Half-Baked Warriors

China’s far-stretching history has produced a community so rich in culture and tradition. Not only have the customs of many generations of people contributed to societal beliefs, but the remnants of many historical events result in a nation concentrated with cultural attractions. We began day 6 by travelling to one of these many sites; the recently discovered tomb of Qin Shi Huang – the first emperor of China. This grave site is especially remarkable because it is accompanied by 8,000 stone statures of Chinese militiamen, better known as the Terracotta Warriors. As we drove through the streets of Xi’an, our new tour guide Kevin described the events that culminated in the construction of this impressive cemetery.

Before Qin Shi Haung rose to power, China was composed of 7 states. Upon taking control over one of these states, Qin Shi Huang proceeded to expand his area of rule to the remaining six states, leading to the first unified and centralized state in Chinese history. As we had learned in our visit to the Forbidden City in Beijing, many precautionary measures were taken by emperors to ensure enduring prosperity and wellbeing, and Qin Shi Huang was no exception. In preparation for his death, Qin Shi Huang mandated that his tomb be surrounded by an army of warriors to protect him in his journey through the afterlife. While exploring the museum, which held many artifacts extracted from the grave compound, we were able to see the imposing, 7-foot statues that represent the strongest of Chinese warriors. These soldiers not only stood ready for battle but rode horses or commanded chariots. The intricate details of each individual statue alone were impressive, with specific facial expressions, armor, and weapons varying between soldiers. With this in mind, it seemed unfathomable to me that such a tomb containing thousands of these soldiers could be built in the given time of construction. Walking to the three designated pit areas for tourists, our group was able to see the burial grounds up close. The excavation process is timely and complicated, as archeologists struggle to uncover the soldiers while maintaining the original colors. Therefore, several of the viewable statues were wrapped in a thin plastic film to prevent the pigments from oxidizing. Pit 1, which serves as the largest and most impressive showcase of the tomb site, was incredibly crowded with sightseers eager to get a clear view of this world-renown attraction. When I was able to find a good vantage point, the thousands of stone soldiers martialed in formations to protect the grave were clearly visible. This pit itself seemed massive, and I struggled to process the idea that only a quarter of all soldiers have been unearthed.

Pit 1 excavation site

After a great buffet lunch, we rode the bus to central Xi’an to bike the city wall, a barrier with a perimeter of roughly 8 miles designed to protect the much smaller Xi’an of feudal society. This wall enclosed the most important city structures and was home to higher ranking political figures. At the time, the area outside the city wall consisted of farmland on which the peasants lived. As we biked along the top of the wall, I was able to distinguish an interesting dichotomy between the buildings inside and outside the wall. As an ancient location of political significance, the internal structures were left relatively unaltered from their original state as a probe into the conditions of feudal China. However, the land immediately surrounding the city wall is densely packed with large skyscrapers. In this way, we were essentially able to view societies of two different time periods in China’s long history.

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