I will never forget the first time I visited the Great Wall at Badaling. Every foreign visitor to Beijing wants to go and see it. It’s something that everyone talks about. You go expecting to see a large wall… and that’s exactly what you see. And then, after the first gasp of amazement, you find yourself asking ‘errr, is that it’?
I felt the same when going to see the Terracotta Army in Xi’an.
But let’s go back a few steps… When my daughter visited this complex a couple of years ago she described to me the long and tortuous process of being able to reach it at all. It’s some 50km out of town and it was clear from what she told me that there are so many “unofficial” tour buses that it’s a gamble which one to take so as not to get ripped off.
I was prepared for the worst. But getting to the Warriors couldn’t have been simpler, thanks to the fact that I read somewhere on the web that there is an official direct bus service from Xi’an’s northern railway station (quite apart from the dozens that go from the central station). And so it turned out to be.
At the very end of the arrivals hall, there is a large stand where you can buy complimentary bus tickets for the price of the 150 kwai Warriors entrance fee. The only condition is that you have to have arrived in Xi’an via the train in the past 48 hours. (Trains from Beijing terminate in the northern station.)
The bus leaves every hour (the first at 8am) and it takes just over an hour to get there. You first purchase your ticket in the station, and then it’s about a ten minute walk to the bus stop itself (they show you a sketch map of how to get there).
The bus ticket you are given…
… is what you swap out for the entrance ticket to the Warriors once you arrive…
For those who have been living on another planet up until now, the Terracotta Army, a.k.a. Terracotta Warriors and Horses, a.k.a. 兵马俑 (funerary statues of soldiers and horses), a.k.a. Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum, is a massive collection of life-sized terracotta soldiers in battle formations, reproducing the imperial guard of Emperor Qin Shi Huang (259 - 210BC), the first emperor of the first unified dynasty of Imperial China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in order, it is believed, to protect him in his afterlife. The Terracotta Army is part of a much larger necropolis, extending to around 98 sq kms, according to measurements with ground-penetrating radar and core sampling.
As with the Badaling Great Wall, you have to walk a good 15 minutes from the car park to reach the museum itself. But a windy stone path goes through landscaped gardens and you cannot get lost.
Ahead of you lie a number of buildings. If you make your way to this one first of all…
… you can join the throngs of people trying to catch a glimpse of explanations of how the Terracotta Army was discovered on 29 March 1974 by farmers digging a water well approximately 1.5 kilometres east of the Qin Emperor's tomb mound at Lishan, a region riddled with underground springs and watercourses. But, you know, you’d probably be a lot better off taking a look at the likes of Wikipedia before you go and avoiding the hustle and bustle of this overcrowded display!
I’m not sure that seeing photos and these plaster cast models would make the story any clearer, in any case.
Assuming you have done a bit of background research before you actually head out to the museum site, you’ll see a number of buildings like this one which house the three main pits, which is where all the action that you are allowed to see has actually taken place.
Pit 1, which measures 230 metres by 62 metres, reminds me of an airplane hangar in size. There are 11 corridors, most more than 3 metres wide. The military formation in it was made up of chariots and infantry, with over 6,000 individual figures and 50 chariots in total, though fewer than 2,000 are now on display, and they are all facing east, not toward the frontiers of his empire but rather toward the territories he had already taken.
Well, I say ‘all facing east’ though there are one or two soldiers who have turned to face the wall as if they’re about to have a pee!
Pit 2 has cavalry and infantry units and is thought to represent a military guard. There are some rather cute horses on display, though overall there is very much less to see here than in pit 1’
There are also a whole load of soldiers with no heads – which reflect how the warriors were constructed in the first place, with the heads, arms, legs, and torsos created separately and then put together afterwards. When completed, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty.
By far the smallest of the pits is Pit 3. There are only 68 terracotta figures, many of which are without heads and it would appear that it represents the command post, as all the figures are officials. But there is still a lot of work to be done in this pit.
Apart from having to see the majority of the army figures from afar, there are a few to which you can get up close. They are protected, not unnaturally, by glass cabinets. Here’s a kneeling archer that was unearthed from the centre of the archer formation in Pit 2. His pose indicates that he once held a crossbow. Altogether 160 kneeling archers were found in this pit.
From the same pit, you can see a cavalryman standing next to his saddled warhorse. 116 similar cavalrymen were found here. The figure wears a knee length robe, an armoured vest and tight fitting trousers. He holds the reins in one hand and a crossbow in the other.
There’s also a standing archer wearing an unarmoured battle robe. The pose shows that this figure was ready to shoot. Altogether 172 such archers were found in this pit.
But, as I said before, terracotta warrior fatigue soon draws in. After you’ve seen so many hundreds standing, kneeling, and doing all the other things they are doing, it is difficult to feel much excitement about seeing yet another warrior. And to be perfectly honest, once you have the seen the excellent reproductions in places such as at Beijing airport, you begin to wonder why you would travel all the way to Xi’an just to see much dirtier versions of the same thing. (Is that a terrible thing to say, I wonder?)
Of course, if you are besotted with these figures, there is nothing to stop you buying life-sized models to grace your garden or living room. It begs the question, of course, of how you would actually get it home, but perhaps they offer a door-to-door delivery service?
You might even be able to buy them on Taobao, for all I know…
Finally, walking around this huge museum soon gives one an appetite, so you won’t be surprised to see oodles of restaurants and eateries offering every conceivable delicacy and snack.
But tea and bear? Now there’s something new I feel I should definitely try!