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The Middle Kingdom III: West

Posted January 31st, 2011 at 02:02 PM by chas
Updated February 1st, 2011 at 12:55 AM by chas
THE MIDDLE KINGDOM III: WEST (Xian)

“The Empire, long divided, must unite; long united, must divide.”
--Romance of the Three Kingdoms

We flew south and west, over the rugged interior mountains where Mao had finished the Long March. We landed in my own most anticipated destination; and it did not disappoint. Xian ‘X’ pronounced as ‘sh’) was a pivotal location of world history. This city was the capital of eleven dynasties over a period of a good 1,100. As Chang An, it was the capital of the greatly esteemed culture of one of the most beloved; the Tang Dynasty (618-906 CE), apex of Asian literature and art. It was also the start of the Silk Road, which traded with the Roman Empire and then Medieval Europe, and every nation in between. We drive past landmarks like the seven story Big Wild Goose Pagoda, and the Bell Tower overlooking the Ming Dynasty city walls. That evening, we attend an incredible show by the Chang An Music and Dance Group in the Peoples Cultural Hall. We are the only Westerners in the huge auditorium audience.

A full orchestra in Tang period costume plays, with exotic gongs, hanging bells, and even the xylophone! Dances include the Silk Dance, the Green Waist Dance, the Solo Drum Dance, the Blossom Dance, and the Choral Drum Dance. A woman solos on a cosmically lovely string instrument, which is so large she sits to play it. I visualized stars and galaxies, dropping back into infinity. Medieval type soldiers appear, whirling in formation to music, with swords, shields, halberds and banners. Two women dance with huge war swords, their hilt tassels whipping about as they move. Then two dances enter from the shadows from the rear of the stage, as a chorus of demon masked singers accompanies them! Not something I see every day.

Next afternoon, its time for a relaxing trip into the mountains at the Huaqing Hot Spring. Here at this luxurious spa, Chiang Kai Shek was ‘kidnapped’ by young officers who wanted to him to change his tactics. I used this site for a World War II adventure game back home, throwing in characters from the American comic set in China Terry and the Pirates. Don’t tell anyone, but the Red Courtesan is actually Lai Choi San—the Dragon Lady!

Now it was time for the greatest collection of soldier figures ever paraded--the terra cotta army of the First Emperor of the Chin Dynasty. Discovered in 1974, they stand in a grid of excavation trenches inside a field house the size of a football field. From a balcony above that runs around the perimeter, you can look down upon ranks and ranks of infantry, mounted cavalry, chariots with their horse teams, and more, each human figure with a completely individual face; possibly modeled on a real individual. It’s not hard to imagine them alive, so fine is the sculpting. In the attached museum, you see a tiny diorama of a half dozen craftsmen swarming over two figures; one still brown as they stand today, and the other being colored. Because—psychedelic moment here—they were originally painted! Just imagining this blows my mind. Wearing the intricate armor, helmets, and military gear, they’ve been standing in mass formation by hundreds for over 2,200 years. And this is only one of many fields where the Imperial bodyguard army of statues stands. There just isn’t enough money to dig them all up.

The First Emperor, Shi Huang Di, united China into one nation, by conquering many smaller feudal states. Throughout the later ages China would divide and reunite over and over. And the Communist Party is still concerned about keeping such a large continent sized territory together politically today. His tomb supposedly contained a magical world map made of liquid mercury, but they haven’t found that yet. Now in Ancient, (not Medieval) times, the Chinese had a repeating crossbow! The tomb contained booby traps like loaded crossbows to pick off the occasional tomb robber, but by the time it was entered by modern scientists, the crossbow wires had rotted away.

In a huge, glass roofed open air market, the Chinese of today shop for food, clothing, and other goods, just like they did in the days when camel caravans brought in merchant’s stocks from the Exotic West—from Samarkand, Bokhara, and Bagdad. Here too, there was a gateway to the outer world, as on the Eastern coast. As a New Yorker, I can tell you that the more diverse the culture, the more cosmopolitan it becomes. Xian is about the same latitude as Shanghai on an East-West axis, and seem to define China culturally, in a way that Washington D.C., I mean, Beijing, does not.
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arp12's Avatar
Quote:
The First Emperor, Huang Di, was the man who united China into one state for the first time, at least in recorded history. He destroyed all previous historical records, so we don’t know what happened before him.
This is not true. The Shang and Zhou were long lasting dynasties that preceded Shi Huang Di's Qin Dynaty. So, at the very least, my history textbook knows what happened before him.

Though Shi Huang Di was a unifying leader, it wasn't the first time China was united.
Posted January 31st, 2011 at 09:45 PM by arp12 arp12 is offline
Old
chas's Avatar
Thanks for the comment; I have amended my text. However, he did obliterate much of the past: "In 213 B. C. there took place the great holocaust of books..." (A History of China by Wolfram Eberhardt, 1977, ISBN 0-520-03268-3).
Posted February 1st, 2011 at 12:50 AM by chas chas is offline
Updated February 1st, 2011 at 01:05 AM by chas
Old
arp12's Avatar
Yes, his Legalist philosophy led to the burnings of all "useless" books, as well as killing Confucian (opposing) scholars.

Did you write blogs shortly after your trip, or more recently?
Edit: I read your 2 latest additions, and it seems you're just writing these now. That's quite an undertaking.
Posted February 1st, 2011 at 03:05 PM by arp12 arp12 is offline
Updated February 1st, 2011 at 03:19 PM by arp12
 
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