The grandest of them all, Pit 1 of the Terracotta Warriors Museum in Xian
Among the three places that I visited in China, Xian province and more specifically, the Terracotta Warriors Museum is by far the best one that I have been to. Like what I said earlier on, everything in China is big, grand, humongous and a whole lot of superlatives and adjectives, seeing the Terracotta warriors was really the most exciting part of the whole 4 day tour.
*for the purpose of safety, security and confidentiality, I have not included any of the faces of my students.
It was autumn when we arrived, a beautiful complex filled with lush trees and greens
Getting to Xian Province is no mean feat, situated south of Beijing there are three ways to get to Xian: the first is by plane (inadvisable according to our school’s consultant), by bus or by train. Taking the bus would set the trip back about 16-18 hours, taking the train, which really depends on what you choose: the sleeper trains take about 13 hours and the bullet train takes 6.5 hours.
Pit 3: the so-called Command Center
Hitting the pavement bright and early, we left New Xian and took another bus ride about 1.5 hours out of the city and into the rural side of China. Along the way, our tour guide happily explained (this time without the heavy Chinese accent) the historical significance of Xian. It was only 400-500 years ago that Xian stopped being the imperial capital of China and that the Qing Dynasty finally moved the capital to present day Beijing. More than just being the capital and one of the oldest cities in world, give or take a thousand or so years old, being steeped so deeply into the country’s history, our guide pointed out different places in Xian, such as: the old city wall and the burial mound of the first emperor –Qin Shihuang.
Warriors in battle formation
The museum is arranged in four separate buildings: the first three are the pits where the warriors are kept and preserved in and the last one, is the special exhibit hall. We started our tour in the first building or known as Pit 1 and I would have to say, entering this vast building with its hangar-like structure was truly a marvelous moment. However, seeing the rows and the columns of warriors arranged together, their faces staring back at the visitors and their hands grasping their now long-gone weapons, was truly a breathtaking experience and one I will not forget in my whole life.
The burly general restored to its somewhat former glory
Seeing them up close and for the first time was exhilarating: the uniqueness of each warrior, their arrangement, and even just the sheer number of warriors that have been excavated was a jaw-dropping moment. As I went around the entire pit, I marveled at how well-preserved the warriors were, how meticulous the archaeologists were in excavating the warriors, and to that note, how they still continue on finding new warriors.
For the first time in 40 years, the warriors and their original coating of paint are on display
As our group went about its way, each pit we went to was always a unique experience, pit number 3 had the command centers with its generals and middle-rank officers; pit 2 was a closed off section due in part to the museum’s effort to preserve warriors that were found to still have their original coating of paint. It was also in pit 2 that I had the opportunity to stand close and see every detail of the warriors, the most fascinating of course was the lone kneeling archer and the soldier with his terracotta horse at bay. The level of detail from afar was already something else, but at this point, being inches away from the warriors the whole experience became more personal. It felt or I felt like I was there when they were being made.
Various stages of flaking
Along the way, our tour guide helped us distinguish the warriors from one another, being a military force I guess there would have to be some semblance of military hierarchy even during that time. The warriors that were unarmored or had knots on top of their heads were the infantry men, those with sort of a goat-like horn hat were the middle-ranking officers; and the big, bulky ones with a sort of flower-like headdress were the generals. Knowing this was also very fascinating, proving once again how advanced the Chinese were in their thinking and their technology, especially when the rest of the world was still coming to terms with its own civilization.
A general and his original garb
Luckily enough our group also had another unique experience, for 3 months starting last September/October and ending in December, the museum showcased the first ever exhibit of the terracotta warriors who’s original coating of paint was still intact. Just as grand as the other warriors, it was exciting to see how they looked like in the past, honestly, the warriors or the emperor was fond of garish colors. But you wouldn’t see these colors unless you look and observe at it up close, hints of blues, oranges, red and such in different places.
The only intact kneeling archer
Since this was the place that I truly got excited about, I knew that I could not leave the museum empty-handed. Prior to my trip, I had already begun researching bargain places where I could buy a reproduction of the warriors, like the ones I saw in the TLC program: Samantha Brown: Passport to China. Before we reached the museum, our tour guide had warned us of the locals who would try and sell us reproductions of the warriors inside the museum complex. True enough, I noticed many of the locals with their backpacks, coming up to us and offering us the figurines at a bargain. Normally I would have bought to save me money, but we were also warned that the figurines being hawked inside the complex might be of a poorer quality.
The warrior and his horse
Knowing this, the previous night I had already mentioned to our tour guide that I wanted to bring home a souvenir, our guide brought us to the museum shop where rows upon rows of warriors of different sizes were up for sale. As an added bonus, the farmer who discovered the terracotta warriors back in the 1970’s, Yang Xinman, was there to sign books (RMB 170 this includes the museum book plus a set of postcards) about the history of the Terracotta Museum. I bought a box with five reproductions (general, middle officer, kneeling archer, infantry and a horse), a rather large figure of the general and the book by the museum. Besides being a shop, there was also an audio-visual presentation of how the warriors were made and discovered, but in my own opinion the video was really old and the audio was really bad that it would be best to just skip this part of the shop
After 8 years of restoration and about 8,000 or so pieces. The bronze chariot of Qin Shihuang comes alive
In all and I would really have to say it again, this was by far the best place I have ever been to (historically speaking!), I loved everything about the museum, every detail and information I got was swallowed up with enthusiasm and excitement. I hope that one day I would have the opportunity to come back and visit the warriors again, they have truly left a lasting mark and impression on me.