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.

Our Last Encounter With Cindy :(

Everything good comes to an end…

No matter how trite the saying, it always proves to be true.

For the last three months, Nicky and I have devoted our loyalty to a Han City vendor named “Cindy.” With every transaction resulting in mutual satisfaction, gradually we were granted access to a masked world of trade. But most remarkably, we developed a genuine friendship.

With two weeks remaining, we decided to pay Cindy a last visit. Returning with a major agenda, she welcomed us with open arms, going above and beyond her call of duty. On top of giving us amazing deals, we were treated like family. Not only was I able to purchase six bags for 195 RMB (about 30 USD), she surprised me with a small gift of gratitude! But Cindy’s hospitality went beyond gift-giving, she personally escorted us throughout Han City to specific vendors that would give us the special “friend price” for their merchandise as well. For almost two hours, she accompanied us, literally holding our hands along the way. Her pleasantries even included making jokes about the other customers within the vicinity.

Her warm reception to us definitely deserves recognition. While shanzhai culture is often perceived as ravenous and aggressive, Cindy and her dedication demonstrate the falsity of such beliefs. Every time we visit, she gives us a bottle of water and refers to us as “baby,” even giving us hugs with double cheek kisses! Yesterday, as we waited for a pair of shoes to be delivered to her shop, she pulled out her iPad and let us a watch a movie! Talk about top-notch service!

Honestly, my Shanghai shopping experience would be nowhere near as incredible without Cindy. The service and friendship is indisputable. But with our departure soon approaching, I am forced to say goodbye. But in her honor I shall say…

“Ciao baby!”

Visual Memorabilia

Recently, I thought about all the visual memorabilia people have collected during our time in China. Many of us captured this semester’s moments with an iPhone, personal camera, or what I call high-tech cameras, i.e. Chai Lu’s Canon. Two uses of such visual products of our time in China will prove useful for the future. The photo below was taken on our first night in Shanghai.


Our photographs can be used to tell others about the many great experiences we had. Of course these experiences are not limited to the group trips. We have to include the weekend party photos and the everyday photos taken around Shanghai. Without these photos, it might be more difficult for people to understand the unique experience that is studying abroad in China. Some might say that “unique” should be used with caution, and I think in this case, I have done that. This has truly been a unique experience.

The photos will also be used to recall the time spent in China. When I’m eighty years old, I don’t expect to remember everything, and that is when I will use my photos to relive my past. Isn’t that what we all do?

There is something about the visual. While words can tell a story, the use of photos or video can further tell a story for better clarity. This week Benito and I made a video detailing the difference between market shopping in Taipei and market shopping in Shanghai. Just in case I ever forget the differences, I will have the video we created to help jog my memory. Anthropologists use photos and videos to capture everyday life. Tourists do the same. Anyone can snap a quick bit of culture and it’s instantly preserved.

The Suitcase Speech

As promised in my last blog post, I will be including my speech from the 50th Anniversary.  Okay, so I admittedly came up with this speech the morning of the event due to a combination of jet lag/my narcoleptic sleeping habits, other school work and the fact that I wanted to hang out with my family.  This is by no means verbatim and I added in a few sentences for the sake of clarity (I always get a bit nervous during speeches and end up making weird, cringe-worthy grammatical errors or forget to fully explain a lot of things), but here it goes:

Good afternoon.  Now that the program has dwindled down to the last speaker, I want to say a few brief words for all the young people here.  To begin, I’m so happy to see so many young people at this event.  I would like all young people and ex-internees’ children to please stand and accept a huge round of applause for being here to learn and remember the 1962 internment. 


Now, I’m not sure if all of you can remember the first time your mother or father told you about the internment camp, but I certainly remember the first time my father really talked about his experience during and after the camp and the first time I really understood the impact that it had on his life.

I remember I was in seventh grade, so I was about twelve or thirteen years old.  One day, I came home with a homework assignment.  The teacher had told us to imagine a scenario in which we were told that we had to pack a suitcase with only four or five item and explain why we chose those items; we would not be told where we were going or when we would be coming back.  I wasn’t too sure about what I would take, so I asked my dad. 

When I asked my dad about the items he would take, I was a bit surprised at how quickly he answered; he answered almost as if he’d been drilled with this question.  He listed the following:  a knife, a book, a change of warm clothing and some preserved food. 

When I asked him how he was so sure, he responded, “Because it did happen to me.  When I was a boy, someone did bang on my door in the middle of the night.  Someone did tell me that we had to pack our bags.  We weren’t told where we were going.  And we had no idea how long we would be gone.”

My dad then proceeded to explain the importance of each item. 

“In the camp, we had to go without knives once they were confiscated.  A knife is a very important tool.  Without a knife, it was hard to dig for roots so that we could burn firewood and stay warm.  Without a knife, we couldn’t prepare our own food; the camp would distribute huge chunks of raw meat for each barrack without bothering to ration it among the families.  A knife is more than just a weapon; it’s useful for everyday life.”

“If I could go back, I would have brought a book.  But instead, I wasted nearly three years of my life in that camp, learning nothing.  There were some young teenagers who brought books with them and volunteered to teach us young kids.  But all I remember is learning the alphabet for six months.  It was a huge waste of my learning years.  After I was released from the camp, I was so far behind in my schooling.  None of the good English schools wanted me; they said I was too behind and too old.  Even Chinese school was difficult; we spoke Hakka at home, not Mandarin.  The other kids always made fun of me and it was humiliating.  I remember one time, I couldn’t write some Chinese characters on the board and the teacher hit me and yelled at me in front of the entire class, ‘You’re not a Chinese.  You must be an ignorant Tibetan!’”

“I would have brought a change of warm clothes.  In the camp’s cold desert climate, it was difficult without warm clothing.  In the winter, my skin cracked and sometimes bled.  The Red Cross tried to bring us some clothing, but it was all too big and didn’t fit.  And then when I left the camp, I remember how difficult it was to only have one set of clothing.  My friend’s mom gave me a set one time, but I remember all the kids making fun of me, pointing and laughing, ‘Look!  Michael can’t even buy his own clothes.  See, he’s wearing Joseph’s old clothes!’  It was nice of her to do that, but I refused the clothing after that.”

“And finally, I would have brought at least a little bit of food.  I remember the train ride to the camp and the food rations in the camp.  I don’t know if anyone ever felt full; there never seemed to be enough food.  After we were released from the camp, it was even worse.  In the camp, at least we could depend on the rations, but after we were left on the streets, it was so hard to earn enough to feed all of us.  My mother had fourteen mouths to feed back then, and she sometimes only had five rupees a day for food.  Five rupees is nothing, and it was almost impossible to feed us all with so little money. 

Somehow, she managed it though. When I was young, I followed my mother around on her grocery errands, and she would often wait around the market until closing time when the shopkeepers were willing to sell her the unwanted vegetables and meat at a lower price.  Except on rainy days; on rainy days, the shopkeepers had no sympathy and would close their shops early.  Those were the days when I had to see my own mother quietly crying in the rain because she knew she wouldn’t be able to feed us all.”

After hearing my father talk so much about each item and what each symbolized in his life, I realized how much I took for granted each day while my father grew up with so little in his life.  It was impossible to forget that conversation with him.

I’m so glad that I can be a part of AIDCI and help them achieve their goals, but a challenge we have been facing is getting young people involved.  So I’m really overjoyed to see all the young people here.  I think it is our duty to our parents to work toward this cause and to work toward an apology from the Indian government.  They have sacrificed so much for us and they have suffered so quietly so that we could have all the things that they never had.  We ought to make a few sacrifices in return.

Before I left Shanghai, some of my friends thought I was crazy for going all the way to Toronto for such a short event.  But I didn’t want to miss it.  My dad told me I should never live with any regrets, so I’ve made it a goal to do everything that I can to serve AIDCI.  I could always use some help though, so please join the cause and help us out. 

Reflection on Xi’an

Our group’s most recent trip to Xi’an was a great opportunity to experience the  many historical sites the city has to offer. The most notable locations we visited were the terra cotta warriors, of course, along with the city wall and the Great Mosque of Xi’an.

The terra cotta warriors were truly a spectacle. Our tour guide, Dong, insisted that they were not the only remarkable historic landmark of Xi’an, but one cannot deny the global fame they have brought to the city since their discovery in the mid 1970s. The sheer scale of their production is unfathomable, especially given the fact that they are all unique models. Dong explained that the typical terra cotta warrior had a round face, high cheek bones, big lips, and single-eylids (just like him, he said!). Hearing the explanation about how the warriors were built to provide protection for the Qin Emperor in the afterlife made my mind harken back to times when I’ve studied ancient Egyptian history. It seems like these two ancient civilizations had remarkably similar theories in terms of the path of the spirit after one’s passing. And even today, many people in China burn offerings in the form of paper cuttings, what I now see to be something of a heavily watered-down version of the thousands of terra cotta warriors we saw.

The city wall was an unexpected joy for many of us on the trip. Dong informed us that it was a popular tourist activity to rent bikes and ride along the wall, and we did not hesitate at the chance! Besides the excitement of finally riding a bike again (something I haven’t done in probably a year) it was also a great opportunity to see the surrounding city. Dong told us about how the city usd to be contained by this wall in addition to a moat that runs along its outer border. In ancient times the bell tower would ring, signaling all the farmers out in the countryside to return to the city, and another bell when they should wake up and get to work. Since then, of course, the city has grown to a size that doesn’t permit such a small border. But I loved experiencing this historic site on two wheels, even if it was a bit of a touristy move.

Last was the Great Mosque of Xi’an. This was a remarkable place because of the juxtaposition of Chinese-style temples with Arabic text written on their signs. What stood out from this place was that the nature of Chinese religions is such that the synergy of multiple ideals and traditions is not only permitted, but is commonplace. The best part of the mosque was the fact that it was still active, meaning that we were able to see those (men) who chose to worship there on a daily basis. It was also the most quiet and serene place we visited on our entire trip in Xi’an, which was a great chance to catch our breath after a wonderfully full day in the city.