Friday, October 3, 2008

Xian - Last but not Least

I am completely exhausted and ravingly incoherent right now, which is too bad because the topic of this post deserves better. Still, it survived over 2,000 years underground; it ought to survive being in a mediocre blog post.

I am referring, of course, to the Terracotta Army of Shi Huangdi.

The Qin Emperor, Shi Huangdi, ordered these guys to be made for him around 210 BC. He had spent most of his life kicking butt across China and saw no reason to stop simply because he was dead.

It is very difficult to describe this site, especially at this hour. But here's a stab:

- Every soldier was handmade.
- Every soldier has a unique face.
- Every soldier is life-size.
- Every soldier was originally in full color.
- There are close to 8,000 soldiers.

You begin to see the magnitude of this army.

Don't believe me about the life-size bit? Check out this picture of me behind the most famous of the Terracotta Soldiers, the kneeling archer:

And this is the part that just kills me about China: this army was buried and then lost for about for two thousand years. An army - including enlisted men, officers, and cavalry, for goodness sake - of 8,000 figures, built by at minimum several hundred, simply poofed into the mists of time outside of one of the oldest cities in one of the most historically populous nations on the planet. And we're impressed that Walter Raleigh lost a colony on a continent?

I'm not sure what my point about China is here except that it's dang big and dang old. And dang responsible - it was rediscovered in 1974 by a group of peasants digging a well, and they promptly reported it up the chain of command. No pilfering, no looting, allowing this site to be explored and reconstructed by qualified archaeologists. These men are totally on my hero list. One of them was on the site the day we went there and would autograph a copy of a book on the warriors if you bought one. (Did I buy one, you ask? Do you know me at all?)

Nowhere near everything is excavated yet, and many parts that are excavated have not been reassembled. But just a glimpse at what is there is boggling.

Under the greenhouse-style roofs, in the main pits, for example. To put this in perspective, remember that each soldier is life-size. I suppose I'd estimate the main pits at two football fields long:

In close-up, you can see the individual poses and faces. Oh, and the individual hairstyles. Yeah. There's detail for you. (Also note that in the Chinese army, hairstyle denoted rank).

Here's a group of officers meeting in the command center. I will avoid all cheap shots about the lack of heads and simply say that they are either elsewhere being reassembled or did not survive.

Xi'an is out of the way, dusty, and hot as blazes, but when you're standing there looking down at these figures, you don't give a dang about anything else. These things are 2,200 years old. They were molded and shaped while Caesar was still a glint in his great-grandmother's eye. The craftsmanship goes down to individual armor scales and hair ribbons. You walk under those tents and see those faces and you half expect them to salute. And you're itching for the archaeologists - a team of around fifty, I believe, who work entirely at night while the site is closed - to get cracking on the rest of those buried figures so you can see them all, row after row of them, a dead emperor's army that still looks ready to take on the world.

Someday, I hope to get to Egypt to see the Pyramids, but until then - honestly, I'm satisfied with this.