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The Warriors, the Wall, Xi’an & the Emperor Qin Shihuang!

Aug 21, 2016

Recently back from Xi’an I am not surprised that China’s first ever emperor was a product of a Silk Route location – Xi’an or Chang’an in the Shaanxi province. Ying Zheng took the throne in 246 BC at the age of 13. By 221 BC he had unified a collection of warring kingdoms and took the name of Qin Shihuang.

What is now referred to as the eighth wonder of the world, the Terracotta Warriors site, is a part of an elaborate mausoleum created to accompany the emperor during his eternal rest into the afterlife. One of the first projects the young king accomplished when alive was the construction of his own tomb. It is believed he never gave up the quest for immortality and continued his desperate obsession for discovering the elixir.

One enemy that would not give up pushing back the Qin Empire again and again was the Xiongnu tribes. As a response to this challenge came up what became the precursor to the Great Wall. The Qin dynasty lasted only a little past the lifetime of its first emperor (221 to 206 BC).

The Hans (206 BC to 220 AD) followed the Qin dynasty; it was under their Emperor Wu Di that first Chinese missions were sent to South-East Asia, Central Asia and eventually even Rome, marking the beginnings of the Silk Road. However, even before the Silk Route was formally established, could there be something that Qin Shihuang imbibed from ancient Egypt and its Pharaohs? Perhaps historians would some day be able to unravel the compelling drivers of the two legacies that the first Qin emperor left behind – the Warriors and the Wall.

Thanks to the consolidation by the Qin dynasty, it created a platform for the launch of a first truly global trade route both by land and sea – the Silk Route. The stability and prosperity it brought about, made it a home to several dynasties, later also evolving into a major seat of Buddhist learning. Both Faxian and Xuanzhang the renowned traveler scholars, who extensively explored India, resided in Xian. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda housed Xuanzhang’s library – a collection of Buddhist scriptures he carried with him from ancient India.

Now back to the present. The Terracotta Warriors’ site seems forever busy at a frenzied pace. Such is the rush that the traffic on the approach highway barely crawls owing to major traffic jams. Your patience gets further tested once you get inside the pit area which is covered by humongous hangar like structures. The thousands of eager tourists do not easily give into your desire to get close to anything you may wish to watch closely and patiently. You are bound to get pushed again and again by a sea of humanity. The rapid fire clicking of cameras feels like over-excited glow worms dancing in random orbital patterns.

Slowly and steadily we all get used to the sounds, hustle & bustle, dim lights and get the focus right to be attentive enough to hear what our guide Mr Li has to say. He has his own sense of humour. As we peer into the trenches where stand the formations and lies the rubble – he points at the mounds of clay next to them. ‘That is original clay which has been dug out from the pits to be sold for making fake terracotta soldiers for sale’!

Every now and then he reminds us what all to see and where to look for him ‘you have 20 minutes sharp’, if anyone in the group were to get swallowed in multiple directions. Dr Liang Rong, our guardian angel, from host Tsinghua University SEM keeps a watchful eye to ensure none of us go out of her sight. After centuries of subterranean existence the chance discovery of this amazing find has literally unleashed massive energy wave after wave of curious hordes. ‘Chalo Chalo’ (Let’s go, let’s go) shouts Li when he spots us. He informs our multinational lot as to how he has picked this from the several Indian groups that he receives. It is concise, loud and clear. ‘And I am the only one saying it’!

Despite all the din and distractions one is overcome by the scale of design and execution of the ‘project’. More importantly the enormity of restoring them all – six thousand plus warriors and the paraphernalia from virtual rubble. The Sherris couple who were revisiting since 1997 find the site no different from their first time. Dr Katja Hanewald who specialises in Population Ageing Research at the UNSW and I talk about how it has become scientifically possibile for humans to live a full 300 years. Maybe you need to really survive that long if you want to see a perfect recreation of what Qin Shihuang originally conceived and left behind! Chris Parsons from Cass Business School and I remain foxed by young Qin’s having to reconcile with putting together an empire, pursuit for immortality and life after – all at once!

As we sit down for our formal conference dinner, Katja seated next reminds me the cuisines are hot and extra spicy owing to the Central Asian influences on the Silk Route. They truly represent the culinary diversity of China.

Eight Weirdies In Shaanxi Province
Hot pepper is a delicacy
Local people may have their meals without any meat or vegetable, but they can never do without hot pepper which has already become a kind of delicious food. It can be put in noodle or steamed bread. The hotter the better. (Picture postcard quote)

Then on my return flight from Hong Kong (well ahead of Typhoon Nida making a landfall – it was Signal 1 raised then), I had this young man from Gujarat (Guangdong of India, what The Economist termed it) as a fellow traveller. Returning from Shenzhen where his company gets its I.T. hardware manufactured. He was visiting the client to fix some bugs is all I gather. His excitement about the wonderful commutes on the MTR across large parts of Guangdong was understandable. He did not follow Cantonese but managed his way courtesy the efficient systems. And food? There are plenty of vegetarian options, he said. I even found an Indian restaurant in Shenzhen!

With some time to spare, having checked in, I could not resist entering the airport post office. It was such an abode of peace. The gracious lady manning the counter served me tea as I sat down and scribbled on the four picture post cards. Only the farthest one – to the US – has been delivered till date! The rest I guess are still somewhere on their way via the snail mail on the New Silk Route. A taste of slow paced nostalgia…

From → Articles

  1. liang permalink

    Such a nice memory in Xi’an. Very delicate description.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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