Mulan was always one of my favourite Disney films. Why? Well… 1. a female heroine (enough said) and 2. a story of China’s Imperial army days. So when Xi’an became part of our travel route we obviously had to go and visit the Terracotta Army 兵马俑.
To get there yesterday we took the 306 bus from Xi’an Railway Station (7 yuan and approx 1 hour). We arrived at the museum about 9am in order to miss the crowds and make sure we had a proper view. It definitely paid off. About 10:30ish all the tour groups started to arrive in their droves, it was definitely nice to not have to dodge in and out of them. Entry into the museum without a guide is 150 yuan.
The Terracotta Army is a collection of sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It was accidentally discovered by farmers in 1974 who simply wanted to dig a well. The sculptures are located in three pits and include 8000 warriors, 130 chariots and 670 horses and were constructed over 2000 years ago to accompany the tomb of the First Emperor as an afterlife guard. This fact alone makes witnessing it amazing.
Over 700,000 people and 40 years were taken to create the army. The heads, arms, and bodies of the sculptures were created separately and then assembled. After assembly, clay was applied to the surface of the sculptures so that artists could model the faces and hairdos individually. The sculptures were then fired in kilns and painted with bright colours. Every warrior looks different, just like real people do. However after 2,000 years of erosion and humidity, most figures have lost their original vivid colour.
Pit 1 is the largest and most impressive part of the museum. It is believed to contain over 6,000 terracotta figures of soldiers and horses, but less than 2,000 are on display. Towards the back of the pit archaeologists are still working on uncovering and preserving the warriors and horses. Pit 2 and 3 are also still undergoing excavation works and are much smaller than 1, however they are still amazing, showing archers, chariots and army officials. You notice going round the pits that different groups of officers/soldiers/archers/cavalry all have different face shapes, hair styles, dresses, heights and weapons (hole in hand to place weapon) to differentiate their ranking. Many of the figures originally held real weapons which were treated using a process that was only discovered in America and Germany in the 1950’s and 70’s to make them resistant to rust and corrosion. Astoundingly ahead of their time.
It only takes an hour and a half (without crowds, again highly recommend arriving early) to go round all three pits and if you don’t use your imagination or read up on the history you could probably find it quite boring. But if you think about how ancient and how clever it was for the construction whilst walking round, it really is a touching experience. For me, one of the geeky things was the tiled floor that the warriors were standing on. Each tile had been hand made and was still in pristine condition 2000 years later. Another thing I kept thinking about was that until 44 years ago this army was still undiscovered.
Today is our last day in Xi’an, we’re off to Yangshuo tomorrow hopefully for a week of country/pollution free air before hitting up Shanghai. Again, if you have any suggestions… please get in touch!