My article on Xi'an has just been published. Here's the full version.
"The earth around Xi'an has revealed some amazing treasures. For over 3,000 years, Xi'an has been at the centre of the Middle Kingdom, once serving as China's capital and more recently as a hub for its burgeoning space program. Twelve hundred kilometres southwest of Beijing, Xi'an was the easternmost point on the Silk Road that connected China with Europe. For centuries, caravans carrying jewels, spices, and silks bound for Central Asia and Europe departed from here. Xi'an was China's portal to the wider world, and it still exudes a cosmopolitan charm.
The following day we visited the Terra Cotta Warrior museum, on the outskirts of the city. Housing over 7,000 life-size terra cotta figures excavated from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China's first emperor, this is Xi'an's main attraction. Thousands of visitors flock to the site each day, so long lines are par for the course.
After waiting about 30 minutes we entered the museum compound, shuffling past a giant white statue of Emperor Qin, who, after coming to power in 246 BC, commissioned the warriors to protect him in the afterlife. We were immediately greeted by row after row of these ancient guardians, all facing us as if ready to receive orders. They looked as if they had just emerged from the earth, ready to engage in conversation if not combat. It was truly an awe-inspiring sight.
"The warriors are arranged as they were buried: in rows of three inside huge covered pits. The first houses about 6,000 warriors, all meticulously crafted with individual expressions. During a raid on the tomb by General Xiang Yu's army less than five years after the death of Emperor Qin, the warriors were smashed into pieces. Many have now been painstakingly put back together, but it may take a century or more to complete the task."