Apparently it was Jacques Chirac who dubbed them the Eighth Wonder of the World. And most everybody has an image in their head of what they’re going to look like. None of that prepared me for what it would be like being there.
In 1974 farmers from Xi Yang Village were drilling a series of wells and found pottery fragments. We shook hands with one of those farmers, whose weekend and holiday job is to shake hands with tourists, sign the guide books and stamp them with the official chop. That doesn’t really prepare you for what it’s going to be like being there either. Even after you see the “warm prompt” it’s still a 15 minute walk through restaurants and souvenir shops until you get to the site.
What the famers found was the burial pit of Emperor Qin Shui Huang. The site covers over 20,000 square metres. 70 000 people are said to have worked on preparing it, making the warriors, the weapons, the chariots. None of the facts and figures prepared me either.
Andrew, partner in life and ministry, had this to say in an email to his family:
The size of the site and its historical significance certainly made an impression but it was also strangely moving in an ambivalent kind of way. There were all these life-like, life-sized figures standing in silent rows and, of course, the fact that this is a burial site emphasised their “deathly” silence, as did the fact that as an active archaeological site there are still partially excavated “bodies” in various states of intactness. So, if felt like there was something gently mournful and sacred – not sure if that’s quite the right word – about it all.
He also wrote to his parents about how shocking it is to see this enormous tribute, the resources commanded in life so as to command in death as well. It is hard to get your head around.
I’m not sure if the way it was for Andrew is exactly how it was for me, but it says something about what it was like to be there. I’m still digesting the experience (interesting metaphor in a week that featured the stomach flu). It seems strange to me that this is our life now, that we can go to these places and see these things, previously only inhabiting the edges of my imagination.
But no words, no guide book rhetoric (it’s called “Valiant Imperial Warriors 2200 Years Ago” which gives you an idea), no facts and figures could tell me what it would be like to stand there. There were no signs, no words, no helpful hints in the Lonely Planet that suggested I would stand at the side of “Pit 1” and weep. But that is how it was to be at the Terracotta Warriors one cold day in January in China. Awestruck. A little weepy. Ambivalent. All of that.
We bought souvenirs!