Besides people, the one other thing Xi’an is not lacking in: underground objects.
Xi’an has been at the centre for so much of Chinese history that any quack archaeologist could point in a random direction and hit an ancient burial site or parts of some old city wall. We heard from a source well known for their unwavering honesty (our tout/taxi driver) that the Xi’an subway project took 4 years to complete, mainly because instead of blasting right through, they had to do most of the tunnelling work using brushes for fear of accidentally destroying some historical artefact. (True story)
Xi’an is one of the largest tourist cities in China, and a lot of Xi’an-ites rely on tourism to make their living. (90% of whom tried to convince us to join their Terracotta Warriors tours). Yet the people of Xi’an proudly declare that “there are no nice sceneries within 1000000000000 miles from Xi’an” (a very rough translation).
Tourists come to Xi’an to see the historical sights and to walk the path of the ancients. Because of this, most tourists (like us) coming to Xi’an “just to see the Terracotta Warriors” normally end up visiting an insane amount of archaeological sites and falling asleep at museums.
I’ll be the first person to admit that I am not a fan of most “archaeological finds”. Before you history buffs get your terracotta panties in a bunch, let me stress that I KNOW I AM AN UNSOPHISTICATED LOUT. I know many of these objects that have been dug up contain huge historical, artistic and cultural value, and that they retain essential information, crucial in the piecing together of the stories of our ancestors.
I’m just saying that, to me PERSONALLY, seeing huge display cases of vases, pots and pans makes me feel like I am walking through the crockery section of Giant Megastore.
Having said that, even an uncouth barbarian like me was suitably wowed by the Han Yang Ling Museum and Mausoleum (汉阳陵).
Some quick facts: Han Yang Ling was built in 126 BC for the fourth Han Emperor, Han Jing Di, Liu Qi and his Queen, Wang Shi. Like many other archaeological finds in Xi’an, the tomb was discovered in the outskirts of Xi’an when a quack archaeologist pointed in a random direction and dug in. Han Yang Ling Museum was built for exhibiting, protecting and studying the relics unearthed from the mausoleum.
I know… it sounds kind of boring and a lot less sexy than Qin Shi Huang’s Terracotta Warriors from this description, but believe me, it is one of the most awesome museums we’ve been to.
For one thing, Han Yang Ling is very much a work in progress. Excavation work is being carried out as we speak. The museum is built over the burial pits and glass floors are built over the pits so tourists can peer into the half uncovered burial items. On working days, real life archaeologists allegedly can be seen excavating the pits. Jo not so politely reminded me that Dr Henry Jones would probably not be at the excavation site as I hummed the Indiana Jones theme song while we walked through the displays.
Being less of a big name draw than the Terracotta Warriors also means that there are a lot less people at the museum. It’s kind of tranquil, walking in the huge grounds and gardens around the museum without the blaring of tour guides on loud speakers in the background. It also helps that we were able to have most of the displays to ourselves instead of having to peer at them over other people’s shoulders.
Most importantly, the displays themselves are not that shabby. True, the clay figurines of Han Jing Di are A LOT smaller in size than the Terracotta Warriors, but they are definitely no less impressive in scale or in detail. In fact, the meticulousness with which the sculptors made each statue is kind of awe-inspiring.
The nude bodies of the Han clay figures were first moulded (complete with genitalia) (tee hee hee), each statue would then be fitted with clothes and moveable wooden arms (Han Jing Di was a big fan of action figures), before having individual faces fitted on and painted… or so the display signs tell us. After years of being in the tombs, the wooden arms and elaborate silk clothing had mostly been corroded away and the paint oxidized off. So what we see now are these…
Weird armless, naked statues.
I hope Han Jing Di enjoys nudist soccer in the afterlife.