Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Wandering China Day 8: Terracotta Action


The day started with a visit to the Xi'An Banpo Museum (西安半坡博物馆) -the museum's built on top of the excavation site of the Banpo matriarchal (arguably) community of the Yangshao Culture. Here we find evidence of a 6000 year neolithic settlement in eastern Xi'An. I could not help but notice the sign above as a drawcard (Western style washrooms?)- probably reminiscent of the Museum's age being first built in 1958.

The settlement was surrounded by a moat back in a time when building walls were not an option, the houses were typically semi-subterranean.

Close-up of the Banpo neolithic village

And the Terracotta Army 兵马俑 - early signs of Chinese opulence. Arguably the first to unite China as we know it today and standardize the written text (forcibly), Qin Shihuang sent 700,000 of his subjects to their graves building his mausoleum and this army to protect him in the afterlife. His first desire was to sacrifice the real soldiers the army was modelled after (each terracotta warrior is unique and apparently modelled after real people), but he was dissuaded from doing so. Yes, he was also responsible for starting the legacy of Great Wall building in China. Images of the warriors have been part and parcel of my imagination of China from early on, and it was gratifying to see for myself what the fuss was about.

Contrary to belief, the warriors are actually all in a state of disarray like the photo above. Only one piece ever was found completely intact. First discovered in 1974 by a group of farmers digging a well (I managed to get a photo and autograph of one of them) in Lintong District in Xi'An, the warriors had to be pieced back together bit by bit. There are currently three pits that have been opened. They Army contains 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which are still buried as the Chinese are still figuring out the best way to unearth them without damaging and discoloring the artefacts. Proclaimed the eighth wonder of the world by then French president Jacques Chirac, construction first began in 246 BC.

The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda 大雁塔 - is a very significant Chinese icon. The pagoda's function was to hold sutras and figurines of the Buddha that were brought to China from India by the Tang-dynasty monk Xuanzang, perhaps commonly known as Táng-sānzàng (唐三藏) (the Chinese narrative of Journey to the West stems from his journeys, it is now one of the four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature) travelled West towards India in an epic journey to study Buddhism. It is in this pagoda where he spent years translating and storing the scriptures, and in a sense giving birth to a significant religious and literary imagination of the Chinese today. Note - as much as Buddhism has become synonymous with many aspects of Chineseness, Buddhism is not an indigenous religion to China much like how Islam is not indigenous to South-East Asia

A sacred relic in the Giant Wild Goose pagoda described as containing Buddha's remains that was brought back by Xuanzang after his travels to India.

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Filed under: Back to China, Bob's Opinion, Xi'An

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