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Artist Recreates China’s Terracotta Warriors in Pizza Dough

Artist Recreates China’s Terracotta Warriors in Pizza Dough

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A British artist painstakingly recreated China’s famous terracotta warriors

Artist Annabel de Vetten of Conjurer's Kitchen recreated China's famous terracotta army out of pizza dough.

A British artist with a very impressive skill set has successfully created a miniature version of China’s famous terracotta warriors out of pizza dough.

According to Shanghaiist, British artist and baker Annabel de Vetten of Conjurer’s Kitchen made a miniature army to celebrate the Beijing opening of a new Pizza Express, which is the chain’s 500th store. De Vetten painstakingly constructed the bread warriors entirely out of Pizza Express’ signature pizza dough and baked them to an appealing golden brown.

The most impressive thing about de Vetten’s project is that her soldiers are not all identical. The little bread men are individuals with distinct clothes and armor, and different faces, hats, and facial hair.

De Vetten has a background in sculpture and taxidermy, and put her skills to work as a baker. Her company’s signature is complicated, gory, sculptural cakes designed to recreate things like decorated skulls, zombie hands, and old doll parts.

Greek influence? ‘Foreign forces’ spar over China’s Terracotta Warriors

Silent and enigmatic, China’s emblematic Terracotta Warriors are at the centre of a bitter row, with patriots and scholars dismissing as impossible theories they could have been inspired by Greek sculpture.

The 8,000-man clay army, crafted around 250 BC for the tomb of China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang, is a Unesco world heritage site, a major tourist draw and a symbol of ancient Chinese artistic and military sophistication in a country that proclaims itself a 5,000-year-old civilisation.

Questioning their origins touches on deep sensitivities, as many take pride in China’s early discovery of world-changing inventions, from gunpowder to the compass and movable type.

At the same time, its history with the West is fraught with a sense of humiliation over the colonies and concessions established in the 19th century.

But theories put forward by art historian Lukas Nickel of the University of Vienna - and trumpeted in a recent documentary by National Geographic and the BBC - claim that Greek innovations in artistic naturalism, and perhaps even Greek artisans themselves, directly influenced the sculptures.

After the documentary aired earlier this month, netizens blasted the BBC and questioned how the Greeks could have impacted ancient China.

“Couldn’t it be that Chinese people went first to Greece and influenced their sculpture?” one wrote.

Visitors look at one of the Terracotta Warriors on display at the museum. (AFP Photo)

At the tomb tourists from across China crammed observation platforms to view the ranks of soldiers, jostling for space to snap selfies against their serious, stony facades as guides briskly narrated the story of their discovery by farmers in the 1970s.

Several visitors were incredulous at theories of foreign influence. Dong Shenghua of Beijing said this was “impossible”, pointing to the Asian features of the statues and the sophistication of the craftsmanship, which is “so good we can’t even make them today”.

“We have 5,000 years of history, how many does England have?” he asked.

Ma Dongling, from Guangxi, said inspiration could not have come from abroad as China was “very innovative” at the time. “The emperor was the first in the world to do this.”

The museum’s lead archaeologist Zhang Weixing was similarly dismissive, saying the materials, technology, and ceramics techniques used for the Warriors were all Chinese.

“To say that the Qin tombs and ancient Greece had contact has no substantial evidence at all,” he told AFP. “It merely exists in the scholar’s conjecture.”

As emperor, he added, Qin Shihuang “not only innovated the terracotta warriors, he also created a series of innovations” including standardised weights and measures, national roads, and a unified currency.

The sculptures of the Terracotta Army in north China's Shaanxi province. (AFP Photo)

“Who influenced whom, it’s tough to say. Ancient Greek sculpture had already also been influenced by Egypt.”

For evidence Nickel points to historical records suggesting the first Qin emperor made casts of huge bronze statues seen in China’s far west, realistic detailing of muscle and bone on some figures, and the absence of an extensive prior sculptural tradition in China.

Further research could show that foreign empires may have provided a model for the Qin state itself, he told AFP.

“I think it’s perfectly possible that there’s much more influence in thought about statecraft, in how to run an empire, than people have been so far willing to admit.”

He points to the rise of empires in central Asia before the Qin dynasty, with the Achaemenids in Persia followed by Alexander the Great and the Seleucids. “When I look at the map of Eurasia, what the Chinese do fits perfectly in the big picture.”

Zhang Weixin, chief excavator of the Terracotta Warrior Museum, speaks during an interview. (AFP Photo)

But basing theories about transmission of cultural ideas on stylistic similarities in objects fails to convince some Chinese scholars, he acknowledged.

“This is an argument that works mainly in Europe and America,” Nickel says. In China, researchers rely more on textual evidence for proof, he said, and so were “very hesitant to believe there were interactions before the mid 2nd century BC, when the Chinese emperor of the Han dynasty sent an envoy to central Asia”.

And the idea of early Sino-Western exchanges threatens to undermine a cornerstone of Chinese identity: the Qin dynasty, while brutal in many respects, with book burnings and executions of literati, laid the foundation for China as a unified nation state that has persisted for two millennia.

“That is the moment when China is being made,” said Nickel, acknowledging the sensitivity of his assertions.

“Saying there is such a link, it always brings up memories of colonialism, of Western domination of East Asia, which is totally understandable.”

Zhang insisted the disagreement was based on academic rigour. “If he was an archaeologist, we could discuss this issue,” he said. “Archaeologists put more importance on historical documents and unearthed objects.”

Li Xiuzhen, a fellow scholar at the museum, told AFP that while there may have been cultural contact, that did not imply influence and the warriors were completely Chinese.

“The terracotta army is unique in the world,” she said, and the “creation of the Qin people”.

Visitors take photos of sculptures of the Terracotta Army at the Terracotta Warrior Museum in Xian. (AFP Photo)

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China’s Terracotta Warriors Returning To Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — For the first time in 30 years, China’s famed Terracotta Warriors are returning to Philadelphia.

Franklin Institute CEO Larry Dubinski visited China three times to arrange for the upcoming Philadelphia exhibit of ten ancient life-sized sculptures known as the terracotta warriors.

“The Chinese hold these very close to the vest. And they only allow ten warriors to come to North America every year,” Dubinski said.

Thousands of the 2,200-year-old clay warriors were discovered in 1974 guarding the tomb of China’s first emperor. Four of them were exhibited at the Philadelphia Art Museum in 1987.

(credit: The Franklin Institute)

Dubinski says the Franklin Institute’s exhibition will include more than 160 artifacts, as well as augmented reality on smartphones.

The exhibit is currently in Seattle. It begins a five-month run at the Franklin Institute on Sept. 30.

Minneapolis: China’s terracotta warriors are centerpiece of new MIA exhibit

Light Infantryman Terracotta Qin dynasty (221-206 BCE) Height 193 cm Excavated from Pit 1 Qin Shihuang tomb complex 1980 Collection of the Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum Serial number 00850

A small army of ancient Chinese warriors is invading the Twin Cities. Opening Sunday, Oct. 28, at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, “China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy” includes more than 120 objects excavated from the tomb complex of Qin Shihuang (259-210 B.C.), known as China’s First Emperor. The stars of the show? Eight life-size terra-cotta warriors and two of their horses.

But the exhibit organized by the MIA isn’t just about the warriors and the Qin Dynasty. Liu Yang, head of the Institute’s Asian art department and curator of Chinese art, traveled to 15 Chinese museums, including the Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses and the Shaanxi Provincial Institute of Archaeology, looking for pieces to include in the show.

“The uniqueness of this show is not only because in the past such a show only focused on the terra-cotta warriors but this has some scholarly research,” Yang says. “Not only to show the terra-cotta warriors but to show the history preceding the first emperor.”

In addition to the warriors, Yang says people who come to see “China’s Terracotta Warriors” also will get a look at four life-size bronze water birds — a crane, a swan and two geese bronze ritual vessels jade artifacts gold and silver ornaments architectural material and pottery.

Here’s a by-the-numbers look at the exhibit:

The age at which Qin Shihuang (259-210 B.C.), known as China’s First Emperor, began his quest for immortality by planning his burial tomb. The elaborate tomb complex took thousands of workers and 38 years to complete.

The year when farmers, who were drilling a well a mile from the First Emperor’s tomb mound in present-day Shaanxi, discovered fragments of terra-cotta figures. Chinese archaeologists quickly went to work at the site and discovered more than 7,000 terra-cotta warriors along with horses and chariots created to protect the First Emperor in the afterlife. Nearly 40 years later, artifacts are still being discovered in the area.

The number of terra-cotta warriors featured in “China’s Terracotta Warriors.” The life-size warriors that make up the First Emperor’s terra-cotta army have distinct facial features — no two faces are exactly alike — and costumes, hair and stances appropriate for their rank. The average weight of a warrior is more than 600 pounds.

“I think the uniqueness of this show in terms of the terra-cotta warriors and horses, some of them have never been to the West before,” said Yang. “For instance, there’s a kneeling archer with a green face. Of course, there are different interpretations about why it is green. Some suggested that the figure might be a military shaman, and some others said it might be a playful paint of an individual craftsman. It’s still uncertain why it’s painted in green.”

The number of objects in the exhibit — plus some. While the terra-cotta warriors and horses are large, they make up only a small part of the show. One of Yang’s goals was to explore the artistic development of the period of Chinese history preceding the Qin dynasty (221-206 B.C.), including the Spring & Autumn period (770-476 B.C.) and the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.).

That’s the approximate mileage you’d have to travel from St. Paul to China’s Shaanxi province, where more than a dozen museums house artifacts from the burial site of the First Emperor. If you don’t foresee a trip to Shaanxi in your future, you have until mid-January to see “China’s Terracotta Warriors” at the MIA, where a ticket to the show will cost $20 or less.

Amy Carlson Gustafson can be reached at 651-228-5561. Follow her at

What: “China’s Terracotta Warriors: The First Emperor’s Legacy”

When: Opens Sunday, Oct. 28 runs through Jan. 20, 2013

Where: Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2400 Third Ave. S.

Cost: Adults, $18 (weekdays) and $20 (weekends) ages 62 and older, $16 (weekdays) and $18 (weekends) college students with ID, $9 (weekdays) and $10 (weekends) students 13-17, $16 (weekdays) and $18 (weekends) ages 6-12, $14 (weekdays) and $16 (weekends).

Archaeologists Solve Mystery of Terracotta Army’s Pristine Weapons

The world-famous Terracotta Army of Xi’an is an array of life-sized, realistic ceramic figures representing warriors, stationed in three large pits within the mausoleum of Qin Shihuang (259-210 BCE), the first emperor of a unified China. Over two thousand ceramic warriors have been excavated so far, and it is estimated that several thousand more remain buried. These warriors were armed with fully functional weapons made primarily of bronze — dozens of spears, lances, hooks, swords, crossbow triggers and as many as 40,000 arrow heads have all been recovered. The preservation of the bronze is remarkably good overall, with many of the weapons displaying shiny, almost pristine surfaces and sharp blades. A new study, published in the journal Scientific Reports, reveals that the chemical composition and characteristics of the surrounding soil, rather than the chrome plating (once thought to be the earliest form of anti-rust technology), may be responsible for the weapons’ preservation power.

View of Pit 1 of the Terracotta Army showing the hundreds of warriors once armed with bronze weapons. Image credit: Xia Juxian.

Since the first excavations of the Terracotta Army in the 1970s, archaeologists have suggested that the impeccable state of preservation seen on the bronze weapons must be as a result of the Qin weapon makers developing a unique method of preventing metal corrosion.

Traces of chromium detected on the surface of the bronze weapons gave rise to the belief that Qin craftspeople invented a precedent to the chromate conversion coating technology, a technique only patented in the early 20th century and still in use today.

“Some of the bronze weapons, particular swords, lances and halberds, display shiny almost pristine surfaces and sharp blades after 2,000 years buried with the Terracotta Army,” said Dr. Xiuzhen Li, a researcher in the Institute of Archaeology at University College London in the UK and the Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum in China.

“One hypothesis for this was that Qin weapon-makers could have utilized some kind of anti-rust technology due to chromium detected on the surface of the weapons. However, the preservation of the weapons has continued to perplex scientists for more than forty years.”

Now Dr. Li and co-authors show that the chromium found on the bronze surfaces is simply contamination from lacquer present in adjacent objects, and not the result of an ancient technology.

They also suggest that the excellent preservation of the bronze weapons may have been helped by the moderately alkaline pH, small particle size and low organic content of the surrounding soil.

“The high-tin composition of the bronze, quenching technique, and the particular nature of the local soil go some way to explain their remarkable preservation but it is still possible that the Qin Dynasty developed a mysterious technological process and this deserves further investigation,” Dr. Li said.

Bronze sword (a) from the Terracotta Army with associated fittings from the grip and the scabbard and detail (b) of the grip and blade from another sword. Image credit: Martinón-Torres et al, doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-40613-7.

By analyzing hundreds of artifacts, the team found that many of the best preserved bronze weapons did not have any surface chromium.

To investigate the reasons for their still-excellent preservation, they simulated the weathering of replica bronzes in an environmental chamber.

Bronzes buried in Xi’an soil remained almost pristine after four months of extreme temperature and humidity, in contrast to the severe corrosion of the bronzes buried for comparison in British soil.

“It is striking how many important, detailed insights can be recovered via the evidence of both the natural materials and complex artificial recipes found across the mausoleum complex — bronze, clay, wood, lacquer and pigments to name but a few,” said Professor Andrew Bevan, also from the Institute of Archaeology at University College London.

“These materials provide complementary storylines in a bigger tale of craft production strategies at the dawn of China’s first empire.”

Marcos Martinón-Torres et al. 2019. Surface chromium on Terracotta Army bronze weapons is neither an ancient anti-rust treatment nor the reason for their good preservation. Scientific Reports 9, article number: 5289 doi: 10.1038/s41598-019-40613-7

On perfection and Asian Museum Director Jay Xu's diplomacy

PEK50:FEATURE:XIAN,CHINA,29DEC99 - FOR RELEASE WITH STORY BC-MILLENNIUM-CHINA-WARRIORS - Chinese archaeologists excavate terracotta warriors in Xian in central China in this December 1998 file photo. Some believe the century's greatest archaeological discovery is China's Terracotta Warriors, a buried 2,200-year-old army of archers, infantrymen, charioteers, and horses guarding the tomb of the first emperor Qin Shihuang. (CHINA OUT, NO ARK, NO RESALE) nb/Str REUTERS Reuters

&ldquoRemember when I told you my life is perfect?&rdquo a woman walking down Elizabeth Street asked the person with whom she was conducting a cell phone conversation. &ldquoWell, it&rsquos not.&rdquo

Thank you to Stefan Gruenwedel for submitting that quote and thereby establishing today&rsquos tone.

Best conversation of last week: &ldquoMy toilet just flushed by itself downstairs,&rdquo N.S. wrote on Facebook. To which L.P. responded, &ldquoIs your printer on?&rdquo

PBS&rsquo &ldquoCivilizations&rdquo series starts showing next Tuesday, April 17, and in preparation for that, the network and San Francisco Film Festival showed some hometown supporters the second installment, &ldquoHow Do We Look?,&rdquo the other day. That particular installment &mdash on sculptural likenesses of people &mdash was broadcast here, because it featured Asian Art Museum director Jay Xu talking about the terra cotta figures created in the third century B.C., to be buried with China&rsquos first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.

In the program, Xu talks about the emperor&rsquos positive accomplishments, the most major of which was unifying China. But he also describes him as &ldquoclearly an egomaniac. Everything he had was bigger than anyone else&rsquos.&rdquo

This sounded familiar do we know world leaders like that? Xu&rsquos answer to that potentially political question proved that not only does he have museum executive skills but also superb diplomatic chops. The first emperor of Qin, he said, &ldquocreated the Great Wall of China, but also boldly invested in enhancing infrastructure, like roads. And he standardized weights and measures, and the writing system, all essential for a unified empire. He succeeded in those unprecedented achievements as he matched his super ego with real intelligence, statesmanship and ability to inspire people from diverse backgrounds. He showed what the impact of being a uniter instead of a divider can be.&rdquo

&bullIn 2017, UNESCO added Neapolitan pizza to its &ldquoList of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.&rdquo Paying homage to that designation, the Italian Cultural Institute in San Francisco is celebrating the Week of Neapolitan Pizza from Tuesday, April 10, to Sunday, April 15. Many events are planned. For more information:

&bullScott Badler found himself in Tokyo during Passover, so he went to the Wise Sons&rsquo new outpost there. &ldquoTo suit the Japanese diet,&rdquo he emailed, &ldquoportions are chisai (smaller).&rdquo

This year&rsquos Community Music Center gala, scheduled for May 12 at the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco, will honor Frederica von Stade, who will be there with composer Jake Heggie and mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato. DiDonato, who is slated to sing at the Metropolitan Opera on May 11, will fly to San Francisco at dawn the next day, then fly from here to Barcelona on May 13.

When the center wrote to DiDonato asking whether she would join in the tribute to von Stade, she wrote back immediately saying she would be &ldquohappy and honored&rdquo to participate. Von Stade, upon hearing about it, &ldquowas over the moon,&rdquo said Julie Steinberg, the center&rsquos executive director. DiDonato joining von Stade and Heggie at the benefit was a &ldquotestament to the kind of friendships that Flicka and Jake cultivate,&rdquo added Steinberg. More information:

Recent stories about pace-of-play rules intended to speed up baseball games have inspired reader John Brungardt of Rancho Cordova (Sacramento County). His suggestions:

(1) Two strikes, you&rsquore out (2) Three balls, take your base (3) Broken bat, whether a hit or not, you&rsquore out (4) No beer sold after three innings (5) In extra innings, a runner is automatically put on second base at the beginning of each inning (as in minor-league baseball) (6) That runner must be a woman (7) If the score is tied after 12 innings, pitchers must lob all pitches underhand from 50 feet away from home (8) Reminder: No beer sold after three innings. However, if you concealed any suds on entering, you are permitted to drink what you smuggled in (9) No seventh inning stretch. This will mean no &ldquoTake Me Out to the Ballgame,&rdquo which is a good thing because if it&rsquos only &ldquoOne, two strikes you&rsquore out&rdquo &mdash the whole rhythm of the song is interrupted (10) The national anthem is played and sung at the last out because &ldquono one in the stands knows the words&rdquo and they may as well flee before the dawn&rsquos early light.

Arming China’s Terracotta Warriors — With Your Phone

PHILADELPHIA — Imagine pointing your phone at China’s ancient terracotta warriors to arm them with spears and bows, weapons that disintegrated long ago.

For many people, the Franklin Institute’s new exhibition, “Terracotta Warriors of the First Emperor,” will be the only chance to see a small subset of the approximately 8,000 clay soldiers and other figures that were discovered beneath a Chinese persimmon orchard in 1974. Some 2,200 years ago, they were built by the emperor Qin Shihuangdi in a massive public works project that lasted about 30 years.

While some of these 10 warriors have been exhibited elsewhere, the institute is enhancing the experience with augmented reality technology to digitally recreate weapons and other objects that were originally held by the statues. The original artifacts crumbled and vanished as earthen walls and roof timbers collapsed during the warriors’ long occupancy of three underground pits.

Three-dimensional images of the objects and the statues have been developed using photogrammetry, a process based on taking thousands of photographs.


Technology experts worked with curators to digitally recreate objects like swords and spears that were held by the warriors. They did the same with the two nonmilitary figures in the show – a civil official and a musician – to represent objects that they would have held or stood next to.

The technology is available to museumgoers through an app that they can download to their smartphones when they book tickets or arrive at the museum. Visitors can activate the digital images of the warriors’ weapons by holding their phones in front of a two-dimensional “target” that’s fixed to the interpretive display with each statue.

Once a “missing” object like a spear appears on the viewer’s phone, it can be manipulated to allow the user to see features such as shape and color.

Technologists ensured the historical accuracy of the images by drawing on the expertise of museum staff.

“The curators worked with the developers on what type of metal this would be, what type of wood this would have been, so it really takes you back in time to see the weapons as they would have been originally made,” said Susan Poulton, the institute’s chief digital officer. “When you see the pits, you really don’t see them really holding all their weaponry, and this gives you a chance to see how they would have stood in the original pit.”

In coming weeks, the Institute will upgrade the technology so that visitors can activate the augmented reality simply by pointing their phones at the statues themselves.

Xian Offers Terracotta Warriors, Stunning Food and Plenty of Bargains

One of the oldest cities in China proved to be one of the less expensive trips our columnist has taken in the past year.

Travelers eventually face the predicament of a destination that is utterly defined by one particular attraction — the Pyramids outside Cairo or the Taj Mahal in Agra, for example. The question is less “Should I see this attraction?” and more “How could I possibly not see this attraction?” But any lingering doubts I had about visiting the famed Terracotta Army, built by Emperor Qin Shihuang in the 3rd century B.C., soon dissipated when I entered the main excavation site. The life-size, chalky-gray warriors were meticulously detailed and demonstrated a stunning, almost overwhelming show of force — exactly, I’m sure, the impression the emperor wished to make.

But Xian, the north-central Chinese city whose name means “western peace,” is much more than its collection of warriors. It’s one of the oldest cities in China: It has seen the likes of Marco Polo during his Silk Road journey, and been home to Buddhist sutras brought from India by Xuanzang, a monk whose journey inspired one of the greatest works of Chinese literature, “Journey to the West.” Xian was also one of the first Chinese cities introduced to Islam, and its Muslim Quarter, located in the city center, is now one of the city’s most thriving tourist areas. I had a fantastic time in the ancient city during a recent four-night excursion. It’s also one of the less expensive trips I’ve taken in the past year.

One of the biggest costs? Getting there. But even that was cheap, not to mention enjoyable — my one-way ticket on a high-speed train from Chengdu to Xian cost 283 yuan, about $45. If you’re looking to take a 17-hour sleeper train, you can do that for about half the cost. A couple of tips: Get to the train station 30 minutes before you think you need to. There’s considerable security getting into the station and the trains leave precisely on time (I very nearly missed mine). has the best interface I’ve seen for buying Chinese train tickets online alternatively, you can ask for help at your hotel.

The journey through the countryside at 150 miles per hour took a little more than four hours. There was a notable juxtaposition of approaching Xian — a city with centuries-old 40-foot high city walls and a literal moat — in such an advanced and modern way. I emerged into the subfreezing temperatures at the North Railway Station and hopped on the subway (less than a decade old and in great shape) into the heart of the city (one-way ticket, 4 yuan), in search of the lodgings I had booked on


I can’t always do youth hostels — I’m generally too old and grumpy to be hanging around in bunk beds comparing dry shampoos with a bunch of early-20s Australian backpackers. But every now and then I stay in one, and I’m reminded that they usually, when chosen carefully, provide for a great experience, especially for the price point.

That’s precisely what happened at Han Tang Inn, a homey and friendly hostel on narrow street, a quick walk from the Zhonglou (“ Bell Tower”) subway station. For those on an extreme budget, $6-per-night beds in six-person shared rooms are available. I decided to “splurge,” booking a private room on the second floor with its own bathroom — at 139 yuan per night, a little more than $20, I was happy with my decision.

Like all good hostels, the inn provided plenty of cushy space, a decent selection of snacks and drinks for sale, good- enough Wi-Fi, and free in-house activities like mah-jongg and calligraphy lessons. Most importantly, it gives you a built-in crew of new friends and acquaintances — perfect for exploring and checking new places out.

And in my case, it gave me an easy and affordable way to check out the Terracotta Army at the Emperor Qin Shihuang’s Mausoleum Site Museum. I don’t typically like aligning myself with tour groups, but for excursions out of town (the excavation site is about an hour east of Xian), I recommend it. Unless you’re particularly facile with Chinese, arranging solo day-trips can be difficult or costly. Instead, I paid the hostel 238 yuan and joined a 10-person group one morning on a minibus out of town.

“The emperor’s Chinese name was Qin Shihuang. We also called him Ying Zheng,” explained Jia Jia, our friendly and assertive tour guide, who punctuated many of her pronouncements with a definitive “hmph.” She continued: “Emperor was a good emperor. But he was also ruthless. And he was very crazy.” The emperor, she said, while achieving the unification of China and creating the great clay army, also had a fondness for torturing his subjects and a taste for mercury, thinking it was the secret to everlasting life (it was, in fact, the opposite).

There were three excavation locations at the museum, and we saved the biggest and best for last. The vast, final dig site held hundreds of soldiers, lined up in a majestic and slightly eerie show of force: infantrymen, archers, even a few horses. I was surprised when Jia Jia told us that while Qin Shihuang created around 8,000 life-size soldiers to protect him in the afterlife, only 2,000 or so have been unearthed and reassembled since local farmers made the discovery in 1974 (and only a portion of those are on public display at any given time). Many, many decades of painstaking work remain. Admission to the site, should you choose to go on your own, is 150 yuan, or 120 during the winter off-season.

I was able to do most of my exploration of Xian solo, though, thanks to the compactness of the city center. I recommend making a quick stop at the Bell and Drum Towers, which closely resemble each other and are both located in the heart of the city. Tickets to each will cost 35 yuan, or you can buy a combo ticket for 50 yuan. The pagoda-like structures, with their distinctive upward-tilting eaves, are quite regal and majestic, and beautifully illuminated during the evening. They were constructed within years of each other during the 14th century by the Hongwu Emperor of the Ming dynasty — the Bell Tower rang to mark the beginning the day the Drum Tower , its end.

Another duo of complementary sights is the Giant Wild Goose and Small Wild Goose Pagodas, both south of the city walls. The larger of the two is one of Xian’s most famous structures, a sandy-colored Tang dynasty pavilion constructed in 652 A.D. to house sutras and icons brought from India by the Buddhist monk Xuanzang. The seven-story pagoda occupies the spacious and peaceful grounds of Dacien Si (Mercy Temple), which costs 50 yuan to access.

Meandering around the temple grounds on a chilly day, I saw men and women lighting incense and worshiping at Sakyamuni, the main hall of the monastery. From there I entered the pagoda (this requires a separate 20-yuan ticket) and climbed the nearly 250 wooden stairs leading to the top. Created to protect the 657 volumes of Buddhist scriptures Xuanzang brought back, the pagoda yields another benefit: the views from the top are excellent, if slightly hindered by smog.

(Air quality is a problem throughout China, and asthmatics and those with delicate respiratory systems should take particular notice. The government is t esting measures to stem the problem in different cities, including Xian, which is experimenting with building-sized air purification towers.)

To the northwest is the Small Wild Goose Pagoda (built in 707, it’s slightly younger), and while the pagoda itself is currently being restored, the area is worth visiting for a couple of reasons. The Studio of Chinese Calligraphy and Painting, in addition to traditional artwork, has a small museum dedicated to Mao Zedong that I found to be more honest and critical than I expected. It cites the “lost generation of the Cultural Revolution” and the era’s “disastrous blow on traditional Chinese culture.” A friendly employee at the shop directed me to the spacious, modern Xian Museum (free admission), which has diverse array of installations: contemporary paintings from the Taklamakan Desert region, relics from the Tang and Sui Dynasties, and, in the basement, an exhibition detailing the history of Xian.

Don’t forget that the city’s ancient walls are an attraction in and of themselves. Accessible in different locations around the city, I found it easiest to enter by the main southern gate (Yongning), the most elaborate and ornate of the entrances. Tickets are 50 yuan, but I was able to score a half-off discount by showing my high-speed rail ticket from Chengdu. The ambitious can rent a bicycle on the parapets — 45 yuan for three hours — and bike the approximately 8.5 miles around the entire wall. (Given the subfreezing temperatures and poor air quality, I decided to just walk the walls for a while. I wasn’t disappointed — the views were good, and provided a nice vantage point of much of the surrounding area.)

Convenient to Yongning gate, on Shuyuanmen Pedestrian Street, is Zui Chang An, the first of many outstanding restaurants in the city I sampled. I’ve done my share of eating in the world, and I’ll say that Xian has some of the tastiest and most accessible regional cuisine of any country I’ve visited. At Zui Chang An, you can get a very good version of a Shaanxi specialty called hulu ji, or calabash chicken. Steamed or stewed (or both, in some cases) and then fried and served inside of a gourd, this whole chicken (68 yuan) has tender, fall-apart meat that went well with a side of spicy, numbing cucumber seedlings (22 yuan).

Getting a good breakfast near my hostel was no challenge once I discovered Ma Lao’s Diced Meat Spicy Soup, a small shop on West 1st Road. I went one morning with a fellow traveler in search of a peppery bowl of hu la tang, or hot, peppery soup, and found a long line of locals — always a good sign. The thick, tangy broth, filled with mushrooms and bamboo shoots, positively made my hair stand on end with its sharp, black pepper flavor. Along with a side of flatbread, brimming with herbs and onions, it made a for a filling and eye-opening breakfast. Two bowls and bread cost just 17 yuan.

The Muslim Quarter, which begins roughly at the Drum Tower and extends north and west through a considerable swath of the city, is certainly geared toward tourists but is worth walking around for its frenetic energy, brightly lit signs that would give Vegas a run for its money, and, naturally, its tasty street food. Beiyuanmen Street, which extends northward from the Drum Tower, was a natural place to start an impromptu food tour, and I launched my exploration from there.

Dodging bicycles, a crush of pedestrians, and the occasional pedicab, I wound my way through the barrage of colorful LED lights and street hawkers selling pomegranate juice, chunks of durian and roujiamo, a sandwich stuffed with chipped beef and hot, spicy oil (15 yuan). My favorite snack was a juicy stuffed pancake called xianbing, which was full of diced beef and fresh chives (10 yuan). In the hectic Muslim Quarter, your best strategy is to relax and go with the flow: The different foods and sheer variety of choice can overwhelm, but not once was I disappointed.


Some of the most exquisite statues were uncovered during early work at the site, including a rare warrior with a green face.


Since they were discovered by local farmers in 1974, experts have questioned whether the life-size models of soldiers were modelled on real warriors, or whether they came off a production line, with random individual details such as hairstyles, added to mark them apart.

Now, experts have produced 3D computer models of the statues, focusing on their ears, which they say are unique like fingerprints, suggesting that the soldiers were modelled on specific humans.

A team of archaeologists from University College London (UCL) worked with experts from Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum in Lintong, China, to reveal the ancient design process behind the soldiers.

They measured the statues’ facial features focusing on the ears, because they come in so many different shapes that they can be used to identify individuals.

The experts reasoned, that if the warriors depict real people, each statue should have different shaped ears.

Because the statues are packed so closely together in the burial pit, they scanned the ears and made 3D reconstructions to examine them without risking damaging the ancient originals.

Working from a sample of 30 models, they discovered that no two ears were precisely the same and the amount of variation resembled a real human population.

The discovery suggested that the army was once colourfully painted, but the pigments have faded over time.

Yuan Zhongyi, one of the archaeologists leading the project, said the pit contained 'the essence of the terracotta warriors' due to the mix of figures there.

According to China News Service, he said: 'You can find all the kneeling archers, soldiers and cavalry in the number two pit.

'Their colourful paint is also relatively well preserved.'

The terracotta army was first discovered by accident in 1974 by farmers in Lintong District, Xi'an.

Archaeologists have uncovered four distinct pits each around 23 feet deep – the largest of which contained 6,000 of the terracotta warriors.

The second pit is thought to contain the cavalry and archers, although only 120 figures have been recovered so far.

The third pit contained the tallest figures and are thought to be the generals and officers while the fourth pit appears to have been left empty.

The army is thought to have been built to protect Emperor Qin Shihaung after his death and were positioned just under a mile east of his burial mound.

The soldiers were laid out as if to protect the tomb from invaders to the east – the states where the Qin Emperor had conquered.

Along with the figures themselves – which were so detailed that their armour bear rivets and their shoes have treads – there were numerous weapons found.

Many of the swords and spears were found to be still sharp and a coating of chromium dioxide had managed to keep them rust free.

Archaeologists have been attempting to preserve the pigments painted onto the terracotta statues during the excavation. One of the archaeology team is pictured above as a new excavation gets underway at the site

The team have been using digital scanning techniques to help speed up the painstaking work of piecing together the terracotta statues that are being unearthed in pit number two of the mausoleum in Xi'an (above)

Work in the pit was halted in 2008 amid concerns the delicate paint on the figures would be lost forever

More than 6,000 terracotta warriors were unearthed in the enormous main pit (shown above), along with horses and weapons, less than a mile east of the tomb of China's first emperor Quin Shihuang in Xi'an

Cross bows found in the pits also had sophisticated trigger mechanism.

It is thought that many of the figures had been painted with bright pigments including red, green, blue, black and brown.

Preserving the painted surface has proved particularly challenging during the excavations. In some cases it has peeled off within minutes of exposure to the air.

For this reason the original excavation work at pit number two was halted in 2008 in the hope of finding better ways of preserving the delicate artworks.

The terracotta warriors were found close to the tomb of Emperor Quin Shihuang in Xi'an in central China


In all, the tomb's three pits are thought to hold 8,000 life-sized figures of archers, infantry soldiers, horse-drawn chariots, officers and acrobats, plus 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses.

It is believed they were created to protect the emperor in the afterlife.

The statues stand between 6ft and 6ft 5in tall and weigh about 400lb.

They are intricately detailed and no two figures are alike – craftsmen are believed to have modelled them after a real army.

The tomb was looted less than five years after Emperor Qin Shihuang's death by a rival army.

They set a fire that destroyed the wooden structures housing the warriors, damaging most of them.

Since their discovery, the figures have suffered perils ranging from mould due to humidity to decay from exposure and coal dust from local industry.

A fourth pit at the tomb was apparently left empty by its builders, while Qin's actual burial chamber at the centre of the complex has yet to be excavated.

Qin, who died in 210BC at the age of 50, created China's first unitary state by conquering rival kingdoms.

A figure of fear and awe in Chinese history, he built an extensive system of roads and canals along with an early incarnation of the Great Wall of China.

He also unified measurements and established a single written language, currency and legal statutes.

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