Although being in the grand city of Beijing for the last few days has been exhilarating (as I expect Shanghai will be next week), one of the reasons I booked this particular tour is that it visits numerous less populated and rural destinations in China. For example, I was eager to explore the city of Xian, especially after my exposure seven years ago to one of the area’s greatest treasures showcased in “The First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Army” exhibit at the High Museum of Art (High Museum of Art Atlanta, 2008).
It was a bit surreal to fly from the country’s current bustling capital to an ancient one located in China’s heartland that’s considered to be one of the birthplaces of human civilization. Xian developed over 3,100 years, hosted 13 dynasties, and joined Athens, Rome, and Cairo as one of the four major ancient civilization capitals (Xi’an Tourism China, 2015). Who knew? I certainly don’t recall this astounding fact presented in my Western education. But as enthralled by this as I was, the locals who safeguard and educate visitors about one of the greatest archeological discoveries of the 20th century are clearly very proud of their heritage.
I was completely awestruck to see the vast excavated underground areas filled with life-sized terracotta warriors, horses, and chariots. It was fascinating to see how archeologists and grad students were collecting smashed shards of material and rebuilding (Humpty Dumpty style) these stately figures. Our guide beamed as she shared details about how the more than 6,000 unique statues silently guard the tomb complex of China’s first emperor, who reigned from 221-210 B.C. (Xi’an Tourism China, 2015). She happily informed guests about this national buried treasure and was eager to discuss the finding unearthed accidently by a local farmer digging a well in 1974.
My experience in Xian was made even more special as I accidentally ran into new Chinese friends at the exhibit that I’d previously met the night before when temporarily lost in the airport. “Vivian,” the name she used in her job when working with German tourists, was taking her daughter to see some of her heritage. Among thousands of visitors that day, we found each other admiring the same section of terracotta warriors and continued to exchange heart-felt greetings and travel stories. Vivian was one of many Chinese citizens that was eager to connect with me as a Westerner and was pleased to practice her English and communication skills. I was particularly impressed by Vivian’s warmth and knowledge of more than five languages.
Homage To A Golden Age
National and local pride was also evident in abundance that evening as I observed a Tang Dynasty stage show that paid homage to what is regarded as the “Golden Age of China” during 618-907 A.D. (Study.com, 2015). This 300-year period was recognized as a time of peace and creativity. It is reported that during this era, the works of artists and intellectuals, as well as Buddhist monks and Taoist priests thrived.
Witnessing both of these impressive displays provided me with further insight into the Chinese identify. Even though the sheer size of the country is daunting and many diverse groups contribute to the immense population, I recognize that there are historical and cultural ties that contribute to the nation’s social structure.
High Museum of Art Atlanta (2008). High Museum presents record-breaking terracotta army exhibition. [Press release]. Retrieved from http://www.high.org/~/media/Sites/HMA/Res/PDF/Press/FirstEmperorReleaseFINAL.ashx
Study.com. (2015). Literature & art of golden age China. Retrieved from http://study.com/academy/lesson/literature-art-of-golden-age-china.html
Xi’an Tourism China. (2015). Retrieved from http://en1.xian-tourism.com