To call Emperor Qin Shi Huang (260–210 BC) a megalomaniac would not be an understatement. Considered the first Emperor of China, once in power at the ripe age of 13, he immediately began preparing for his death by enlisting thousands of his subjects to build an army which would protect him in his afterlife.
Not a man to do things by half measures, his public works projects included the unification of diverse state walls into a single Great Wall of China and a massive new national road system, as well as the city-sized mausoleum guarded by the life-sized Terracotta Army. He ruled China with an iron fist until his death in 210 BC after a futile search for an elixir of immortality…although by building this staggering monument, one might argue he found his elixir….
Accidentally discovered by 4 farmers digging a well, archaeologists have uncovered only a fraction of the Terracotta Army. Smashed into pieces, reconstructing the soldiers and horses is painstakingly slow work, hindered by the fact that while the soldiers are brightly painted, the paint fades almost immediately.
The Chinese have yet to figure out how to slow down or stop the oxidation process so to that end, they don’t want to uncover too many before they can truly preserve them all. To date, they have unearthed about 7,000 statues in 3 pits and have yet to find two who look the same. In addition to soldiers, there are 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, and non-military figures including officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.
Each has a distinct face and features, which likely reflect the faces of the men who created them.
Walking into Pit One, the most excavated site in the vast territory, is awestruck. We are faced with thousands of stony faces, each intent on protecting their Emperor in the afterlife. It is almost incomprehensible the extent of this project, the labour that must have been involved in its creation, and the ego that initiated it all.
Another Great Wall…this one slightly smaller but no less impressive
Because I am a rule breaker, I leave the tour once again. Despite it having been a long day of Terra Cotta warrior-ing, I am keen to see one of the most ancient cities in China (Xi’an) up close. I mean really, don’t tell me you’re taking me to one of the oldest places in China, one that it still surrounded by its original wall, and then don’t give me time to explore! That’s just waving the red flag of challenge in front of me.
Ancient Xi’an is alive and thriving. Behind the Bell Tower, an iconic building in the dead centre of the walled portion of the city, is a bright and shiny mall. Capitalism and consumerism are both very much alive and well in modern China.
The night market in the Muslim Quarter of the city is a hive of activity, even on a Tuesday evening. I am bombarded with a sensory overload of interesting and sometimes incomprehensible food on a stick, trinkets for purchase, loud music, people yelling, and scooters whizzing by. Chaotic and fascinating, I immerse myself in the tastes and sounds of the night market, stopping only to pamper my now tired feet with a fish pedicure.
At $4 a shot I would totally get one every week (okay, I’ll admit, having tiny fish nibble at the dead skin on my feet did take some getting used to…) even though polish isn’t included.