Xian June 27, 2012

If we only paid attention to the people usually shouting aggressively, ridiculing others, and demeaning their partners, it would seem that women had all the power in China.

And everyone seems to love Adele. On the train we sing “Someone Like You.”

Xian city wall

Xian (西安) is the western capital, literally translated, the “Western Peace”. The city goes back, way back, according to some, 500,000 years back, with the Lantian Man. Officially the city is documented to be about 3,100 year old, and  has been home to over five dynasties. It stands with an intact wall that takes about two hours to fully bike around.

The city wall above ground, the subway below ground.

At a restaurant in the Hui Muslim quarter, I meet a Chinese man who is going to Stanford to study. His friend is going to Brown. His other friend is going to UCLA.

I tell him I went to the University of Nevada, and he nods, as if to be generous.

Yang Rou Pao Muo (羊肉泡馍), Signature Hui Muslim dish

The Terracotta Warriors. Apparently one of the great archaeological finds of the 20th Century, but I had never heard of it until the hostel workers push me to hop on a bus towards this great tourist attraction. I meet another foreigner on the bus, a businessman getting his MA at the Stanford Engineering program. He also has never heard of these Terracotta Warriors.

“What are those people gawking at? Another temple, perhaps?”

Our ignorance pays off. The shock is electrifying. We ponder our own lack of information. It feels like randomly coming across the Taj Mahal, without ever hearing about it or seeing a picture of it.


The American traveler orders an English travel guide. She runs a private business, so she is not shy about criticizing the government.

 “When the warriors were found, the PRC evicted thousands of villagers from their homes to create this place. They were never compensated, and many starved to death. Also, building this place ruined the scenery and polluted the land.”

Not quite something you would read on a tourist information guide.

According to historians, the Terracotta Warriors were commissioned to over 600,000 artisans from all over China, but were not discovered until a farmer accidentally bumped into one when digging a well. So far over 8,000 have been discovered, and no two faces look the same.

Faces were based on real people.

As we go through the warrior pits, my American friend starts proudly calling Qín Shǐ Huáng, the third century B.C. emperor who commissioned the project, “The Steve Jobs of his time.” The guy was an asshole, but an innovative asshole, who created the Chinese state system and organized provinces under a single written script. An American, it seems, at heart.

As we go through the museums, we realize this is an insult to Steve Jobs. The reason why these warriors were so long forgotten, was because the mad king had all 600,000 artisans buried alive in his own tomb, locking them in with packs of mercury to guarantee agonizing deaths. He also had over 600 scholars buried alive, and all of a culture’s books burned.

The dying artisans left epitaphs scratched into the mausoleum walls.

Ironically, we pay to gawk at this mad king, with currency bills that all have the exact same portrait of Chairman Mao.

We step in, and marvel at his inhumanity.

Muslim district at night

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