Roaming with warriors


With over 5,000 years of history China is reputed to be the single oldest uninterrupted civilisation in the world. Also known as the Middle Kingdom due to the Chinese's belief that they resided in the centre of all civilisations, it covers approximately one-fifteenth of the land area of the world and contains many natural wonders.

In the city of Xi'an, you will find much of that which is worth seeing in China. From the ancient artefacts and evidences of China's rich histories, to the multitude of religious monuments which indicate their influences on the Chinese.

The Xi'an of today is not just a major tourist destination and historical city, but also an important industrial and manufacturing centre. It is also an ideal place to break the journey between Beijing and Shanghai.

As one of the six ancient capitals of China, Xi'an served as the imperial capital 12 times in more than 3,000 years back when it was called Chang'an. During this time famous dynasties such as Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang all went by and left their respective marks on the city.

Today, it is a world-famous tourist city with a treasure house of cultural relics. In the worlds of Chen Chen, a teacher who lived in Xi'an for more than 20 years, "Xi'an is may not be as developed as Shanghai or Shenzhen, but it has that unique 'ancient' quality which the others do not have."

Possibly the greatest period of development for the city was during the Tang Dynasty (618-904). It was during this time that the city truly became a major religous centre, not only for Buddhism and Taoism but also for several other religions. Some of the new religions to enter China at that time-Zoroastrianism, Nestorianism and Manichaeism-all came to China through Xi'an first.

Recognised as being at par with the now capital city of Beijing in terms of its historical significance, Xi'an also features one of the five famous mountains of China, the Huashan Mountain.

Other major attractions in Xi'an are the City Wall of the Ming Dynasty and the magnificent Palace of Emperor Qin. However, as Loh Nyon Jeen who toured Xi'an recently said, "when people talk about the historic sights of Xi'an, the Terra Cotta Warriors are always the first to come to mind."

First discovered in the massive tomb complex of the first Chinese Emperor Qin Shin Huang, the terra cotta statues numbered more than 8,000 soldiers with horses. Spreading over some 56 square kilometres, its discovery in the 1970s was arguably the most important archaeological find of the 20th century. Archaeologists continue to excavate the burial site of Emperor Qin even today, as the actual tomb has not been found.

It is believed that Emperor Qin wanted his afterlife to be the same as his life on earth and with the many attempts on his life during his time as emperor, wanted his soldiers to protect him even in the afterlife. There were four pits excavated in all, but the fourth pit was found to be empty leading to be belief that it was left incomplete as the Emperor had died then.

The monumental discovery of these ancient statues was, surprisingly, an accidental affair. From a couple of Chinese peasants digging a well, the excavation multiplied exponentially in size and archaeologists from all over the country gather to uncover this massive piece of history.

The design for the statues originated before the Qin dynasty, the time when master were buried with live women, slaves and soldiers. However, through the years, this tradition of burying live humans with their deceased monarch ceased and the clay statues used in their stead.

The early days of the humanity have always been a fascinating topic for one and all. And in Xi'an, an entire Stone Age village has been excavated and preserved for future generations to view.

Market as another of Xi'an major attractions, the Banpo museum is located just five miles east of the city. Dating all the way back to 4,500BC, the village is believed to be the remains of the Yangshao culture and is preserved under a huge auditorium roof. Approximately 800 years of Chinese history is encapsulated in its 46 huts fire pits, storage cellars, pottery kilns and 174 gravesites. Visitors can get a glimpse of weapons fashioned from stone and beautiful pottery painted with sharp geometric shapes that depict fishes and deer. These simple everyday items show both the lifestyle and the artistic instincts of the Chinese ancestors.

The most haunting aspect of the village would be the half a dozen skeletons and the graves of the village located in a corner of the museum. They emphasise not only the length of human history, but how strong and resilient human beings are too, having survived so long in a village such as this one.

For the more adventurous, there are lesser-know tourist spots which are just as interesting as the popular ones. First sighted by an American pilot during World War II, these so-called Chinese White Pyramids are reported to be about 300 metres in height and just 100km south-west of Xi'an.

Touted to be one of the biggest rivals to the pyramids of Gaza of Egypt, at least in terms of mass, the Chinese pyramids are believed to be at least 4,000 years old. On an interesting note, they were said to be originally painted black on the North, blue-grey on the East, red on the South, white on the West and yellow on the top Centre platform.

However, little is known about the origins of these structures and the questions of who and why have baffled archaeologists since discovery. The first indication of Christianity's spread into China was in AD652. However, 200 years later, foreign religions were banned and the missionaries only began to come to China another 700 years later.

The Protestant Church of Xi'an possesses a tower of mixed influences. The building epitomises the mixture of cultures with its combined traditional Chinese and northern European architectural styles.

The influences of foreign cultures in evident in the Catholic Church too. It is said that even today, the mass is still said in Latin, even though the rituals and the language have been almost lost in the West.

The Chinese civilisation has come a long way and highly commendable efforts have been made to preserve whatever that remains of its long history. Xi'an role in this preservation effort is what distinguishes it from many of the other cities. (*Kok Wah Chuen - Frequent traveller)




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