(Can’t get photos to insert,will try later)
We are in X’ian, which was the capital of China beginning around 200 BCE and lasting for more than a thousand years. In those days it is said to have contained a population of over one million and was the largest city in the world—with an elaborate system of domestic water, sewers and streets. Today its population is almost nine million, having doubled in the last twenty years and is one of the most dynamic cities in China though probably not in the top ten in size.
Our high speed train from Pingyao arrived here in about three hours where we were met by our guide and driver and taken to the luxurious, downtown Hilton Hotel, a ride of over an hour and a half. The new train station in X’ian is spectacular and located in a outer suburb with new roads and towering, mostly empty skyscrapers—the same situation we witnessed the first day we arrived in China. Eventually we reached the second ring road where signs of life started to appear, and minutes later we found ourselves in another bustling Chinese City with 50 story apartment houses everywhere and busy streets lined with shops.
We spent two full days here. The first day involved an hour’s ride out of the city to see the famous Terra Cotta Warriors and the second day a tour of the city when we visited two pagodas/temples dating back to the 900s, the city museum and a few lesser sights. That afternoon Embry rented a bike in the rain and peddled along the top of the ancient wall of the old city. For lunch that day we were treated to a “banquet “ of dumplings, 15 different varieties in all, in the “best dumpling restaurant in X’ian.”
The Terra Cotta Warrior exhibit has been labeled in some books the eighth wonder of the world, and there is no way to do it justice here. Some 8,000 clay, life size, human statues of warriors were unearthed beginning in 1972, the first one by a local farmer who discovered fragments in his well. (He was at the museum signing autographs and Embry got it on the book we bought.) Excavation has been going on ever since, and thousands more clay warriors are thought to remain under ground. The museum structures actually expand over the excavation site and are very impressive.
The clay warriors were placed in several tombs following the death, around 200 BCE, of the first Emperor of China, Emperor Qin, who it seems was the Mao Tse Tung of his day, destroying all things past, including most of the scrolls of Confucius, murdering all his enemies and ordering all the workers involved in his tomb construction to be buried alive with him so that no one would know how to replicate his elaborate tomb. (Others buried alive included all his concubines who did not bear children). In any event this sight is worthy of anyone’s bucket list.
The most interesting thing about the pagoda visits the second day is that the Chinese government has spent a lot of money restoring the temples and the pagodas since considerable damage was done by the Red Guard in the 1970s, very similar to what Putin has done with Russian Orthodox Churches in Russia. If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em , as they say, or at least co-opt them. Our guide suggested that it was really all about tourism and trying to help the X’ian economy.
Our guide for the visit, “Diane,” turned out to one of the best yet and quite honest about the issues facing modern China. She has been a tour guide for over twelve years and has an eight-year-old son and a husband who works in the office of an electronics company. She openly discussed the abuses and hardships of the Cultural Revolution. But she also mentioned that her parents were peasants and that her “middle class” life and her successful career were made possible by what happened then. Though current economic disparities may be creating a kind of new class system in China today, Communism under Mao did pretty much eliminate the old class system and created opportunities for peasants and for women who surely would not have had the opportunities they have today without the revolution.
X’ian is actually a terrific city, less imposing than Beijing and a bit less stress for tourists. It has great parks, lots of trees providing shade for pedestrians and more sights than you can see in two days. Sadly, we have seen few American tourists since we have been here and only a handful of Western Europeans. If you ever get to China, it should
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Sending Matthew’s contact details for Shanghai separately.