Terra Cotta Army (September 9th - September 15th)

(Xian, Kunming)

Distance biked so far: (19,087 km)

The City of Xian is another of those provincial capitals you may or may not have heard of but it is the size of Chicago with almost 9 million people.  Xian was originally within stonewalls to protect from the invading barbarians from Mongolia and some of those walls are still in place.
Here is a bell tower in the heart of the City.
If you have heard of the City, the reason would be that it is the home of what is considered the greatest archaeological find of the 20th century, the Terracotta Warriors Army and Horses.

I read a book on the history of the Terracotta Army to get a better understanding prior to visiting. It is one of the top attractions in China and important to the Chinese for both the historical significance and the uniqueness of the site.

The Terracotta Army is a collection of sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The sculptures were buried with the emperor around 210 BC. The purpose of the sculptures was to protect the emperor in his afterlife and to ensure that he had people to rule over. They were buried with him ensuring he would still be in command after death.

In 1974, local farmers wee digging a well and came across some of the figures. A local archaeologist wisely put a halt to the digging and soon discovered the size of the burial sites and recognized the significance. The Army is massive with over 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots, 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. There are also non-military figures including officials, acrobats and musicians. There is also an entire man-made burial tomb mound that replicated his imperial palace and consisted of offices, halls and stables. The army was created to protect the burial site.

The work on the mausoleum began in 246 BC soon after the young Emperor (age 13) ascended the throne. There were reportedly 700,000 workers involved in the construction at one point. The army figures were manufactured in workshops by government laborers and local craftsmen. The head, arms, legs and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Here are some figures without their heads. The excavation occurred from the top down since they were buried and often the heads were destroyed. In some cases the heads were stolen.
Pit #2 has cavalry and infantry units as well as war chariots. Notice the hand position of the chariot drivers that would have held reins that no longer exist.
The figures were part of a mould and then clay was added to provide individual features. Of the 8,000 figurines, no 2 are the same which reveals the detail and time consuming nature of the work. Here are a few of the detailed figures.
The figures are life-sized and vary in height, uniform and hairstyle in accordance with rank. They are a life like army in every way including the formation in which they were buried. Most of the figures originally held real weapons such as spears, swords or crossbows. They were also painted with bright pigments. Most of the original weapons have been looted and the paint has faded but reveals the amount of labor and skill involved in their construction.

There are 4 main pits about 20' deep at the excavation site. The army is set up to protect the burial tomb from the east which is where the Emperor's conquered states were located. The entire army and burial pit are buried as if they were ready to go to war at any time. Pit #1 is 230 meters long and 62 meters wide and contains more than 6,000 figures.
I had noticed earlier that there are a lot of signs in the men's toilets urging men to stand closer to the urinals.  For some reason the message seems to be lost on the Chinese men resulting in lots of puddles on the floors. Instead of always having to mop the floors to keep the smells tolerable, one solution is to simply burn incense on the urinal.
When you hear about China in the news it is invariably about the economy and how they have recently grown to become the second biggest in the world, trailing only the U.S. It is an election year in the U.S so once again the Presidential campaigns start raising the fear levels. You will hear a lot about Iran and the imminent threat of nuclear oblivion or China and how they are gearing up to rule the world from an economic perspective. The candidates go back and forth trying to prove who is best suited to protect the people from these evils and if you make the wrong choice, the end is near.

The first issue in terms of China always relates to the amount of U.S debt they own. There are headlines screaming how China is going to own the U.S and something has to be done about it. I have never read a headline complaining about Japan though and they own almost the exact same amount of U.S debt as China.

China is now the world's second largest economy and it is that reason, the potential threat to American economic dominance that seems to be behind the misleading headlines. I'm not sure how you can stop another country from becoming an economic power but the alarm bells have certainly been rung. China however is not as rich as most people seem to think. They are a big economy simply because they have 1.3 billion people. One measure of a countries wealth is the amount of goods and services they produce (GDP). If you look at the countries GDP and consider the population you get a GDP per capital, which is a good measure of the economic wealth of the citizens. Canada for example has a GDP per capital of $50,436 (2011 figures) which ranks it 9th in the world, slightly ahead of the U.S ranked 14th with a GDP of $48,387. According to the International Monetary Fund figures Luxembourg is ranked number one with many of the northern European countries making up the rest of the top 10.

Given the news about the Chinese economic power that is ready to take over the world you would expect them to be ranked pretty high. In reality, they are ranked 88th in the world, just below Libya, Peru and the Dominican Republic with a GDP per capital of $5,414. At least they beat the economic powerhouses of Algeria and Turkmenistan.

The issue that is of interest however is to understand the role of the Communist Party in a country that seems to be moving to a Western style capitalist model. What happened to the collective farms, the cooperation and non-competitiveness that typically define a Communist Party? If you look at the top 12 corporations by revenue in the world, China has 3 of them with the biggest being Sinopec, an oil company. Sinopec used to be owned by the government but in 2000 was listed simultaneously on the Hong Kong, London and New York stock exchange. The public listing was hailed as a victory for capitalism and a movement away from government control to one where they are part of a free market.

In China, the Communist Party (CCP) has over 80 million members and they keep a tight control of the country. The government here tolerates a fair amount of individual rights but they have little patience for anyone undermining their authority. The government is controlled by the CCP. An example of this is the fact that Facebook and You-tube are banned in China and any sign of protest or rally against the government is quickly smothered. The CCP is also in control of the large corporations in a way that is not widely known. The CCP is responsible for the hiring of all personnel. In cases like Sinopec, they appear to be a free market company but the CEO, senior management, supervisors and all personnel with decision making are appointed and approved by the Party. The majority of the Board of Directors are a member of the Party and all decisions in regard to expansion or hiring have to be approved by the Party. Since there is only one party it would be like the Republican Party in the U.S having the sole authority over Exxon Mobil, Wal Mart and McDonalds.

China has come a long way since 1978 when they moved away from the Communist ideas of Mao Zedong but they are a long way from dominating the world economy. There are recent signs of economic problems, as the growth rates of the past decade appear unsustainable. The government made a move recently to focus on domestic growth and that has slowed along with the rest of the world.

I will be visiting the old city of Lijiang next and then doing some hiking in the Tiger Leaping Gorge. My bike is being boxed up and I am now changing from being a biker to a hiker. I was planning to bike down through Vietnam but one of my dreams was to see Mount Everest and the best hiking months in Nepal are October and November so now is the best time to go. I leave China on October 5th and will fly to Bangkok to pick up some cold weather gear for hiking. In Nepal I will first do a 3-week hike on the famous Annapurna Trail and then do a 2-week trek to the base camp of Mount Everest. I am only hiking though, no perilous mountain climbing past the base camp for me.

I will be a week in Bangkok and while there plan to go skydiving. One way to face your fear of flying is to go in a small plane and then jump out. As the saying goes, fear has never stopped anyone from dying but it has stopped a lot of people from living.
Some of the figures are well preserved and were placed in a small on-site museum. Here is a good example of an archer.
I was tired of the long train and bus rides so decided to fly from Xian back to Kunming, the City I was using as a base to get around. When you walk around Kunming, you can't help but notice the number of Apple stores selling I-phones and all the latest gadgets. The stores are everywhere and I started suspecting they were not real. Sure enough, I found an online article that noted 22 fake Apple stores were found in the Chinese city of Kunming alone. The BBC reported the incident after an American tourist wrote in his blog about the stores. The stores went to every extreme to duplicate the real store and even the employees interviewed thought they were working for Apple. The officials found 22 fake stores and judging by how many Apple stores I would see in an hour walk, they have a lot more to close down.

The reason I was suspect is that I was asked by a number of shady types on the street if I wanted to buy an I-phone as they flashed it in front of me. I knew they were fake because right on the street, a few blocks from where I was accosted, I watched a man take out a small knife, cut out the Apple logo from a sheet of paper and carefully attach it to a no-name telephone. He did it right on the main street, in full view of the public. I watched a guy beside him do the same with a Nokia phone. If you want to buy a gadget in China, beware.

The food in China is fantastic and my favorite is noodles. They use chopsticks here of course so they feed the noodle into their mouths and then slurp them up. Earplugs are optional but a good idea when eating in local noodle shop. Here is a bowl of one of my favorites that I would eat each day in Kunming. Its just noodles with a peanut sauce but very tasty.
Here are some guards that would have been holding spears.
Here is a bronze chariot and horses.