Sunday, 29 March 2009

Xian: Terracotta Warriors

Pit 1

I was so excited on the sleeper train to Xi’an that I had trouble sleeping: it seemed so wonderfully improbable that I was on a sleeper train, in China, by myself, going to Xi’an for the weekend. A year ago, I would never have guessed that this is what I would be doing with myself.
I had been a bit apprehensive about booking the cheap, or hard, sleeper, but it was fine: comfortable bunk, clean bed linen, and silence five minutes after we pulled out of the station and everyone settled down to sleep. Or tried too, in my case.

I was immensely confused by the compartment steward coming round, taking our tickets and issuing us with a plastic card, which we then had to swap back at the end of our journey. I think perhaps it might be so that she can check that everyone gets off at the right stop.

Not that I had to worry about missing my stop, as I was woken up two hours before we reached it by vaguely jazzy music being piped through the speakers.

Zooming in on some of the Pit 1 warriors

As soon as I as got off at Xi’an station, I headed off to take a bus to the Terracotta Warrior Museum. I’d seen the Terracotta Warrior exhibition at the British Museum in London in autumn 2007, so I was looking forward to seeing them in situ.
The Terracotta Warriors were funary relics buried with China's First Emperor, to help him rule in the afterlife, and date from about 210 BC.

Cavalry man
However, and whisper this quietly, it was a little bit of a let down. I attempted to watch the film about the warriors, but the projection quality was so poor I left after a few minutes. Walking into Pit 1 and seeing all the warriors lined up was a ‘wow’ moment of recognition, but I was disappointed at how few warriors you could get up close to, because the truly amazing thing about them is how each one is different and how expressive they are.
Kneeling Archer

Remains of the original paint

Close up of his hairdo

There were only five warriors in cases, and even on a week day in low season I had to dodge the tour groups and be a bit pushy to get good views of them. Most people seemed to be on a guided tour, and each tour guide seemed to be trying out squawk the others. I understood why Jehovah wanted to destroy the Tower of Babel.
Emperor's bronze chariot

Pit 2 and 3 are mostly unexcavated. I tried to get some photos of the pits, but the rooms were far too dark. Sceptics might even wonder what is buried under there. Considering the fame and importance of the site, I was disappointed in how badly it was curated. I got the impression that it was a milch cow, and that there was more concern to provide pitches for legions of stalls selling tat outside than there was to provide the visitor with an informative and enjoyable experience.

Luckily for me though, I found the rest of Xi’an much more enjoyable.

I thought these two marionettes were unspeakably disturbing!


  1. What a great post, and honest too, which is always good... it's a shame you were a little disappointed, but as I have always wanted to do a tour of China and it's "must-sees" (my husband is less sure) I really appreciate your pics and info from your trip! x

  2. You should - China is fantastic! It's frustrating, because this could be an incredible place. The terracotta warriors exhibtion at the local museum is actually better. Xian is a 'must see' place though, espcially if you love history. I want to go back!

  3. J,
    The Orange Headed Thrush was taken in Jan/March 09. The Silver Breasted Broadbill and others which I will be sharing in a couple of days are all recent photograph, Feb/March 09.
    It is nesting season now, these birds are quite active.
    Bukit Tinggi is about 30 + km from KL and it is really not that far. It is cool and breezy. Let me know if you needed any other information for trip planning.
    Business or leisure?

  4. Amazing China, grand mausoleum of a mad/tyrant Emperor that defined old China. I read about it so much that I always wanted to go visit... and friends that visited Xian were so amazed with its details. thanks for sharing.

  5. I have read about these and seen some pictures too, but never so much in detail. One great post!

  6. This is so cool! I'm super jealous that you got to see this in person, what an experience. -e

  7. You're brave to tour around China by yourself. Those are some fascinating statues. Too bad they aren't better presented.

  8. Where were you b4 reaching Xi'an ? I am keen to know how to get to Xi'an from Beijing by train as I will be there in early June. Can I have some tips from you, the various train price and the hostel contact. My email address is at