Study Trip: From Beijing to Xi’an

In the last few weeks of classes, everyone had to buckle down to finish term papers, final projects, and begin studying for final exams.  After a grueling two weeks, we finally closed our books for the last time with the satisfaction of knowing we had finally finished our courses at Peking University.  Only hours after our last exam, we all had to start packing for our two week study trip which would take us all over China.  There were three different trips to choose from (we had selected our preferences over a month in advance):

1. The coastal, “Economic” trip which visited Shanghai, Hangzhou, Suzhou, Shengzhen, and Hong Kong.

2. The “History and Culture” trip which went to Luoyang (to the famous Shaolin Monastery where monks practice Shaolin Kung Fu), Xi’an, Chengdu, and Guilin.

3. The “Ethnic Minorities” trip included touring Xi’an, Chengdu, Leshan, Lijiang, Dali, and Kunming.

I, along with 50 of my classmates opted to go on the third, “ethnic minorities,” trip making it the most popular among the 90 or so students in our program.  As seen below, we traveled to the south western part of China through the country’s Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, renowned for their spicy cuisine.

Our 2 Week Trip Through China

Our journey began as we boarded a sleeper train in Beijing in the late afternoon and headed out through the night for Xi’an.  My friend Tony and I shared a small compartment with four other Chinese.  Each compartment consisted of three beds on either side, stacked upon one another.  We bunked on the top, and spent most of the night making conversation with our bunkmates who were all going to Xi’an to visit family.

I was startled from my sleep at 8 in the morning from the train’s whistle signifying our impending arrival in Xi’an.  I climbed down from my rickety bunk as the train slowed to a stop.  Stepping off the train we found ourselves swept up in a crowd of Chinese who all seemed to be lugging rice sacks or other large bags on their backs.

Leaving the Train Station

After walking to our nearby hotel to drop off our own bags, we headed off to go see the greatest archeological discovery of the 20th century—the Terracotta Warriors.

On March 29th, 1974, a local Chinese farmer was digging a well and stumbled upon a large clay statuette.  When he brought it to someone to find out exactly what it was, they told him it was over two thousand years old.  What the farmer had discovered was the life-sized, Terracotta Army which was buried over 2,200 years before with China’s first emperor—Qin Shihuangdi.

We first entered the site through its museum which explains the history and nature of the extensive burial site.  This was honestly one of the most unbelievable human creations I have ever seen in my life, rivaling even the Great Wall.  While only a portion has been excavated, there are an estimated 8,000 life-sized soldiers all of whom have different clothes, heights, faces, expressions, and hair styles.  They were all painted and were equipped with bronze weaponry (including swords, crossbows, spears etc…) though the weapons were stolen by robbers shortly after their creation and the oxidation (as a result of being unearthed) has destroyed the color.  Also buried (and life-sized) are another 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses.  Each sculpture has intricate details such as harnesses for the horses and ties in their hair.

The Largest "Pit"- Pit 3

This army was created to protect the first emperor of China in the afterlife, and is still only a part of his profligate mausoleum which he started building when only 13 years old.  The army not only consisted of full regiments organized according to rank and formation, but countless auxiliary pits including an armor pit (made in the same fashion and size as real armor) and various stable pits some in which real horses were buried alive.  There are even clay sculptures made of all the different types of birds known to the empire at the time.  All of this was intentionally buried under a wooden roof which has since collapsed over the centuries.  As excessive as this seems, this was only the defending force for the emperor in the afterlife.  His main mausoleum is 1.5 km west of the excavated terracotta warriors and is sealed underground among rivers of mercury.

The site of the well that was being dug--how it was all discovered

It is believed that the construction of his necropolis involved 700,000 workers.  Today (as is stated in the museum) the main burial chamber remains untouched because the government wants to wait until we have the technology to avoid damage due to oxidation in order to better maintain the treasures that will be found.

The Man Who Discovered It All

This man, Yang Zhi Fa, was the farmer who discovered it all when building a well.  Not surprisingly, he has become a celebrity of sorts and is pictured here meeting Bill Clinton.  He comes into the museum almost every day and visitors can take a picture with him for a 100 Yuan ($16).  We went to see him but we had just missed him.

Yang Zhi Fa's Chair and Pipe

The museum consists of many exhibits, and is adjacent to the three large pits which house the excavated and non-excavated portions of the Terracotta Army.  While the unearthed warriors are impressive in their own right, it was the extent and extravagance of the mausoleum as a whole which makes this accomplishment of the ancient world truly remarkable.

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