. He had a road network built over which he toured the furthest corners of his domain and it was Qin who ordered General Meng Tian to rebuild and then connect the defensve walls of the states he ahd overcome into The Great Wall of China. This all served to centralize politics, the economy, military affairs and culture.

On the down-side, Qin, in order to protect his policies, ordered the destruction of many ancient records and Confucian writings and in the process had large numbers of Confucian scholars murdered. He was also obsessed with a fear of death and spent staggering amounts of his wealth trying to find the elixir of life. Despite the attempts at immortality, he died during the 5th tour of his kingdom at the relatively young age of 50. His body was buried in the mausoleum in September 210 BC but a peasant uprising just a few years later brought down the house of Qin. In the process, the peasants destroyed the mausoleum and surrounding pits by raiding them for weapons and then setting them on fire.

The Terra-cotta Warriors we are most familiar with today were the Emperors protective army, guarding his final resting place. No two figures unearthed so far are the same. Besides different faces, features such as the armor plates, belt hooks, shoe ties and other costume details were precisely sculpted. After each sculpture was made, the craftsmen were ordered to inscribe or print their names on the backs of robes, legs or armor, in perhaps one of the first ever quality control measures. The names of over 80 craftsmen have been discovered so far.

I tried to get shots from perspectives I don’t normally see, but by now I think all these guys have surely been photographed at every angle possible. The first three images were taken in Pit 1. The third shot below shows some recently restored warriors that have just returned from “the hospital” and are waiting to re-claim their place in the pit.

Pit 1

Pit 1

Recently Restored Warriors – Pit 1

The next set here were all taken inside the museum’s Multiple Exhibition Building. The sculptures are encased in glass and dramatically lit for effect and you can really get close. I was taken in by some of the details, such as the sole of the kneeling archer’s shoe. Hard to believe that’s from 2,200 years ago, I’m pretty sure my old Stan Smith Adidas tennis shoes had a nearly identical pattern. Below the shoe is Natalie & Nick in silhouette, viewing a standing archer. Because we were there during the off-season, we didn’t have to fight a crowd all day, in and of itself a rarity in China!

Kneeling Archer

Standing Archer


I was surprised at how similar these two faces (above and below) are. When processing the photos I had to do a double-take to make sure they were in fact different. As you can see by the lighting, the photos were taken in different parts of the museum and if you look closely you can easily spot the differences in the two. Still, the hair styles, including the facial hair, are very close. The High Ranking Officer below I remember was a big guy, about 6’6″ maybe.

High Ranking Officer


Un-armored Soldier

The range of terra-cotta figures in Emperors Qin’s army is made up of basically 7 categories: high-ranking officers, officers, armored and un-armored soldiers, cavalrymen, charioteers and kneeling and standing archers. I didn’t realize that the figures were originally all brightly painted. The ravages of floods, fire and time have taken their toll and deterioration is exacerbated when exposed to light and air.

In 1998 archaeologists discovered a large burial pit containing stone armor and stone helmets some 200 meters southeast of the emperors mausoleum. Nearly 120 stone armor suits and 90 stone helmets have been unearthed so far. The objects were broken and scattered in disarray on the bottom of the pit. At the present time, only one set of armor and one stone helmet (below) have been restored. They were made from stone flakes and are extremely fragile, making the restoration of these artifacts a particularly painstaking process. The helmet is made of 74 flakes linked together.

Restored Stone Helmet

In December of 1980, archaeologists discovered a large pit holding two sets of painted bronze chariots and horses 20 meters west of Emperors Qin’s tomb mound. They were originally placed in a big wooden coffin but over time the wood rotted away and the earthen layers collapsed. The chariots and horses were found in thousands of pieces scattered on the floor of the pit. Fortunately the pit had not been robbed and all the pieces were there but it took 8 years of meticulous work to fully restore the figures. They were cast from bronze with large amounts of gold and silver ornamentation and molded after real chariots, horses and drivers, but in half size.

Bronze Horses

The only negative I can think of was the 20 minute movie that shows in the Circle Vision Hall. We watched it before our tour and could have easily bypassed it. It’s cheesy and the quality is extremely poor. It reminded me of science movies we watched on the old film projector in junior high school (shout out to my Belmont peeps) and I think most folks should skip it. It DOES provide some insight into the construction and subsequent destruction of the terra-cotta army, but any decent tour guide is going to provide you with that background info anyway. It would seem to me to be a fairly easy fix to restore the film and refit the Hall for digital playback.

So, yeah, that was fun. We were there for a few hours, just the three of us with Melissa, who was fantastic. A friendly, patient girl, she really knew her stuff. Bonus time… on the way out of the complex, we came across a Subway sandwich shop. Seeing that familiar logo pushed some Mikey buttons, I hadn’t had Subway in more than four years. I caved immediately and got the roast beef. The day could have ended right then and there and I would have been a happy camper but the day was far from over. We made our way back to the hostel for a little rest and then that evening we caught the Tang Dynasty Song and Dance Show.

About 18 notches above your standard Diner Theatre presentation, the Sunshine Lido Grand Theatre is situated in the city centre. The Cantonese cuisine is delicious, featuring an array of dumplings I’ve not seen anywhere in China. Seriously, I stopped counting at selection 15. After the all-you-can-eat meal we enjoyed a beautifully choreographed performance. 104 highly gifted artists perform each show, including dancers and vocalist and 30 master musicians who play various traditional Chinese instruments. Go to the show with the right mindset, recognizing that you are seeing a historical re-enactment of performances and instruments from sometime between roughly 600 – 900 AD, and I think it will be better appreciated. All narratives are provided in both Mandarin and English. It was perhaps a little anti-climatic after seeing The Terra-cotta Warriors but I certainly recommend taking in the show. The performance itself is short, about an hour, which seemed to me to be just about right.

Spring Outing

Mask Dance

A Beautiful Dream

Grand Dynasty

It was an amazing day with the kids. Next up, we head to Guilin and run into our first bit of difficulty during the trip.

In the way of an update, our little dog is no worse today and for now I am happily taking that. If any of you back home in The States have a great relationship with a vet there who may be willing to talk to me via email, I would appreciate you getting in touch with me. I haven’t heard back from the other vet yet and I am feeling a bit anxious.

Winter has finally made its appearance in Liuzhou, with both rain and cold temps the last few days. We turned the heater on for the first time and I’ve already had my annual debate with Lily wherein I try to explain why I think it’s best to leave the heat on a set temperature, rather than turn it completely off when we leave and then completely re-heat the house again from scratch when we return. I’ll leave it to you to guess who wins this annual debate but I will tell you it is plenty chilly in here as I type this.

I’ve been informed that I am expected to again perform in the annual Christmas show at the college on the 23rd. I’ve also been informed that this year the show will take place outside. Outside in the Forest Park next to the campus. Outside… in December. Somebody is making some money on that deal and it ain’t me… although I have pretty good idea who is!


2 Responses to “Natalie & Nick In China (Day IV Xi’an) – The Terra-cotta Warriors & Tang Dynasty Show”

  1. Johnson says:

    Nice photo … I have been Xi’an one night due to a train transfer. But never have the time to see the city very carefully, pity.

Leave a Reply