Xi’an’s underground kingdom


  • Colours of China
  • Monday, 09 Dec 2019

Hard at work: Archaeologists restoring the damaged terracotta warriors at the Terracotta Army Museum in Xi’an.

The subway project is progressing at a turtle’s pace with more discoveries of relics buried underground.

CHINA is known for its speed. It built the world’s fastest bullet train and maglev train system, and developed 5G – the fastest mobile network.

Apart from this, it has the fastest lift that travels at a speed of 75.6kph, holds the records of building new railway in just nine hours and constructs a 57-storey building with pre-fabrication technique in 19 days.

But there is one thing that is progressing at turtle’s pace – the subway project in Xi’an of northwest Shaanxi province, the home to the magnificent Terracotta Army.

Since Xi’an is on top of the list of Chinese cities with the worst traffic congestion, construction of Xi’an’s first subway line began in 2006, and it has completed only four city lines and the airport line so far.

Compared to Wuhan in the neighbouring Hubei province, the city of the same status already has nine lines.

Construction on Xi’an subway lines 5 and 6 started in early 2015 and 2016 respectively but no one could give a promise on the date of completion.

“Being an ancient city with over 7,000 years of civilisation, and the capital to more than 10 dynasties, Xi’an has a huge reserve of relics underground.

“Construction workers stumbled upon new (historical) discoveries one after another as the machines dig further into the ground, ” said tour guide Vicky Ding.

“The Cultural Relics Bureau is the busiest department in Xi’an subway project, ” the locals liked to joke.

Xi’an, also known as Chang’an in the ancient period, is one of the world’s four great ancient capitals together with Rome (Italy), Athens (Greece) and Cairo (Egypt).

It has a huge influence in the Chinese history because it served as the administrative centre for two great empires, namely the Qin Dynasty that was formed after Qin Shi Huang Di unified the whole China and the Tang Dynasty which was the most prosperous period in the country’s history.

“You see Xi’an, you see China”, this is how the locals described their home city.

And to get an in-depth look at Xi’an is to visit the museums.

Built on the site where the clay warrior statues were unearthed, the Terracotta Army Museum is a must-go attraction.

Masterpiece: A replica of one of the two bronze chariots at Shaanxi History Museum in Xi’an.Masterpiece: A replica of one of the two bronze chariots at Shaanxi History Museum in Xi’an.

This is the entire afterlife kingdom of Emperor Qin (259-210BC) with the warriors of different ranks and posts guarding his tomb, said Ding.

And the life-size statues were once believed to be real people and animals who were killed so that they could keep the emperor company in the afterlife, but this myth has been proven wrong.

The Terracotta Army was first discovered by two farmers, who were digging a well in 1974.

They dug the well right at the entrance to the mausoleum. It was a lucky find because this giant underground empire could be still unknown if they had missed the spot by a few metres.

So far, archaeologists have excavated quite a number of pits at the site and uncovered thousands of clay statues of soldiers comprising generals, swordsmen, horsemen and archers, war carts and horses.

A stop-work order has been issued on further excavation.

“No more digging. The best way to protect these relics is to keep them at where they are now, ” said Ding, adding that the terracotta warriors were coloured, but the colours faded away as they were exposed in the air.

Highlights of the museum are the two bronze chariots.

Unlike the other items which have travelled around the world, being showcased at various exhibitions overseas, these two chariot sets are so precious that they are not allowed to leave the museum.

It took the archaeologists a painstaking eight years to restore them back to their original form from some 3,000 broken pieces.

The museum is about one-km away from Emperor Qin’s burial chamber, which was identified based on historical records and the use of modern technology.

This most important part of the whole mausoleum remains untouched as no one dares to enter it due to a belief that the place is “protected” by hundreds of tonnes of toxic mercury.

Archaeologists also worried about causing more damage to the relics.

The mausoleum, which is known as the 8th Wonder of the World, took nearly 800,000 workers at least 39 years to build.

Some people have cast doubt if this is the actual burial ground of the tricky emperor, believing he might have built the mausoleum as a decoy so that his enemies could not take revenge on him after he died.

The sophisticated building techniques and design have also added a touch of mystery to the mausoleum.

But all this will remain a secret until mankind finds the way to enter the tomb safely and preserve the relics.

For now, let the emperor who played an important part in the construction of The Great Wall, rest in peace.


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