Friday, April 16, 2010

The Terracotta Army - Was that really necessary Emperor Qin?

Wow - we have not had much luck with the weather when it comes to seeing the major sights! When we took the cable car to see Mt Fuji it was foggy, when we went to see the Great Wall it was raining and when we went to see the Terracotta Army it snowed! It was freezing, so we had to bring out the gloves and beanies, however the snow covering everything was very pretty and it kept the crowds to a minimum.

It is fairly easy to go to the Terracotta Army museum without a tour, however we thought that for once it would be nice to have someone just pick us up and drop us off (it was organised by the hostel). The tour was quite cheap, being only about $2 more than going by ourselves.

It turned out well. The english-speaking guide was very knowledgeable and there was a good group of about 6 other people who we got along with really well. In fact, after the tour we got the bus to drop us all of in the Muslim quarter and went and had lunch together (Muslim quarter is a must see and very cheap - lunch was less than $2 each). It was great fun!

At first we were a bit apprehensive, as on the way to the museum the bus stopped off at a place where we could see how the figures were made and 'buy the best quality replicas'. Tour groups have a bad habit of making unannounced stops to try and get customers to buy stuff (we had a similar experience in Bali), so some of us were not too impressed. However, it was actually really informative and another english-speaking guide took us around the workshop and explained the process to us while we watched people making things out of clay and porcelain. We learnt all kinds of things like that the warriors are actually hollow except for the legs, that all of the faces were sculpted individually so that no two are the same and that they were fired in a kiln at about 1,000 degrees. 

When we got to the museum we were surprised to discover that it is not all under one roof! There are three main buildings which house the three excavated pits, one building were they play an introductory film and another building which houses some other pieces discovered in the excavation such as a couple of bronze chariots complete with horses and drivers.

Another thing is that the buildings are a good 20 minutes walk from the main entrance gate! We all took a 12-seater golf-buggy thing instead which cost 5yuan.

Firstly we went into the building with the bronze chariots (except only one was real, the other one is currently in Shanghai for the Shanghai Expo) which was ok, except most of the exhibits were replicas only. There was also some enormous marionettes that were apparently used in the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympic Games, one of a terracotta warrior and one of a young girl. They were a bit creepy.

Then we saw the introductory film which was very interesting. Through the film and the tour guide we learnt heaps of interesting facts, like that the tomb was made for Emperor Qin, who was the first emperor of China. In fact, that is where we get the name 'China', from the fact that the first line of emperors were from the Qin dynasty (Qin is pronounced Chin). Also, this Qin-guy unified the country for the first time by pretty much waging war on the other kings and then pronouncing himself as ruler. He also started the process of joining together and fortifying all of the walls to make the Great Wall of China. 

He was so chuffed with himself that he wanted the biggest, most ridiculous tomb of all time. Apparently it took nearly 40 years to complete and at one time conscripted over 700,000 workers! In fact, at one time this represented about 10% of the population which severely affected the economy for ages afterwards.

The actual construction process was way ahead of its time. They used chrome plating on the bronze weapons which was extremely advanced technology which was not discovered again for another 2,000 years. Emperor Qin also introduced a rather unique but effective method of quality control. By forcing the artists to engrave their name and village on each piece that they made, it ensured that they would do a good job, because if they didn't they would be easily tracked down and have to face the consequence of their shoddy work.

Pit 1 is absolutely enormous, the photo above does not do it justice. It took about half an hour to walk around (while taking photos). This is where most of the warriors are (Pit 2 has mainly archers and Pit 3 is where the officers are located). Pit 1 is set out as follows: the front part of the pit is excavated and the warriors have been restored, the middle part shows you how the warriors look when they are first excavated (i.e. broken into hundreds of pieces) and the back section shows you the restoration process.

We were a bit disappointed when we got to Pit 2, as it remains largely un-excavated. However, this is apparently to preserve the relics for future generations which we thought was a really cool idea. 

It really has to be seen to be believed, and I wish that I could go back in another 100 years to see what else they have uncovered. The actual burial mound is still un-excavated, again in order to preserve it. According to the surviving records it was pretty spectacular, including rivers of mercury. This sounds a bit far-fetched but they have reported unusually high levels of mercury in the soil so you never know!

Along with the Great Wall and Mt Fuji, this has to be one of the most amazing sights that we have seen so far, and was definitely worth the 1,000km trip from Beijing.

1 comment:

  1. Hi guys

    I have been unable to check the blog site for a week and I think I actually had withdrawals!!! So glad to be back, and I have really enjoyed catching up today. The places and experiences you are having are so wonderful. Glad to hear you are both safe, well and happy............Where to next I wonder???