Terra-Cota Army and China’s First Emperor

The weather in Xi’An was a lot damper and cooler than in Beijing. The clouds hung low in the sky and covered the green mountains that we passed on our way to the famous Terracotta Army.


The story of how this army was discovered is a parculiar. For years, broken parts of pottery and body parts had been surfacing as local farmers ploughed their fields. However, it was when Yang Zhifa dug a well and broke into a pit of 6,000 warriors that the discoveries were reported to the local authorities. His discovery has made him rich and it has made him famous.We met Yang outside the museum, where he now signs autographs, his books and all sorts of memorabilia. He has helped unearth one of China’s greatest treasures, a reminder of China’s mighty emperor and the incredible craftsmanship of a sophisticated and cultured dynasty.

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Soldiers and chariots lie in four pits which are now encased by an elegant and modern museum.Ying Zheng took the throne in 246 B.C. at the age of 13. By 221 B.C. he had unified a collection of warring kingdoms and took the name of Qin Shi Huang Di—the First Emperor of Qin. During his rule, Qin standardized coins, weights, and measures; interlinked the states with canals and roads; and is credited for building the first version of the Great Wall. A big believer of life after death, he wanted his army always with him and always there to protect him. It was rumored that he ordered all his soldiers to be murdered when he died.  His shocked advisors felt that without his army the kingdom would soon fall and so they convinced him to spare his subjects and instead to have by his side an army made of stone.

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Each soldier’s face was replicated and all figures vary in height accrding to their roles, with the tallest being generals. They were once colorful and painted.  According to writings of court historian Siam Qian during the following Han dynasty, Qin ordered the mausoleum’s construction shortly after taking the throne. More than 700,000 laborers worked on the project, which was halted in 209 B.C. amid uprisings a year after Qin’s death.

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When the pits were found, most of the statues had been broken or were damaged, partly due to the roof collapsing but mainly due to the Emperor’s enemies finding, smashing and burning his Terra-Cota army after he died. I loved walking round and seeing not only the repaired figures but it was also fascinating seeing piles of parts of warriors and weapons yet re-assembled.

It isn’t possible to walk amongst the soldiers, but we paid and got our picture taken with some plastic ones…No one needs to know ;). I would recommend waiting until after you exit the museum or even arriving at the Mausoleum (mini-mountain) to buy any Terracota replicas as they are so much cheaper here than at the entrance or even in the official factories which we were taken too before we got to see the real ones.

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Qin’s tomb itself remains unexcavated, though Siam Qian’s writings suggest even greater treasures:”The tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions and offices as well as fine vessels, precious stones and rarities,” reads a translation of the text. The account indicates the tomb contains replicas of the area’s rivers and streams made with mercury flowing to the sea through hills and mountains of bronze. Precious stones such as pearls are said to represent the sun, moon, and other stars. Through partial misunderstanding and also translation we thought we were going to see all of the

see wonders on our visit and so were slightly disappointed when all we got as a distant view of a wonky looking mountain.

Modern tests on the tomb mound have revealed unusually high concentrations of mercury. Whether it was meant to or not, this has meant that no one as of yet has been able to see inside and rob the Emperor of all his riches.

This was a great day trip organized by our hotel/hostel. We had some lovely local food, a very informative trip and really one of Ancient China’s finest legacies.

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Xi’An a place of Culture, Beauty and Sophistication


Our hotel was in the Central Plaza but just wasn’t the Crowne Plaza…


We walked out of the large beautiful hotel, down into the underpass. We emerged and walked round the square, I dislocated my shoulder yanking my massive tour bag around, but thankfully our real hotel wasn’t far away. This was it, not quite the same, but the location was still great. We walked into a dark little corridor, a stark contrast to the grandiose building we had just moments ago enjoyed. Our room was on the 7th floor and there was no lift. We dumped our bags off and set off for a wonderfully creamy comforting Starbucks at the large spacious, modern building just next to us. So much glass, a large shopping mall close to us.  I am a pleb, but truly this was heaven.


Dirty and and in the same clothes from the day before in Pingyao we rocked up. There were so many couples and all beautifully dressed. The girls wore their hair in ringlets and had beautiful ball dresses and disco style heels on. The young boys wore suits and elegantly accompanied their dates to their tables where they would whisper over the sumptuous drinks. I looked at my clothes like ones does at a swanky party. I felt under-dressed and slightly embarrassed.

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We emerged from our room all groomed and fragrant. If the people of Xi’An dressed up and looked amazing, we wouldn’t let the side down. As one of the four ancient capitals of China, the capital of Shaanxi Province is used to its fair share of wealth and opulence. Xi’An marks the start of the Silk Road and is one of the most influencial, important and oldest cities in China. Here class, culture and taste rebounded off the tall skyscraper walls and resonated around the beautifully kept ornate gardens. Here are some photos of our beautiful evening around Xi’An’s magestic  Bell Tower and Huifang Style Street. The orange lights lit up th architectural wonders which litter this area and appear all around this square. Glaceful birds soared around the towers and scattered when the loud gongs went off. People teemed along the rampart hights and bronze statues ornamented the clean vibrant streets. Street sellers sold beautiful jade bracelets and chefs cooked food on wild fires. The night was warm, people were friendly and it was great that we had dressed up because everyone looked great and super stylish. Xi’An soon became my favorite place in China, it was just so beautiful.

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Sleeper Coach and arrival at Xi’An

We loaded our bags into the car and then joined two other backpackers who were already sat waiting inside the taxi. A strong Chinese man with a shaved head slammed the doors shut and sped off. Pingyao was lovely, but it was nice to see the mud colored houses and dust blown ancient city behind us. We had a modern destination waiting for us, the large city of Xi’An, where power cuts, cold showers, trickling dirty water and smelly drains would surely not plague our hotel stay.



We had bought tickets for a sleeper bus as the train had long been fully booked. I didn’t know what this was, but being slightly scarred of flying I didn’t mind coach journeys too much. We had tried unsuccessfully to get the hostel to present us with the tickets, with them reassuring us that we wouldn’t need them in order to board the vehicle. Somehow something didn’t quite add up, but as we had already paid, we didn’t have much of a choice but to go along with our instructions. The old car travelled further out of the city and then as we were about to board a motorway we came to a toll booth. The tough Chinese man screached to a halt, turned off the car’s engine and without bothering to close his door, beckoned for us to get out of the car and follow him. We grabbed out bags and scuttled hurriedly in his direction. There wasn’t a coach station in sight. We passed under the orange barrier and started walking along the hard shoulder. Fast cars, lorreys and coaches wizzed passed us. We were ordered to halt someway up the road. The night was silent except for when large vehicles roared passed us. Six lanes of traffic, three going away from Pingyao, three going towards. Behind us, a steep bank, brambles and dark fields. Hot sweat rose on my body and I got a queezy feeling in my stomach. Is this fear rational, should I just run away?


We tried asking our new friend, but he didn’t speak English. After 10 minutes, he started waving his arms and hands at the many large coaches that passed us. He walked into the center of the roads and tried halting the vehicles but to no avail. Just when we thought our ride would never appear, a fast travelling beast of a coach drew up and did a massive u-turn in the middle of the road. It was coming straight for us. “Abi! its not stopping”, shouted Shirwa! “It’s going to hit us”… Jump, Abi, juuump! The bright yellow lights blinded me. I took one look behind me at the mass of bushes and the huge drop. I was blinded by the lights and then, just inches in front of us, the coach stopped. The doors were opened, the driver shook hands with the shaven Chinese guy, our bags were loaded.

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“Women at the front, Men at the back” was the order as we boarded the bus. I looked down the corridors and saw three lines of bunk beds stretching down inside the narrow bus. It got darker the further down you looked. Twinkling eyes and little faces emerged from the shadows. Limbs and feet stuck out at odd angles. I had boarded with a few valuables. I push them onto the bed and then made a couple of attempts to jump on the top bunk. After the third attempt, I scrambled up, head and body first and then maneuvered my legs over as well. Everything was dirty and very cramped. My feet faced the front and I knew that being the first top bunk of the coach that if there was an accident, my feet would be the first thing out of the front mirror. It set off and careered down the black motorway at an alarming speed, passing cars and vehicles.There was one driver and we didn’t make a single stop. Being at the front had its horrors, but being in the middle row, under a bunk at the back as Shirwa’s was had its own. I came to visit to the shame of a fat little man in speedos who was forced to cover himself up. It stank of bodies and cheese and it felt really claustrophobic, alarmingly so. Apparently I was good to shag according to Shirwa’s neighbor. Some things, the essentials I guess transcend language barriers. I scuttled back to the front, to the woman’s sanctuary and made a desperate effort to unhinge my lodged safety-belt. I buckled up and pulled it tightly around me for comfort and tried to go to sleep through telephone conversations and mid-night feast of chicken feet.


The journey was long, but by 4 am we pulled up at Xi’An coach station. American girls translated for us and the driver confirmed that we could sleep a bit longer in the bus, at least until it got light or until the taxis started running. Our hostel had organized our pick up, but they had somehow gone to the wrong coach station. It seemed like it was up to us again to find our way. At around 6am, workers emerged from pre-fab houses which lined the coach depot. Some got dressed whilst others brushed their teeth outside in the gutter. Everyone starred and no one understood. A man smiled and gestured wildly though for me to enter his shack which he shared with 5 other people after I exclaimed loudly  “Fuck! My arse!” after emerging from the coach with a numb bottom. That he can understand, I ragged!


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To be honest the people in Xi’An were the friendliest that we encountered during our stay in China. We had met some nice people in Pingyao, including the son of the owner of the hostel and some other Chinese guests. Xi’An however, we were able to interact with real local people and they were really welcoming. A taxi cruised passed at around 7. We stopped it and got in. We were taken to a sumptuous 5* hotel. Wow! Somehow we had really cashed in! They had said that this place would be nice, but for the price, the location and the decor was incredible, almost one would say too good to be true. It did in fact turn out to be too good to be true.


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