November 30, 2012

Xi'an

It was dark by the time we descended on Xi’an. Like any other airport in China, Xi’an’s airport is somewhere between large and staggering, and still expanding. It isn’t hard to hazard a guess why. Xi’an (or Chang’an, as it was known in the past) is one of those few cities in the world to transcend time in retaining their gateway status, with its claim to fame and prosperity being one to the ancient, legendary Silk Road. As the trade artery between the East and the West, historians have also linked it to the Hellenistic period, followed by an era of breakthrough philosophy, science and mathematics in the 3rd century B.C. If one steps back to look at the entire scene, one can see that this was an era that had everything, together with danger and adventure thrown in the mix; and it all traveled back and forth from Xi’an all the way to Rome and possibly Alexandria.

Next morning, we headed out to see the Terracotta Army.

Like the Egyptian pharaohs, it is apparent that Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China, believed in the afterlife, and so he began a construction of an army to protect him in his afterlife soon after he ascended throne in his teens. Becoming obsessed with death later in life, he actively sought immortality presumably using methods by those who preached it. I mean we have to come to terms with the fact that some of the greatest art in the world is attributed to insanity of individuals with great power.

As a substitute of burying a real army, bless the person who advised this to the emperor, a life size army made out of terra cotta was approved and was built to perfection. That every detail, feature, position or posture is unique for each of those is stunning. And it is in these masterpieces — everyone of them — is where we have a glimpse of life, attires, shoes they wore (all with perfect soles and treads), their weaponry, and their horses.

The bow-trigger is just one of those details that offer a glimpse of sophistication in their weaponry, i.e., they apparently used crossbows with bronze triggers. The wood obviously rotted long ago, leaving only the metallic parts like the one above behind as evidence, which is still a remarkable discovery in knowing they understood the mechanics of a trigger to be able to develop one that would be efficient as a weapon, and issued to warriors in the emperor’s army. That this entire army was discovered as late as 1974 makes it even more remarkable; the world is just fortunate that it wasn’t discovered by the luddites of the Cultural Revolution.