Pieces of History: The Terra-cotta Warriors

The Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Museum is the home of China’s largest and richest burial tomb. Day after day, thousands of tourists come to this site to see the world-renowned Terra-cotta Warriors and Horses. Remembered as China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang ruled from 246BCE to 221BCE. He is most famous for unifying China, linking the different sections of the Great Wall, and creating the Terra-cotta Army to protect him in his afterlife.

Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum was one of the main stops on our program’s trip to Xi’an. Before visiting this site, I knew very little about the Terra-cotta Warriors and Emperor Qin. I had only seen brief sections about the Terra-cotta Warriors on television programs or the warriors photographed in textbooks. When I walked into Pit One, the largest excavation site, my jaw dropped at the scene. The warriors were truly breathtaking. In Pit One there are an estimated 6,000 warriors, and only 1,000 have been recovered so far. Hundreds were lined up within Pit One’s archeological site, and no two figures were the same. Each life-sized soldier had his own unique facial features, clothing style and body build. During our time at the museum, our tour guide, Allen, told us about the history of the Terra-cotta Army. He was able to answer all of our questions and point out details we should not overlook in the archeological sites. Below are some things I learned from at Qin’s mausoleum.

  • In 1974, local Xi’an farmers discovered the Terra-cotta warriors while digging a well near Qin’s mausoleum. They reported the artifacts to the local officials, but they never imagined a whole army underground. I thought the warriors were discovered long before the 1970s. It is hard to believe such a spectacle was hidden for thousands of years. Allen told us that there were no records of the Terra-cotta Army, so there was no reason to search the land around Qin’s burial site.
  • According to Allen, there are stories of other farmers finding parts of the soldiers in the soil before 1974. When these farmers discovered the Terra-cotta Warriors, they only found pieces of the soldiers in the soil. Due to the deep superstitions, the farmers were initially afraid of their findings. They believed that the pieces they encountered were actually demons, monsters or ghosts wanting to haunt them. It is said that one farmer even tied the terracotta soldier parts pieces he found to a tree and shattered them to avoid bad luck and fortune. These farmers wished to erase their findings and did not report the artifacts to local government.
  • When the Terra-cotta soldiers were placed underground, a wooden structure was built on top to hold the ground ceiling from caving in. This structure did not withstand time. According local history, the wooden ceiling was burned and destroyed by looters thousands of years ago. Thus, almost all of the soldiers and horses uncovered and displayed at the museum were broken and had to be restored by archeologists. Only a few of the 6,000 soldiers were actually found in tact. This surprised me. For some reason, I thought the Terra-cotta Warriors were discovered in relatively good conditions inside a large tomb, like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie. But, in hindsight I should have expected the clay warriors to be broken after all of these years. Some untouched sections of the pits were on display to show the original state of the findings. I saw that some of the terra-cotta pieces were larger, such as a whole leg or bust, but most of the pieces were smaller and embedded in the dirt. Allen told us that the restoration process takes about two years. Each piece must be carefully separated from the dirt mounds, cataloged and placed in the right position.
  • The Terra-cotta warriors were all painted when they were first buried. The mono-colored warriors on display were already a spectacle to me. I had a hard time imagining the warriors covered in rich reds, blues, yellows and greens. Over the years, the paint has faded due exposure to light, temperature, and humidity. Some of the soldiers were found with remnants of paint on them, but painted parts faded even more after the pieces were removed from the site. The scientists and archeologists are still researching for better preservation techniques. For instance, the covering on Pit Two did not allow as much light into the excavation site as Pit One. This decreased the artifacts’ exposure to sunlight and humidity. Until a restoration process that protects the paint is perfected, soldiers still buried will remain untouched and underground.

Seeing the Terra-cotta Warriors was an experience I will never forget. I now understand the historic greatness of this archeological find. I look forward to following the progress of future extractions and the development of restoration technology. This historic wonder should be shared with future generations, so keeping the Terra-cotta Army alive and close to their original state is important. I enjoyed my time at the museum so much that I even bought two decorative Terra-cotta Warriors from the museum gift shop. Now, I can enjoy this piece of history when I go home.

Happy Birthday, Wei! (祝你生日快乐,魏!)

On Tuesday, our Chinese teacher Wei Laoshi (魏老师) turned twenty-six years old. To celebrate my classmates and I took her out for dinner and drinks nearby campus. While walking to the restaurant, I thought about how we Davidson students have grown closer to Wei over the semester. Wei Laoshi is not a Shanghai native. She comes from a farming family in the countryside of China. Her hard work and academics brought her to Shanghai for college and graduate school. Her lighthearted personality, jokes and stories make our Chinese class interesting and entertaining. Although she is a tough professor, she is also approachable and personable. Moreover, she has made an effort to get to know each of us through our one-on-one sessions with her.

Earlier in the semester, we learned that Wei had never had a birthday party or birthday cake. She explained to us that, unlike American culture, birthdays are not emphasized in Chinese culture. Her friends never took her out to celebrate her birthday in college or graduate school. This was not considered mean or forgetful; it is simply not expected in Chinese society. This was shocking to most of my classmates, including myself, who were showered by birthday gifts and parties from family and friends every year. Wei did mention that her birthday was especially important and sentimental to her mom. On her birthday each year, Wei calls her mom on to thank her “for doing such a good job on this day X years ago.”

We were all excited to throw Wei a small celebration. Julie and I ordered a cake and appropriate “2-6″ candles. We honored Wei’s request and brought her to Helen’s, a western styled restaurant and bar. After eating dinner, we brought out the cake and sang Happy Birthday in Chinese. The restaurant even played Happy Birthday for Wei over the stereo system. Wei could not hide her excitement. With a smile stretched across her face and her eyes closed, she made a wish then blew out the candles.

The guests of the party slowly left the one by one. Soon, only Dan, Julie and I remained at the table with Wei. We stayed a while talking about life in Shanghai, love and dating. While finishing the cake, Wei introduced us to two terms: Phoenix Man and Peacock Woman. A Phoenix Man is an intelligent, hardworking man from the countryside who finds success in a big city such as Shanghai. These men are seen as phoenixes “reborn” into the urban, modern way of life. A Peacock woman is a spoiled girl born and raised in the city. According to Wei, the Phoenix-Peacock love story has been extremely popular in the plots of recent television shows and romantic movies. She knows of a few Phoenix men at Fudan and claims they all want quiet, obedient wives. I had never heard of a Phoenix Man or a Peacock Woman. This is just one example of many things Wei has taught us outside of the vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation of Mandarin. I am so thankful for time our class has had with Wei and all of the things I have learned from spending time with her. As Wei says, “You are all my friends!” And I am confident that we Davidson students all agree.

Mainland China V Taiwan

When I was two years old, my family moved from Taipei, Taiwan to Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. Since then, I have not have the chance of revisiting my birth town. So, when I learned I would have the opportunity to return to Taiwan after all of these years, I was excited, to say the least.

My class made this trip to Taipei last month. Upon exiting the plane, Fuji revealed our trip’s assignment: make a short film about one thing Taipei has that Shanghai does not have. After spending a significant amount of time in China and Malaysia this year, I was already curious to see how Taiwan compared. Initially, I noticed the obvious distinctions between the Mainland China and Taipei. For instance, Taiwanese typically use scooters for transportation and Chinese typically use bicycles. Ali and I chose to focus on Taiwanese scooter culture for our short film. Still, overtime I noticed more and more subtle differences. These obvious and subtle characteristics help construct Taiwan identity and culture.

LANGUAGE: SIMPLIFIED V TRADITIONAL

Taiwan and Mainland China share the same official language: Mandarin. Nonetheless, Taiwan uses traditional Chinese characters, and Mainland China uses simplified Chinese characters. This was the first dissimilarity I noticed. The characters I had grown accustomed to in Shanghai were morphed in Taiwan. Although I hear the transition from simplified to traditional, or vice versa, is doable, I had the hardest time reading street signs, subtitles or product packaging during my visit.

ENVIRONMENT: SKYLINE V MOUNTAINS

While driving through Shanghai, one will see skyscraper after skyscraper. Disregarding Taipei 101, the buildings are noticeably lower in Taipei. Additionally, the city of Taipei is tucked between the mountains and the coast. There is a visible contrast between the city and the surrounding green scenery, which does not exist in Shanghai. It only took a thirty-minute drive from downtown to Yangming Mountain National Park. I believe the luxury of spending a day in a “natural” setting is less convenient in Shanghai. The mountains around Taipei are a constant reminder of the importance of environmental preservation and enjoyment. Furthermore, the mountains restrict development to a certain degree.

Endless noise pollution and traffic sounds disturbed my sleep and concentration during my first month in China. Now, the same sounds murmur in the background as I go about my day in Shanghai. During our bus ride from the airport to the hotel in Taiwan, I was shocked by silence of traffic. The level of noise pollution in Taiwan is minimal compared to Shanghai. Additionally, the air quality in Taipei is better than Shanghai. I follow the Con Gen ShanghaiAir Twitter feed for air quality reports. Almost everyday the US Embassy reports: “Unhealthy (at 24-hour exposure at this level).” Standing at the top of Yangming Mountain, I could clearly see out for miles to Taiwan’s coast. But, when I look out the apartment window in Shanghai, the hazy atmosphere screens the skyline of the Bund. Taipei’s development and ecological footprint is simply smaller than Shanghai. Undoubtedly, this environmental difference is mostly due to scale.

POLITICS: CLOSED V OPENED

While we were in Taiwan, Dr. Rigger introduced our class to the youth interns at the Democratic Progressive Party. Through our discussion we learned more about Taiwan’s democracy and the Taiwanese perception of Mainland China. From this meeting it was clear that the Taiwanese people proudly reject any political affiliation or identity with China. In fact, they only grudgingly admit their ethnicity is Chinese. I tested this generalization with my family friends in Taiwan. When I asked if them if they were “Chinese,” their faces jaws dropped and they immediately replied, “No, we are Taiwanese!”

Additionally, the democratic system of Taiwan permits people to express opinions and thoughts more openly. While China blocked all traces of Tiananmen Square from its Internet, the Taiwanese government published the facts and used Tiananmen Square to depict the weaknesses of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The censorship that controls Chinese publications does not exist in Taiwan, and the people of Taiwan campaign to maintain their freedom of speech. Recently, Taiwanese activists protested against the monopolization of media sources, fearing the monopolization would result in an authoritarian like system. During my visit, I could browse Facebook, Twitter and YouTube without connecting to a virtual private network (VPN) to “jump to Great Firewall of China.” This easy access to social media illustrates the freedom of information flow and speech that Americans take for granted everyday.

CONTROLLED CHAOS V CONTROLLED CONTROL

With more than half of the semester under my belt, I have adjusted to life in one of the largest and most populated cities in the world. In particular, I have grown accustomed to Shanghai’s dog-eat-dog disposition, which is absent in Taiwan. I never apologize or say, “Excuse me,” while pushing my way through crowds of people in Shanghai. In fact, I must push and shove in order to guarantee a spot on the bus. My professor described the dynamics of Shanghai as “controlled chaos.” After going to Taiwan, I can see this even more so. In China, people spit, litter, and urinate in public everyday. Though these actions could be controlled or discreet, individuals choose to do what is convenient for their schedule. From an outsider’s point of view, these actions are dirty, inconsiderate and chaotic.

In Taiwan, order exists everywhere. Courteous patterns and rules of foot traffic are followed. For example, on escalators people either stand on the right or walk on the left. Public restrooms are clean and toilet paper is provided. All drivers wear their seatbelts and scooter drivers all wear helmets. Sidewalks are litter and feces free. These small things add up to a big difference in comparison to Shanghai.

Where is the order in Shanghai? After spending two months in “controlled chaos,” I believe the answer does not matter. Shanghai people get from point A to point B. Sure, the journey is not as smooth or easy, but the bumps along the road do not stop the city of Shanghai from flourishing.

FINAL THOUGHTS

During our last day in Taipei, DJ asked me whether or not I would have liked studying in Taipei better in Shanghai. I was a bit taken aback at first by the question. The luxuries of Taiwan make everyday life easier. But, the madness of Shanghai makes life exciting and unpredictable. In all honesty, our group had fallen in love with Taiwan’s culture, food, people and landscape. We also missed our home in Shanghai. Going abroad is about putting yourself out there. I chose to go to Shanghai because I wanted to be somewhere unique. I wanted to experience things I could not experience in the United States. Shanghai is too big and too messy to grasp in just a weeklong trip. So, I think I made the right decision. As one of my classmates said, “study in Shanghai, vacation in Taiwan.”

Silk Orders at the South Bund

The sound of a sewing machine rumbling reminds me of my mother. My mother, Ivy, works as tailor in a local boutique in Durham, NC. As a child, I could usually find my mother in her sewing room working on her clients’ clothes or a sewing project for fun. Many of the garments my sister and I wore growing up were custom made by my mom. My mother sewed us many things, including, smoking dresses, bedspreads, and Halloween costumes. She would often bring my sister and I along to shop for buttons, zippers and thread. While walking through the fabric store, my hands would move across the endless rows of fabric rolls; cotton, fleece, polyester, leather, silk and satin.

Last week, I made a trip to the South Bund Fabric Market in Shanghai. This market is popular among travelers and locals looking to buy custom made shirts, dresses, suits and jackets. When I walked through the front doors of the building, my mind immediately flashed back to the times I spent roaming different colors, textures and prints with my mother. The South Bund Fabric Market is a three story building jammed packed with individual vendor stalls. I was a bit overwhelmed at first; every stall was covered in fabric, model designs and finished orders from floor to ceiling. I did not know where to start.

After wandering around some, Shanel and I entered a stall on the first floor that was recommended by our professor. We were both looking to order traditional Chinese dresses known as cheongsams (qípáo). From my understanding, one or two storefront merchants operate each stall. These merchants help customers pick designs, choose fabrics and measure sizes. Orders are then sent to neighboring buildings and laborers to be made. Customers typically wait about one week to pick up their custom made pieces.

The stall we selected was about ten square-meters in area and was run by a husband and wife team. Before making any concrete decisions, we asked the storekeepers how much one cheongsam would cost. The woman merchant grabbed the calculator from her desk and typed “450¥.” We knew this was a good and fair starting price, but proceeded to bargain for a discount. In the end, we agreed to buying five cheongsams between the two of us priced at 360¥ each. So, this meant each custom made silk cheongsam cost about $60, a price impossible to find back home.

Through watching my mother sew, I have developed an appreciation for good craftsmanship and hands-on work. My mother has built up her clientele based on her quality workmanship. In the tailoring business back home charging $60 for a custom made cheongsam would result in negative profits. The South Bund Fabric Market’s low prices are made possible by China’s abundance of willing workers and low labor costs. Our vendor told us that the price of fabric and materials make up most of the retail price. The prices we encountered were lower than “off-the-shelf” items back home. For example, Nicky ordered three custom fit suit sets for the price of one off-the-shelf suit in the United States.

I see that sewing is a disappearing trade in the developed countries. It has become a specialty skill as more and more textile factories get outsourced to developing countries. There seem to be more tailoring booths in the South Bund Fabric Market building than there are in the city of Durham. The difference between tailoring prices and choices in China and the United States interests me. In my Chinese Marketplace class, my group is researching and conducting a field study of the South Bund Fabric Market. We will be digging deeper into the vendors’ daily lives, the power structure within the market and the supply chain. But, for now, I am most excited to pick up my three cheongsams tomorrow afternoon.

Serenity on the Great Wall

Our class trip to Beijing was an incredible introduction into the history and culture of China’s capital. We arrived in the city last Wednesday night. After listening to the weather forecast for the weekend, our tour guide, Erik, made a last minute change to our Beijing travel agenda. In order to avoid any chance of snow, our two-day excursion to the Great Wall of China was moved to the beginning of the schedule.

On Thursday morning, our class left the city of Beijing and made our way to Jinshanling, a quaint and quiet part of the Great Wall. The weather in Beijing was significantly colder than Shanghai, so we were all bundled up in winter coats, gloves, hats and scarfs. We arrived to Jinshanling around 2:30PM. The bus ride took a total of three hours. Upon arrival, we checked into our hotel and immediately left to start our hike on the Great Wall. Our hotel was located at the base of the Great Wall, so the trek to the nearest entrance was entirely up hill and up stairs. Erik told us that our hike toward Simatai would take two to three hours. When we reached our first Great Wall tower, my classmates and I were all out of breath and realized that this hike would be harder than we expected. Additionally, we knew we had to keep a steady pace in order to make it back to the hotel by sunset.

Although we did not keep count at the time, I estimate that our group hiked over fifteen towers. Each tower was located at the top of a hill, so we hiked down and up stairs between each tower. Even with cloudy weather, the view from the Great Wall was incredible. The section we hiked was empty and serene. We only passed a few other tourists during our hike. There were no loud vendors or crowds to distract us from the moment on the Great Wall. A few members of our group visited the Great Wall in the past, but this was the first time they ever saw the wall so calm. While hiking, I felt completely removed from my life in Shanghai and the chaos of Beijing. After spending over two months in a loud and overcrowded city, the time on the wall was even more relaxing and surreal.

Erik also planned a morning sunrise hike for the next morning. He was little unsure about the weather, so going or skipping the hike was to be decided at 6AM. Most of us wanted to get up early for sunrise on the wall. Although we college students would never wake up before sunrise on any given day, we did not want to miss out on this once in a lifetime experience. Luckily, the weather was clear at 6AM, so Rebecca came door to door to wake up each student. I tiredly crawled out of my bed, slipped on my hiking boots and shuffled out the door.

The morning hike was significantly shorter and easier than the previous hike. When we reached the top of the tower, we realized that the sky was even cloudier than the day before. According to Erik the sun was supposed to rise at 6:40AM. But, even at 6:50AM the sky remained gray and misty. Nonetheless, we all agreed to stay and wait for the sun to show. To pass the time we all took pictures of our group and the morning scenery. Some of my classmates even made “I’m on the Great Wall” phone calls to their parents and loved ones. It was not until 7:20AM that we finally saw the sun appear from the horizon. Though the sun was not big or bright, the moment was still breathtaking. We all leaned against the wall watching the sun rise slowly and disappear into the clouds.

 

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