Walls and Tombs and Clay Soldiers — 2007

A view of a long walkway with many people casually walking about and in the distance a large pagoda style building with a green roof and red accents.
A striking view of The Bell Tower 西安鐘樓.
Photo by David Wright Gibson.
All photos at Wright Gibson Memories

Have you ever found yourself in a city you never knew existed? And here it is. Eight million souls living their lives. Building their businesses. Nurturing their families. And caring for a massive archeological site that is part of their cultural heritage. It was new to me when we arrived in the summer of 2007.

Xi’an or 西安 means Western Peace and is pronounced with an SH sound at the start, so /shee-on/ (Wikipedia, Xi’an). People have been living in the area for more than 500,000 years, but perhaps the most interesting period, especially for our visit, was the time of the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC). Qin (pronounced /chin/) was ruled by Qin Shi Huang. He acceded to the throne at 13 years of age and by 38 he had conquered the so-called Warring States and became the first emperor of a united China in 221 B.C.E.

A photo of thick walls forming ranks moving down left to right on a diagonal through the picture. Between the thick walls are ranks of ancient chinese warriors in uniform with some horses, all made of terracotta with a gray-green cast.
The terracotta warriors on parade in their ranks. The trenches were originally covered with thatch roofing. Photo by David Wright Gibson.
All photos at Wright Gibson Memories

Qin Shi Huang was obsessed with death. He took enormous efforts to avoid this reality and achieve immortality. In some respects, he was successful. Here we are, still remembering him 2,227 years after his death. One of the primary reasons he is remembered is the nature of his tomb. They began construction immediately upon his accession. It is reputed to be a massive version of the capitol city. For reasons that I have not been able to learn, the location or existence of the tomb became lost to time. Archaeologists believe that the main mausoleum is undamaged by looters. They are not, however, comfortable opening the site yet. They are waiting until technology advances enough to ensure the site survives when it is exposed to air.

A photo of Tim and Corinne standing in front of a rank of terracotta soldiers of various ranks.
Tim and Corinne posing with some of the terracotta warriors.
Photo by David Wright Gibson.
All photos at Wright Gibson Memories

In 1974, Yang Zhifa, his five brothers and a neighbor, were working to dig a well in the area when they discovered a terracotta head and a bronze arrowhead. Yang Zhifa immediately informed authorities who began the archeological work we see today. On a happy note, Yang himself was rewarded, relocated, and later given a job signing books in the museum gift shop. (Wikipedia, Yang Zifa).

A night time view of the pagoda-style Bell Tower with light rising up and two striking tall lamps on either side of the building.
The Bell Tower at night. Photo by David Wright Gibson.
All photos at Wright Gibson Memories

After walking in the rain a good bit as we explored the site of the Qin tomb, we returned to Xi’an where we explored the market and found some excellent food. Well, Patrick was not a fan, but the rest of us enjoyed it. The city is beautiful with monuments that have stood intact from the Ming dynasty. These include the Bell Tower and the city wall.

A view of a medieval wall sloping down to green trees and shrubs. The wall recedes into the distance with flags and decorations on the lampposts.
A view of the Xi’an city wall.
Photo by David Wright Gibson.
All photos at Wright Gibson Memories

The next day we took a long walk around the city. This became a famous walk when Corinne, pausing to take in the beautiful view across the interior of the city, said, “You know what this city needs?”

“No, Corinne. What does this city need?”

“A P.F. Changs.”

It was so calculated in its ridiculousness, and yet cut through with some of our challenges in finding well prepared food, that we fell out laughing. We are still chuckling about it today.


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