21 Nov

Backdated: November 3, 2012.

I spent the last few days in Xi’an, an ancient Chinese city world famous for its Terracotta Army, one of the greatest archaeological finds of the century.

The Army is a collection of life-size terracotta sculptures that the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, had built and buried with him for protection in the afterlife — which began, for him, over 2,200 years ago.

Each warrior is different — right down to the facial features.

Let’s just say Qin Shi Huang went a little overboard.  The Army took 700,000 men to build.  It consists of over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, and 670 horses, as well as other non-military figures like officials, acrobats, strongmen, and musicians – the majority of which remain buried, as only a portion of the site has been excavated (the rest delayed due to expense and inadequate technology to preserve what is unearthed).

And the Army just guards his tomb.  The tomb itself (which remains unopened) is city-sized, measuring 56.25 square kilometers – the largest anywhere in the world.

An excavation site in progress. What a job…

Our tour guide was going on about the greatness of Qin Shi Huang – and indeed his obit writers had a few things to write about – like how he unified China for the first time and ushered in nearly two millennia of imperial rule; linked piece-meal sections of the Great Wall together; constructed a massive road system; and standardized measurements and currency and even the length of cart axles to facilitate transport on the road system.

Feeling it was lacking, I tried to provide some perspective to the group that Mr. Qin Shi Huang did all of this, impressive as it was, at the expense of many lives and great human sacrifice, but I’m not sure how it went over.  [Okay, there’s a chance I called him “a ruthless, genocidal, war-mongering, egotistical nutcase who burned books and buried people alive.”]

We also biked the Ming City Wall around Xi’an, which is the most complete and intact city wall in China.  It’s 13.7 kilometers in length and over 600 years old.

Also (maybe I’m going a little overboard now?), Xi’an was the starting point of the Silk Road, an ancient trade route connecting Asia to the West.  In the 8th century AD, it was the largest city in the world, home to one million (now that’s just a small village in China).  Almost a third of that population were foreigners who largely resided in the beautifully preserved Muslim Quarter of the city:


One Response to “Megalomania”


  1. An Elephant Sat on Me « Lucie on the Lam - November 25, 2012

    […] up, wrapping the ankle up, and then… climbing the Great Wall, trekking through rice paddies, biking city walls, and more generally just carting around myself and my 44 pounds of worldly […]

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