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The Amazing Terra Cotta Army Of Xi'an

By James Donahue

Located in what may be thought of as the heart of the sprawling nation of China is Xi'an, one of the oldest great cities in the world and a former capital of one of the ancient dynasties dating back at least 3,000 years.

That particular dynasty, ruled by Zhou emperor Qin Shi Huang, is an important key behind the fact Xi'an has become a popular and famous tourist attraction. After Qin's death, his tomb was buried with over 8,000 life-size and distinctly created statues of pottery believed to be exact replicas of real soldiers serving in the dynasty's army.

The soldiers, all standing in perfect rows, were obviously created and placed there to protect the emperor. Since they have been discovered in 1974 and uncovered by archaeologists, this display has become a marvel attracting world attention. The skilled detail of each face, uniform and weapon is so lifelike it is believed that each statue represents a real person. It is almost as if the army was magically turned to stone before it was buried. The men are depicted in battle dress that clearly shows their rank and unit. Also among them are figures of horses and chariots.

Not stone, however, the soldiers are all life-size pottery figures, weighing between 242 and 660 pounds. Constructed from local clay, all of the figures are hollow in the heads, arms and body, but their legs are solid pottery. It is believed they were fired at temperatures of 1,000 degrees or higher, centigrade, making them hard enough to endure the ages.

Archaeologists have only begun to scratch the surface of the ruins of this ancient tomb, which lies about 20 miles east the contemporary city of Xi'an which still stands today. This city, complete with an ancient wall and many standing buildings of antiquity, is an historical attraction by itself, without the Terra Cotta Army to bring tourists there.

Historians believe world interest in Xi'an will only grow as archaeologists open more and more of the old emperor's sprawling mausoleum, rumored to hold invaluable treasures and rivers of mercury.

Not only has Xi'an survived the ages of time, it has advanced and grown to be among the 10th largest cities in China with a population of about 7.5 million. It is rated as among the most developed centers of commerce in the central to northwestern part of the nation. It also is the home of the beautiful 1,360-year-old Great Mosque of Xi'an, another tourist a religious attraction in itself.

The city is located a few miles west of where the great Wei and Yellow Rivers converge. This area, located in the fertile valley bordering the two rivers, is believed to be a primary root of the Chinese civilization. The Han Chinese settled the area in about the Third Century BC. Qin Shi Huangdi was the first emperor of the region. It was said that he unified all of the warring clans into a unified nation.

It is said that Emperor Qin ordered the construction of his tomb when he was just 13. The order involved hundreds of thousands of workers who labored for the next 36 years to complete it. It also is believed that Qin ordered that the tomb workers and supervisors involved in its design to be buried alive with him to protect its secrets. Archaeologists have yet to find the main entrance to the tomb and most of the structure remains buried.

The first known dynasty in the region was the Zhou, with its capital city Feg located just west of Xian, established sometime after the late 11th Century BC. Even then Xi'an was a marked place since it was a terminus on the ancient Silk Road by which early traders brought their rich threads and cloth to the West.

The actual founding of the City of Xi'an was believed to have occurred at about 202 BC during the Han Dynasty. Emperor Liu Bang established his palace at Chang'an, across the river from where Xi'an now stands. Thus this period is considered the founding time of both Chang'an and Xi'an.

The city of Chang'an was destroyed at the end of the Tang Dynasty in 904. The City of Xi'an was rebuilt, with a new wall protecting a much smaller city during the Ming Dynasty in 1370. This is the ancient city that still stands today in the heart of what has become a modern metropolis.

Xi'an was the site of the Xi'an Incident of 1936 which led to an end to a struggle between Chinese Communists and the Nationalist Army led by Chiang Kai-Shek so the two forces could join forces to fight against Japan during the early days of World War II. That incident began with the kidnapping of Chiang Kai-Shek while he was visiting Manchurian troops at Xi'an.

The leader of the conspiracy was Zhang Xueliang, who succeeded in forcing the Nationals to give up their campaign against the communists to join a national war against the Japanese, who were already occupying Manchuria.