XIAN AND SHAANXI PROVINCE (Terra-cotta Army, Emperor Qin's Tomb)


Shaanxi Province
SHAANXI PROVINCE is famous for three things: the ancient capital of Xian in the south, the Yellow River in the east and the Shaanxi Loess Plateau in the north. The Long March ended in the Shaanxi town of Yennan, where the Communists regrouped. Shaanxi has large coal deposits and is relatively poor. Tourist Office: Shaanxi Provincial Tourism Administration, 15 North Chang’an Rd, 710061 Xian, Shaanxi, China, tel. (0)- 29-526-1289, fax: (0)- 29-526-0151

XIAN (550 miles west of Beijing) was the capital of China from 221 B.C. to A.D. 907, and today it is one of China's premier tourist attraction. Located in southern Shaanxi Province, it is sometimes called the "Sleeping Town of China" because most if the country's first emperors and their wives and concubines were buried here. Xian was the starting point of the Silk Road and home of the Banpo people, a Neolithic culture that lived in the area 8,000 years ago.

At first glance present-day Xian doesn't seem particularly appealing. The capital of Shaanxi. Province, it is home to 3 million people and is an important industrial and trading center with lots of dust and grime. Plus, it is touristy. Along with it tombs and terra-cotta soldiers is a 550-seat Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant, a Sheraton, a Hyatt, a Holiday Inn, a relatively new airport (28 miles away and completed in 1993), large construction projects, new department stores with glass panels, shopping malls with plastic trees and a brick-paved shopping street with neon lights and welcome signs in English.

Most of Xian's premier tourist sites are located outside of town. In the city itself are Buddhist, Taoist, Tibetan and Confucian temples (some are in ruins, others are restored). Tang dynasty music and dance is performed every night. Dong Dajie is Xian's main shopping avenue.

Shaanxi map
Modern Xian is home to 8.4 million people. More than 800 earthen burial mound tombs are in the fields that encircle Xian. These include the tombs of 11 Han Dynasty and 18 Tang Dynasty emperors as well as the tomb of Emperor Qin and his terra cotta army. So far only a few have excavated because the Chinese believe that digging up the tombs would be a desecration of their ancestors final resting place. The sites that have been excavated were either in the way of construction sites or stumbled on accidently by well diggers.

Web Sites: Wikipedia Wikipedia government site Xian Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Tourist Office: Xian Tourism Administration, 159 Beiyuanmen, 710003 Xian, Shaanxi, China, tel. (0)- 29-729-5632, fax: (0)- 29-729-5607 Maps: China Map Guide China Map Guide ; China Map Guide Lonely Planet Lonely Planet Hotel Web Site: Sinohotel Sinohotel Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Travellerspoint (click China and place in China) Travellerspoint Getting There: Xian is accessible by air and bus and well-connected by train to the rest of China. Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide

History of Xian:The most famous tomb in Xian belongs to Emperor Qin Shihuang, a charismatic leader who united China for the first time 2200 years ago, built up the Great Wall of China and made Xian the capital of his empire. Xian's famous terra-cotta army was produced to protect Qin against rivals in the afterlife. Qin and the emperors that followed him made their capital in Xian to take advantage of natural defenses: the Yellow River to the east and the Qin Lin Mountains to the south.

The Han emperors that followed Emperor Qin kept their court in Xian. After years of chaos and upheaval, the Sui emperors built a city called Chang'an in the A.D. 6th century on the ruins of Xian. Under the Tang emperors, Chang'an grew into a dynamic metropolis with two million people and great buildings, art and literature. Financed in part by wealth from Silk Toad trade, it rivaled Constantinople in its magnificence. The Song emperors established a new capital in Kaifeng in the 10th century and Xian went into a period of decline. Xian was visited by Marco Polo in the 13th century but by that time the capital of China was in Beijing. Little of the old city remains today.

City Wall of Xian is the only complete city wall in China. Built in the 14th century during the Ming dynasty and amazingly well preserved today, it is laid out in a rectangle around central Xian and is eight miles long, 12 meters high, 12 meters wide at the top and 15 to 18 meters wide at the bottom. Each side has a gate, on top of which are main towers, watchtowers, medieval-style crenelation, sentry posts, and windows designed for crossbows. The North Gate has red beams and a large arched roof and looks like a temple,

The entire perimeter of the wall is surrounded by a moat where you can fish for carp if you like. Restored between 1986 and 1995, the wall can be climbed for an admission price of 80 cents during the day and $2.90 at night. Traffic zooms in and out of the gates, especially near the train station. In some places there are souvenir stands in yellow yurts, amusement rides and mechanical tableaus represented Chinese myths.

Xian Old Town

Xian's Old Town (near the South Gate of the City Wall) has been spruced up for tourist to the point it resembles part of a theme park. The main street is lined with lantern poles, banners, and red and yellow paper balls. The wood-railed balconies are strung with outdoor lights. Sanxue Jia is a cobblestone street that runs for half a mile. It is surrounded by hundreds of Old Town shops selling ceramics, paint brushes, tea cups, colorful wooden charms, soft drinks, T-shirts, silk embroideries, folk crafts and rubbings of carved stone monuments.

The traditional brick and wood houses feature carved lintels, upturned roof cornices and wooden shop signs. Artists produce wonderful calligraphy and signature stamps carved from soapstone


Big Wild Goose Pagoda (in Ci'en Temple in the southern part of Xian) is one of the most well-known tourist sight in Xian city. Built in A.D. 652 during the Tang dynasty and set on 190-foot-high hill, it is seven stories high and slightly pyramidal in shape and contains 657 Buddhist scriptures, some brought to China from India in ancient times. Big Wild Goose Pagoda and Little Wild Goose Pagoda (built between 707 and 709) are the most important Tang structures in Xian. They used to dominate the city but now they are lost is sea of concrete block buildings and construction projects.

Shaanxi Provincial Museum (on Sanxue Jie in Xian) is situated on the grounds of a beautiful and peaceful 14th-century Confucian Temple uncluttered by souvenir stands and hawkers. Within the six exhibition rooms and seven galleries are silk scraps from the Silk Road era; regiments of tri-colored Tang-dynasty horses; exquisite ancient bronzes; two miniature armies; vivid frescoes; and the world's oldest seismograph, which is shaped like a punch bowl. There is also a superb collection of calligraphy, dating from 200 B.C. to the reign of the Last Emperor. The displays are poorly lighted and few signs are in English.

Forest of Stelaes (part of Shaanxi Provincial Museum) is the finest collection of carved stone monuments in China. Among the 2,300 stelaes and tablets in the stele pavilion are a stele recording the history of Christianity in China; the "Kaicheng Stone Classics;" and the "Classics of Filial Piety" and a complete text of the Ancient Confucian Classics carved in stone in A.D. 837. The "Kaicheng Stone Classics" alone consists of 144 stelaes containing 650,000 inscriptions.

National Museum of Shaanxi (in a new building south of Xian's city wall) contains an impressive central display of 39 Tang Dynasty frescoes removed from the walls of the royal tombs. These murals, which are up to 1,400 years old, contain images of Tang Dynasty musicians, dancers, and court eunuchs, rendered in pale oranges, reds and blues. Upstairs in the Emperor Qin exhibit are five terra-cotta soldiers, which can be observed up close and their details can better be appreciated. The display cases are well lighted and there are plenty of signs in English.

Other Sights in Xian include the Drum Tower, and the Temple of the Recumbent Dragon. The Great Mosque of Xian is one of the of the oldest and biggest mosques in China, Built on A.D. 742, it is used today by 60,000 Xian Muslims. The mosque has been enlarged, vandalized, torn down and rebuilt many times over the centuries. During the Cultural Revolution it was reportedly used to house pigs.

Terra-cotta Army of Emperor Qin


Terra-cotta Army of Emperor Qin (30 kilometers miles outside of Xian) is one of the most famous and impressive sights in China. Produced during the third century B.C., this army of over 10,000 life-size figures is found in three massive pits with ramps used for putting the soldiers in their places. Most of the figures are armed warriors, meant to accompany to Emperor Qin Shihuang Di to the after-life and protect him in heaven from his enemies.

The Chinese believe that a person takes to heaven whatever he is buried with. Emperor Qin no doubt made many enemies in his long, ruthless career. He may have been worried that these enemies might gang up against him in the afterlife, which explains why he wanted to have such a large force to protect him.

Jeffrey Rigel of the University of California at Berkeley called the statues "a creation of awesome scale and accomplishment---an unforgettable symbol of the power of China's first emperor." More than 700,000 laborers spent 36 years producing the terra-cotta army and Emperor Qin's mausoleum. Much of the work was done while the emperor was still alive. In 206 B.C., four years after Qin Shihuang's death, the burial vaults containing the terra-cotta soldiers were raided, burned and vandalized by peasants, who stole the real crossbows, spears, arrows and pikes carried by the statues and used them in a rebellion against Emperor Qin's descendants.

In 1974, the terra-cotta soldiers were discovered by a local man digging a well. Archaeologists were stunned. Unlike Emperor Qin's tomb there was no written record of the terra-cotta army. When archaeologists arrived, they discovered some terra-cotta heads in the home of an old woman who had placed the heads on an altar and worshiped them as gods. The archaeologists had no idea either of the magnitude of what had been discovered. They expected only to stay for a few weeks. More than 40 years later, they still here uncovering new stuff.

Two men in Xian claim to be the first man to unearth the terra-cotta man. Yang Quanyi, works at a tourist shop with a sign "The Man Who Discovered the Terra-Cotta Warriors," and maintains he was discovered even though he offers few details. Yang Zhifa says he was part of a crew digging a well during a drought. After digging six feet into the ground, he said, he hit sometime hard. "At first I thought I had hit a brick," he told the New York Times. "But when I scraped away the dirt, it was the length of a full body." About 1.8 million people check out the terra cotta army every year. It has been said that Qin's Tomb is "the only tomb one can compare in scale to the Pyramids.” Web Site: Wikipedia Wikipedia UNESCO World Heritage Site Map: (click 1001wonders.org at the bottom): UNESCO Also try the UNESCO World Heritage Site Web site (click the site you want) World Heritage Site

Terra-Cotta Soldiers


Terra-Cotta Soldiers are amazingly life-like and detailed. Each one has an individual face, and its own hairstyle and facial expressions. Some look savage; some look serene and composed; others look bold and self-assured; and few look like they are about ready to crack a smile. A name, possibly from artist or maybe from soldier, is stamped on the neck of every soldier. Some scholars believe each one is a facsimile of a real soldier in Qin's army.

Workers in a museum workshop are attempting to duplicate the production techniques used to make the figures. From what they can tell, the hollow bodies and arms of soldiers were most likely made from loops of clay pressed together with a paddle (fingerprints and paddle marks have been found on the soldiers).

The figures were then dried with a low-heat fire in a kiln. Coal was then added to raise the temperatures to 1800̊F (about 10 percent of soldiers produced in the workshop fail because of the difficulty in controlling the temperature). The statues baked for several days until they turn red. After they cool, successfully-made statues produce a metallic sound when tapped. Defective ones produce a hollow thud.

The heads and hands were cast in molds and added to the bodies after they were fired. The clothing and armor details were also added later by a craftsman, who also added a half inch of clay to heads, which was reworked to give their faces and hairstyles individual characteristics.

The soldiers were then painted. Only a few of the figures contain original pigments, which were made from minerals mixed with a binder such as egg whites or animal blood. The others have lost their color to erosion, water and time. Broken pieces of statues are assembled a team of eight men who told National Geographic, "If we find one piece that fits in a day---that's a lucky day." Pieces are catalogued and coded in a computer with information on where they were found and which statue they might belong to.

The faces were made in one of a dozen molds. Details such as ears, hairdos, eyebrows, mustaches and beards were added by the sculptors. The bodies were created separately. Hairstyles and headgear reflected rank with the most elaborate generally belonging to the higher ranks. Soldiers wore simple caps over hair tied into a topknot. Officers wore caps crowned by ornamental designs.

In addition to soldiers there are stern-looking terra cotta bureaucrats to run the administration as well as acrobats, strongmen and musicians to entertain the emperor on the afterlife. Terra cotta was most likely chosen for the afterlife because flesh and wood rots. Earlier rulers had their servants, concubines and soldiers---not clay copies of them---buried alive with them. Modern copies of the soldiers can be produced from molds made from the original statues and speckled with mud so they look as if they have just been dug out of the ground. The people who make them claim they are just as good as the real thing.


Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shihuang

Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors and Horses of Qin Shihuang consists of three pits sheltered in massive warehouse-like buildings. The three pits contain a total of 8,000 clay soldiers and horses. The figures can not be photographed. About a mile away is the 250-foot-high earthen mound that covers Emperor Qin's tomb.

In the general area of the pits and the tomb, archaeologists have found the remains of a palace, secondary pits containing horse stables, bronze chariots, a cemetery for prison laborers who built the mausoleum, the skeletons of horses and exotic animals, and seven human skeletons that may have been Emperor Qin’s children.

Arguably the two most interesting things in the museum besides the terra-coot soldiers are two large painted bronze chariots. Weighing 2,200 each and discovered in November 1980 in a pit 20 meters from Emperor Qin's tomb, the chariots each have two wheels, four horses and a driver.

The chariots are made completely of bronze and are about half the size of a real chariot. Produced to carry the dead to the afterlife, the chariots were made using a number of advanced technologies: casting. welding, riveting, casing, chain-making, fastener-making and metal painting. [Source: Louis Mazzatenta, National Geographic, October 1997]

Pit 1 is filled with 40 terra-cotta war chariots and 6,000 life-size, terra-cotta warriors organized in rank in a 10,000-square-meter, hanger-like building. To give you a sense of how many figures are here: take three football fields and cover every inch with players.

Most of the figures represent ground troops—soldiers and archers. About for dozen are charioteers and officers of varying ranks. Most face east, the direction from which the imperial capital was most vulnerable to attack. The infantrymen are organized into 300 meter-long rows, the same way that Emperor Qin's honor guard used to line up before they set off on a military campaign. There are five rows of warriors (standing four abreast) and six rows of chariots, each pulled by four horses and accompanied by 15 soldiers. Among the soldiers are two "generals." The figures are 5½ to 6 feet tall and weigh about 150 kilograms. Officers are always taller than ordinary soldiers.

The figures were aligned in battle formation with warriors in the front and side rows carrying a range of weapons, including crossbows and lances. Behind them are officers with short range weapons such as swords and charioteers with bows and arrows. Although the soldiers were recreations the weapons, in many cases, were real bronze ones. Hundreds of blades and crossbow triggers have been found, along with more than 40,000 arrowheads. [Source: National Geographic]

The space where the warriors were housed was comprised of a black tile floor and a ceiling made of tightly-placed, log-like wooden beams. Wood posts supported the beams. Walls were made of rammed earth. On top of the beams were fiber mats, clay and earth fill. After Pit 1 was looted the ceiling and the layers of clay and earth above it crashed on to the warriors, shattering them all.

About one thousand figures have been restored to their standing position. Most of them originally carried swords, spears and crossbows. Visitors can walk completely around the area where the restored soldiers are found. Most of the terra-cotta soldiers in Pit 1 were toppled over and cracked when the roof of the vault collapsed. They are currently being put back together humpty-dumpty fashion in a part of the pit, largely off limits to visitors.

Most of horses were also damaged. The ones that survived are magnificent creatures: strong yet graceful. They look alert and ready to do battle. Their ears are propped forward, their tails are short are knotted and the jawlines are bold and powerful. They are slightly less than six feet tall, 7 feet long and weigh 200 kilograms. Gold, jade, bamboo and bone artifacts, linen, silk, pottery utensils, bronze objects, swords and iron farm tools were unearthed beside the warriors and chariots. The well-preserved swords were treated with a preservative and were made a copper and tin alloy with 13 other elements including nickel, cobalt and magnesium.

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Pit 2 is housed in a 6,000-square-meter exhibit hall made with four different colors of Fujian marble. It contains 900 broken terra-cotta figures, including archers, cavalry troops, charioteers, infantrymen, 356 chariot horses, 116 saddled horses, and 89 war chariots. This army was once sheltered by a 7,000 square-meter roof that collapsed, possibly the result of a fire caused by the rebellion after the emperor's death (remnants of charred timbers are clearly visible).

Unlike the intact ranks of figures on view in Pit 1, most of the figures in Pit 2 are broken into pieces. Most were damaged by the collapse of the roof. Kneeling archers fared better than standing soldiers because their compact position helped them absorb the shock of the collapse. What is interesting about Pit 2 is that visitors can watch the excavation work. The archaeologists and their assistants work under bright lights as if they were actors, extras and crew on a movie set.

Pit 2 was discovered in April, 1976 but excavation work didn't begin until March 1994. The first phase of the excavation, completed in 1997, involved exposing the collapsed roof. The second phase, which is being done now, involves unearthing of the buried soldiers and horses.

The terra-cotta figures are arranged in the L-shaped pit like real soldiers in a real battle. In the forward position are standing and kneeling archers. Behind them are calvary units and charioteers and infantry organized in four abreast units. Reserve chariots are off to one side. Among the soldiers are two "generals."

Pit 3 contains only 68 terra cotta soldiers, a colorfully-painted war chariot and 30 bronze weapons. It is housed in a building that covers 520 square meters. Some scholars have speculated that maybe it was a command post. Discovered in May 1976, Pit 3 has only recently been excavated and opened to the public. It contains a few painted terra-cotta soldiers. Pit 4 is empty, perhaps because a rebel uprising prevented it from being completed. It was also discovered in 1977.

Emperor Qin's Tomb

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Emperor Qin Shihuang

Emperor Qin's Tomb (a mile from his terra-cotta army) is the final resting place of China's first emperor. Reportedly built by as many as 700,000 workers over a 37 year period, the tomb is covered by a 260-foot-high mound with a square 1,500-x-1,700-foot base. To this day it remains undisturbed by archeologists and appears to have been undisturbed by looters. What is inside is one of great mysteries of archeology.

Emperor Qin’s burial complex covers 35 square miles. It embraces four pits—three with terra-cotta soldiers and one unfinished and empty . Pit 1 is situated about a mile east of the emperor’s underground burial structure. About a third of it—covering 3.5 acres—has been excavated so far. The other three pits are nearby.

Qin mausoleum is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The tomb plus the pits with the 8,000 terra cotta soldiers is recognize by Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest tomb. It measures 7,129 feet by 3,195 feet and 2,247 feet by 1,896 feet. The entire tomb complex, including the terra-cotta army, extends over an area of 22 square miles. It is arguably the greatest afterlife palace ever built. The only thing that ranks with it are the great pyramids in Egypt.

Construction of the tomb began soon after Emperor Qin became emperor at age 13 and grew bigger and more grandiose as he became more powerful. According to a 1st century B.C. historian chronicled in Ming-era records, the tomb contains a throne room, a copper dome, models of pavilions and palaces filled with gold, gemstones and other treasures, sacred stone tablets, copper coffins, inscribed soul towers, prayer temples, and a relief map of China with a miniature ocean and models of Yangtze and Yellow rivers filled with flowing mercury.

The Emperor is said to have been dressed in jade and gold with pearls in his mouth, his coffin floating on mercury. Around the Emperor's body were vessels with precious stones and relics. The floor was inlaid with gold and silver ducks. The ceiling of the copper dome featured a starry sky of pearls and gems, and constellations made from candles made of whale oil, which burns longer than normal wax. To keep intruders out, the tomb was protected by crossbow booby-traps that shot anybody who tried to enter. The entire sanctuary has a circumference of nearly two miles.

So their secret wouldn't be revealed, the craftsmen, architects and designers who made the tomb were reportedly buried inside the tomb along with court women who couldn't conceive children. When the Emperor was buried the men that carried him in, it is said, were sealed in with him by a jade gate to ensure that no one knew how to penetrate the intricate tomb.

Under the mound a giant pit covering 820,000 square feet was dug in terraces to more than 100 feet. The subterranean palace at the bottom of the pit is roughly 200 by 525 feet, the size of more than 3½ football fields. Surveys indicate that the tomb itself has a circular inner wall with four gates and a circumference of 2,500 meters, and an outer wall with a circumference of 6,000 meters---measurements that correlate with Ming-era accounts of the tomb. The outer wall was once reportedly 23 feet thick but little of it remains today. Thus far there is little for tourists to see except for a big mount of earth.


Exploratory excavations near the tomb in the late 1990s and early 2000s have unearthed China's earliest life-size statues with realistic bodies. The most interesting is a statue of a fat man, perhaps an entertainer, with a pot belly and protruding butt, described as an "artful blend of fat and muscle." Archaeologists also found armor made of tea-bag-size plates of limestone tied together with bronze wire and a 467-pound bronze cauldron, the largest ever found at a Qin site, terra-cotta acrobats, and an armored vest made of polished stone.

The foundation of two massive rectangular walls encircling the tomb area and a 20-meter-high chamber have been found. Tests have also revealed unusually high measurements of mercury, up to 100 times higher than normal.

Archeologists plan to wait until preservation techniques improve before excavating to royal tomb. Requests to excavate the tomb have been repeatedly turned down by the Chinese government, which claims the money and technology isn’t available for such an important endeavor. Some archeologists agree, saying that if the job is going to be done it has to done right. Some archeologists think that it is likely the tomb has been looted, in all likelihood not long after Emperor Qin’s death and the collapse of his empire. Others disagree, saying surveys indicate the main structures are intact and if anyone has entered they would have been poisoned by mercury and the mercury would have evaporated and would be undetectable today. [Source: Peter Hessler, National Geographic, October 2001] Web Site: National Geographic UNESCO Also try the UNESCO World Heritage Site Web site (click the site you want) World Heritage Site

Other Sights in the Xian Area

Tomb of Han Jing Di (40 kilometers west of the Terra-cotta Warriors Museum) is the final resting place of the forth emperor of the Han Dynasty. Opened to the public in 1999, it is an excavation in progress in which tourists watch archaeologists dig up relics in a number of pits.

The entire complex contains the tomb of Hang Jing Di, two separate tombs for his wife, the empress, and his favorite concubines. An estimated 10,000 conscripted prisoners died during the construction of his tomb. The skeletons of these prisoner---some which were chopped in half---were discovered in a graveyard in 1972.

So far the main tombs have remained untouched. The 50,000 object so far unearthed have come from satellite pits. The entire tomb complex is expected to yield between 300,000 and 500,000 objects. Eleven Han emperors were buried in Xian. Excavations of these have begun only recently.

Member of Han Jing Di's
Terra Cotta Army

Han Jing Di's Terra Cotta Army (part the Tomb of Han Jing Di) is an impressive collection of 700 terra-cotta figures discovered in 1990 by a construction crew because it lay in the path of a highway project. Unlike the life-size figures found at the Emperor Qin site, the Emperor Jing figures are only two feet tall, or about one third life size.

They are different in other ways too. First of all they are naked, with genitalia, and pieces of silk found at the site seem to indicate they were clothed when they were buried. Their faces are also more expressive (15 distinctive face types have been identified). Some soldiers had iron swords, leather armor, wooden shields or wooden arms.

In one vault the soldiers looked as if they were marching behind chariots pulled by wooden horses. In another they were lined up behind a cooking pot in what looked like a chow line. So far no archers or armored infantrymen have been found which mean the soldiers found so far are probably supply troops. There are also figures of eunuchs and women.

Paintings found in Xian show that the soldiers were mass produced in molds and then hardened in kilns. Craftsmen retouched the faces to give them individual expressions. They wore wooden armor in addition to their silk garments. Why the contained genitalia even though were clothed is not known.

Among the miniature items that archaeologists found with the soldiers were a hand-painted pigeon-size rooster, sculptured oxen, miniature granaries. Among the large collection of terra-cotta animals are 400 dogs, 200 sheep, pigs, piglets, goats, horses. Other objects found in the excavations include boxes filled with weapons, measuring instruments, chariots, chisels, gold chips, coins, lacquerware, adzes, wooden objects, coins, measuring cups bronze arrowheads, saws, stoves, steamers, government seals. [Source: O. Louis Mazzatenta, National Geographic, August 1992].

Lishan (32 kilometers east of Xian) is the place where Chiang Kai-shek was held for two weeks before he escaped by jumping out of window after being arrested in 1936 during the so called Xian Incident. A sign shows the window he jumped out of.


Huaqing Hot Springs (32 kilometers east of Xian near Lishan) was a popular Tang Dynasty resort. Situated at the foot of Black Horse Hill, the springs have reportedly been used for over 2,800 years. Emperor Qin liked bathing in them so much he built a luxurious palaces next to one of the pools.. The Emperor Gazong built a lavish villa here for entertaining his mistress. Fearing the influence of the mistress on the emperor, the mistress was ordered killed.

The hot springs cover an area of 1,800 square meters and the pools have names like Concubine Pool, Star Pool, and Crab-Apple Blossom pool these. In 1959, dozens of tacky buildings were constructed to imitate Tang dynasty palaces from 10th-century, when the hot spring's were in their heyday. Some of the pools are inlaid with marble.

Banpo Neolithic Village (eight kilometers east of Xian on the way to Terra-Cotta Army) is located on an archeological site occupied by one of China's oldest known cultures, the 6500-year-old Banpo people, a matriarchal, agricultural community that existed in the Yellow River Valley. The 50,000- square-meter site includes a burial ground with 250 graves, six pottery kilns and residential area with the remains of 45 buildings, 200 storage cellars and a moat.

Banpo Neolithic Village

A sign at the site used to read: “People in this primitive society with low productivity couldn't understand the structure of the human body, living and dying and many phenomena of nature, so they began to have an initial religious idea.”

Bampo Matriarchal Village is an archeological theme park with fire-lit discos, air-conditioned grass huts and female wrestlers.

Qianling Tomb (80 kilometers north of Xian on Liangshan Hill) was occupied by the Tang Emperor Gaozong and his Empress Wu Zetian. Encompassing two man-made mounds and a natural hill, it once contained an inner wall and an outer walls but now only the inner wall and Xian Hall remain. The inner wall is over three miles long and eight feet thick and has gates and well-preserved stone carvings and stelae near the South Gate.

There are stone carvings of cloud pillars, birds and animals and stone statues of foreign envoys and chieftains of national minorities that attended the funeral of the emperor lined up along the road that leads to the tomb. The statues of the very strong and stout horses are particularly amazing. Many of the statues had their heads loped of in the Cultural Revolution.

Maoling Tomb (40 kilometers east of Xian) contains the grave of the Han Emperor Wu Liu Che (156-87 B.C.). The largest tomb from the Western Han Dynasty, it took 57 years to build and embraces a 50-meter-high and 240-meter-wide pyramid-shaped mound. The nearby Maoling Museum has a fine collection of large stone horses and funerary objects found around the tomb. A survey has shown the tomb was sealed with rammed earth. The rectangular mound is surrounded by ground with a perimeter of more than a mile.

Famen Temple (in Famen, 120 kilometers northwest of Xian) was built to house a finger bone relic that reportedly belongs to Buddha. The finger relic is said to have been carried to China from northern India by monks 200 years after Buddha’s death. In 1981, a 12-story brick pagoda in the temple collapsed, revealing the largest underground Buddhist vault ever found in China. Many precious relics were discovered, including 2400 pieces of gold, silverware, jewelry and 8th century textile products. The vault apparently lay in obscurity for1,000 years and escaped the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. It was discovered by archeologist cleaning the temple runs in 1987.

Mao in Yennan at end of
Long March


Yennan (230 kilometers north of Xian) is a shrine to Chinese Communism and place where many people still live in caves carved into the yellow cliffs. Located in the Shaanxi Loess Plateau , it was the termination point of the Long March. Mao, Zhou EnLai and others hid out in Yennan from 1937 to 1947 and regrouped and eventually launched a major offensive from that transformed China into most populous communist nation in the world.

The revolutionary museum is one of the biggest tourist attractions in China, drawing more than four million visitors a year. Visitors can check out black and white photographs of the last stages of the Long March, buy Mao memorabilia and have their picture taken in front of the caves where the top Communist leaders stayed.

The post-Long-March compound at Yangjialing is near the mouth of a dry valley, just north of town. The four-cave complex where Mao lived and worked is tunneled into the side of a hillside. The canopy bed Mao is used us theatrically littered with cigarette butts, seemingly to illustrate the midnight oil spent developing strategies to fight the Japanese and the Nationalists. A photograph of the helmsman hangs over the desk where he used to work. Most of the visitors are uniformed soldiers and Communist Party members.

Yennan (also spelled Yenan, Yan’an and Yanan) now has a population of about 340,000 and has a booming economy thanks to the recent discovery of oil in the area.

Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: is accessible by air, bus and train from Xian. Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide Lonely Planet (click Getting There) Lonely Planet

Foping Nature Reserve in Shaanxi Province has the highest panda densities of all the panda reserves

Image Sources: Province maps from the Nolls China Web site. Photographs of places from 1) CNTO (China National Tourist Organization; 2) Nolls China Web site; 3) Perrochon photo site; 4) Beifan.com; 5) tourist and government offices linked with the place shown; 6) Mongabey.com; 7) University of Washington, Purdue University, Ohio State University; 8) UNESCO; 9) Wikipedia; 10) Julie Chao photo site; 11) Agnes Smedly, Mao photo; Asia Obscura http://asiaobscura.com/ ;

Text Sources: CNTO, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

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