Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Oh Gawd, there's Fahsands of 'em!

Some of you will have noted that I haven't posted anything for a while.This was not due to apathy or incapacity but due to me & Mrs T taking a well earned and timely holiday.

This year's great adventure took us further than we have ever been as we ventured to the Far East and the Kingdom at the Centre of the World, - or China as we call it. Named after the first Emperor, Ch'in. Or Qin as it should now be spelled, with the "Q" being pronounced as "Ch".

The tour totalled 18 nights and several locations as we tried to cram in as much of it as we could. Much of this tour is of little interest to wargamers (Giant Pandas are very sweet to look at but their military value is limited. In fact it is hard to work out what a Giant Panda is good for. If they didn't look so cute we'd have let them die out).

I'll try to do a number of posts about the trip, but I fear that Real Life and more current wargaming subjects will over take me as I try.

Anyway, it would be remiss of me not to do this post. As part of our tour we visited a city which was historically once the capital of China and was best known for the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, built by the monk who introduced Buddhism to China to hold the books & scrolls he brought back with him from India. Then in the 1970's some farmers started to dig a well.....

I'm talking, of course, of Xi'an (pronounced Shee-an), home of the Terracotta Warriors, capital city  and Mausoleum of Emperor Qin.

The site is one of the biggest tourist attractions in China, and it is in the middle of nowhere, pretty much. After all, if the city itself has a population the size of Belgium (or was it Austria) it's actually somewhere itself, rather than being in somewhere, so it doesn't need to be near anything. If that makes sense.

Anyway, back to my travelogue. We had to fly up to Xian, leaving our previous spot at 8pm the previous day and getting in after midnight, and flying out at 8am the following day. The 8am flight required us to get up a 4am. One day is enough to cover most of what Xian has to offer the western tourist but the flight times aren't kind if that's all the time you want to spend there.

The site itself is on the outskirts of the city. The Chinese have done a superb job on it. The area looks great, - the buildings are well designed and modern, they have been laid out thoughtfully and the whole precinct looks inviting. Well done to them, - although heaven knows how much it cost to build. Even the souvenir shops are well done, - you can buy warriors in pretty much any size you like, including 1:1. The only disappointment was in the literature department. They're very good on the picture books and the history of the site but there isn't a proper book on what the site tells us about the army itself. I bought the best I could, including one call "Army of Dreams" which was new and had some very good reconstruction drawings. it was reasonably priced, plus you get it autographed by one of the surviving farmers who found the site. Two of them are now dead, and this one looked close to it too.

Before you go anywhere you have to go through the gift shop and see the 360 degree film about the discovery & construction of the site. This is pretty good, - or at least it would be if all the projectors worked and all the films were lined up. (In fairness this was the only poor piece of execution we saw in all the tourist locations we visited).

So having done that you finally go into Pit 1. This is the famous one with most of the figures in it.

Now, like all of you out there I've seen pictures and watched documentaries on this site, but I can tell you nothing captures the sheer scale of it. They say it's the size of two football fields (or "playgrounds" as the guide calls them). All I can say is it's vast. It's huge. Immensely big. You may think it's a long way down to the corner shop, but that's peanuts to Pit 1.

Actually I can do more than that. Here's my inadequate attempt to capture the size of it, using a super wide angle lens on maximum width:

They have only excavated about a third of this pit, so the numbers you see for how many figures there are in total are estimates based on what has been dug up so far. They're still working the site, but we were there during lunchtime. This meant we could actually see them with out lots of people in the way, but alas no archaeologists in sight either.

The site was attacked the year after the Emperor's death and set  on fire. This didn't harm the clay figures, but all the wooden and leather bits were pretty much destroyed completely. The warriors were smashed up, but at least the bits survived to enable them to be reassembled. The other effect of the fire was to cause the roof to fall in. You can see the collapsed ceilings in between the warrior figures.

So there are thousands of them, all in rows, and all very tall. Apparently whether the top knot of hair is positioned on the left or right, depending upon whether they are left or right handed so as to make drawing arrows from a quiver easier. As I said, they're also quite tall, as you can see from this picture:

In addition to Pit 1 there are two other pits. Pit 2 has the majority of the cavalry/chariots in it, and Pit 3 is believed to be the command group. This latter appears to be fully excavated.

This picture mainly shows what is believed to be the personal bodyguard. This is for two reasons:

a) They are all looking inwards, not in battle formation
b) They were all found holding a form of ceremonial halberd.

Next to them we have what remains of the command chariot, - four horses and four crew:

The last pit is the cavalry pit, containing horse & chariots. Alas this is the least excavated (although it has been geo-phys'd) so there's little to photograph coherently.

The museum and the display galleries contained some beautiful pieces, none more so that the half size bronze chariots:

The habit of attaching umbrellas to wheeled vehicles is one that persists down to today. We observed many mopeds and scooters with umbrellas strapped to the handle bars.

This one is known as the "air conditioned chariot" on account of the sides having small windows you can slide open.

I think that's the highlights of the visit. I've stacks more photos of the site and the figures, but posting them all would just be gratuitous.

Wouldn't it?

PS I am going to have to do this army in 15mm for DBA. Any one got any experience of the various army packs out there from the different manufacturers?


  1. This is on my list of places to visit. It is reassuring to hear that the Chinese have done a good job of presenting it for visitors. I am also pleasantly surprised that photography is allowed.

    If you get the chance to post I for one would be interested in reading about the rest of your trip including the non wargaming relevant bits

    1. The only issue with photography pretty much anywhere in China is taking a picture without the locals getting in the way, flashing V signs at each other.

      It's an amazing place to visit and perhaps we could have spent some more time there but it is definitely not a place you need to spend much longer at. Flying in and out in a day - two at the most - is probably be about right.

      Won't promise on posting anything else, but i'll do my best.

  2. Replies
    1. My toy soldiers are bigger than your toy soldiers....

  3. Awesome. Trip of a lifetime by the sounds of it.

    1. It was pretty damn good, although I wouldn't go back anytime soon (unlike some places I have been to).

      If you're interested this is the tour we did: http://www.vjv.com/destinations/far-east/china-tours/images-china/index.html