Daxu Ancient Town

Daxu Ancient Town is like a small pearl nestled on the bank of the Li River. Although it is considered one of the Four Great Ancient Towns of Guangxi, it rarely receives visitors and has yet to be officially made into a tourist attraction. This means that, unlike other ancient towns, it is free to enter and there are hardly any crowds there to obstruct your unhindered joy of the fine architecture, flagstone streets, and locals plying their simple trade. Daxu Ancient Town is located on the east bank of the Li River, about 23 kilometres (14.3 miles) southeast of the city of Guilin. Its history dates back over 2,000 years, when Qin Shi Huang of the Qin Dynasty (221-206 B.C.) built the Lingqu Canal and connected the Xiang River from the Yangtze River system to the Li River.

Once these rivers were connected, Daxu begin to blossom as one of the leading trade and transportation hubs in the country. Daxu was one of the few ports along the river that connected Central China with South China, so it was a vital stopping point for traders transporting goods across the country. By the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1126), Daxu was one of the richest and most influential towns in Guangxi province. Its success peaked during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and this was when many of its landmark buildings, such as the ancient main road and the Longevity Bridge, were built. However, by the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the development of modern railways had rendered Daxu redundant as a trade hub and its prosperity rapidly declined. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the local people, unlike the ghost towns on the Silk Road, Daxu Ancient Town has continued to survive and thrive well into the 21st century.

The Old Street, which stretches 2.5 kilometres through the town, is the greatest remnant of the town’s glorious past. It is paved with blue flagstones that have been worn smooth by centuries of footsteps, cartwheels and horse hooves. The thirteen docks that were once used during Daxu’s booming era of trade still stand and five of them are so well-maintained that they are still in use today. As you traverse the Old Street, walking along the same path that so many before you have tread, and reach the fine docks with their simple, wooden platforms, you’ll undoubtedly be transported back to a humbler time, when merchants dressed in silk finery would load their boats with spices, embroidered cloths, and shimmering jewellery, and set sail down the river to the next trade port.

Many of the buildings in Daxu were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties and have sustained the intricate, architectural touches from that time. These wood and stone buildings are decorated with beautiful carvings and the Hanhuang Temple, Gaozu Temple and Longevity Temple are the finest examples of this architectural style. All of these temples were built during the Qing Dynasty, when the town was still prospering, and they exquisitely exhibit the artistry of the architecture at that time. With so many temples in one small place, it is no wonder that Daxu seems so tranquil.

Daxu ancient town03However, the star attraction of Daxu is undoubtedly the Wanshou or Longevity Bridge. This stone arch dates all the way back to the Ming Dynasty and, though simplistic in its design, it provides a wonderful vantage point from which to admire the Li River. If you stand on Longevity Bridge and look out to the west bank, you’ll be greeted with scenes of lush greenery, winding waters, and water buffalo quietly grazing on the shores. Directly across from the bridge, you’ll be met with Millstone Hill and Snail Hill, two of the Karst formations whose names derive from their unusual shapes. Though the architecture of the Longevity Bridge may not be as magnificent as that of the Longevity Temple, the view from the bridge is unmatched.

In the 1990s, an element of mystery was added to Daxu Ancient Town when archaeologists unearthed what are now known as the Seven Star Tombs. These are seven tombs that were found arranged in the shape of the Big Dipper constellation. The size of each tomb is based on the brightness of the star it was meant to represent. It is the first recorded case of such a tomb site in China and the connection between the tombs and the Big Dipper constellation has yet to be elucidated. However, many ancient artefacts, such as pottery and bronze swords, have been excavated from the tombs. Thanks to carbon dating, these artefacts have shown that these tombs date all the way back to the period between the Warring States Period (c. 476-221 B.C.) and the Western Han Dynasty (207 B.C.-25 A.D.).

Aside from the historical importance of Daxu, this town is also a wonderful example of living history. Many of the villagers in Daxu all ply their own traditional handicrafts. The women of Daxu still brew their baijiu[1] using old barrels and a simple distillery, an archaic method for making baijiu that has all but disappeared in more urban parts of China. The locals still craft their bamboo baskets and straw sandals carefully by hand and the traditional Chinese medical clinics, of which there are about 20 in Daxu, still disseminate an aroma of medicinal herbs and traditional remedies throughout the town. Daxu is not simply an ancient town; it is a place of ancient tradition.

To truly immerse yourself in these ancient traditions, we recommend you wander through the streets during market time. This market has been a staple part of daily life in Daxu since the Ming Dynasty, although it has grown smaller over the years. Many villagers will each set up a stall, some selling handicrafts, such as paintings, ceramics or woven cloths, other selling Chinese medicines, and still others plying local delicacies such as quail’s eggs, dried fruit and homemade dumplings. The market is a spectacle of ancient Chinese culture that should not be missed. If you want to immerse yourself in the more rural life of Daxu, some of the local farmers will allow you to go fruit picking on their land. Picking strawberries near the Li River is a wonderful way to while away a few hours and harvest some delicious snacks in the process.

Daxu Ancient Town is relatively easy to get to. There are regular buses from Guilin Bus station that take about 40 minutes to reach the town.

[1] Baijiu: It literally means “white alcohol” or “white liquor” in Chinese. It is a strong, clear spirit that is usually distilled from sorghum, glutinous rice or wheat.

Yunshuiyao

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Located in the south of Fujian province, Yunshuiyao is a peaceful and beautiful village with hundreds of years of history behind it, particularly with reference to the Jian clan. It is reminiscent of the legendary “Shangri-la” in its appearance and atmosphere. Most of the buildings in the village are clay houses that were built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), including a big Ancestral Hall for the Jian family. There are several banyan trees on the riverside that are hundreds of years old. One of them is the biggest banyan tree in Fujian Province and has branches that are more than 30 meters long.

There are two famous Tulou nearby:

huaiyuan lou 01Huaiyuan lou

Huiyuan lou was built in 1909 and is a typical example of a Tulou that follows the “connected rooms” design. Because of its short history, the whole building is well preserved and thus serves as a good example of what a circular Tulou should look like.

Huaiyuan lou is four storeys high and has a diameter of 38 meters. Each of its floors has 34 rooms. Nowadays there are still 60 people living inside this Tulou.

Hegui lou01Hegui lou

Hegui lou is a very typical rectangular Tulou. It was built in 1732 and follows the “connected rooms” design. Hegui lou was originally four-storeys high. In 1864 it was destroyed by robbers during an attack, and it was subsequently rebuilt as a five-storey Tulou. The main structure of the new compound follows that of a rectangular Tulou and it has 24 rooms on each of its five floors. A hall in the yard is connected to the Ancestral Hall in the main building. There is also now a front yard to provide more space for residents.

 

Yunshuiyao is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)

 

Zhenyuan Ancient Town

The history of Zhenyuan Ancient Town stretches back over 2,000 years. It is located on the eastern edge of the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau and is sheltered in the lush, green mountains of Guizhou. Zhenyuan was instated as a county in 202 B.C. by Emperor Gaozu and has remained an important part of Guizhou’s history ever since. However, as a tourist attraction, it has yet to receive the accolades that it deserves. It is a melting pot of Dong, Miao and Han ethnicities, meaning its architecture exhibits features and styles from many different cultures. It is home to a stunning sequence of temples known as Qilong or Black Dragon Cave and boasts the finest section of the Wuyang River, yet few tourists outside of Guizhou visit Zhenyuan or even know of its existence. Zhenyuan is a pearl hidden within the mountains; an “Oriental Venice”.

The town is relatively small and only covers approximately 3 square kilometres (about 1.2 square miles). It was once one of the major transport and trade hubs in Guizhou, as it was easily accessed via the Wuyang River. The river itself winds through the town and splits it in half, effectively dividing it into two parts. The south part of the town is called “Old Wei Town”, with “wei” meaning “fortification”, and the north part of the town is called “Old Fu Town”, with the “fu” meaning “government”. Zhenyuan is a water town, with many boats still traversing its water, and thus has earned the name the “Oriental Venice”. It is also one of the best places to celebrate the Dragon Boat Festival, which takes place on May 25th according to the Chinese lunar calendar. They hold a dragon boat race on the Wuyang River every year, where long, elaborately decorated dragon boats are paddled to the beat of a large drum and race one another down the crystal clear river.

Black Dragon Cave (Qilong Cave)

Black Dragon Cave’s name can be quite misleading, as it is not actually a cave at all. It is a complex of ancient temples that slowly climb their way up the side of Zhonghe Mountain, just to the east of Zhenyuan Ancient Town. The temple complex covers a monumental area of about 21,000 square metres (approximately 220,000 square feet). The temples were built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and have managed to outlast two wars without sustaining much damage. They have been renovated since, but still maintain a lot of their original features and character.

The complex is made up of temples dedicated to Confucianism, Buddhism and Daoism and, since all of the buildings adhere to the architectural styles of their respective religions, the complex is a myriad of elaborate styles and designs that make it relatively unique amongst temples in China. The complex encompasses a few, particularly attractive sites such as Zhusheng Bridge, Zhongyuan Temple, Ziyang Shuyuan or the Academy of Classical Learning, the Longevity Palace, and Yuhuang Ge or the Jade Emperor Pavilion. The temple complex is said to appear like a beautiful stone garden clinging to the mountainside of Mount Zhonghe.

The National Wuyang Scenic Area

The Wuyang River flows 95 kilometres (59 miles) through the Miaoling Mountains, all the way from Huangping to Zhenyuan, and eventually joins the Yuanjing River in Hunan province. Three distinct scenic spots in Zhenyuan, Shibing and Huangping counties, known as the National Wuyang Scenic Area, have become famous tourist attractions, of which the scenic area in Zhenyuan is considered to be the most beautiful. Visitors can either walk along the river or take a relaxing, scenic cruise. Traveling downstream, the towering peaks and glittering clear waters will undoubtedly make you feel at peace and provide the perfect opportunity for some nature photography. As you traverse the Wuyang River, you’ll come across various scenic spots that have been given fanciful names based on their appearance or on legends related to that spot.

The Wuyang Three Gorges are the most magnificent section of this scenic area. This is a 35-kilometre waterway that is made up of the Dragon King Gorge, the East Gorge and the West Gorge. Amongst these three gorges you’ll find powerful waterfalls crashing into the river, mysterious caves, the gentle gurgling of springs and the jagged figures of rocks emerging from the karst mountainsides. It is truly breath-taking to witness and we strongly recommend you take advantage of one of the local cruises in order to make the most of this scenic spot. It is said to be as spectacular as the Yangtze River Three Gorges and as mystical as the Li River in Guilin.

On top of Black Dragon Cave and Wuyang Scenic Area, Zhenyuan is also home to an unlikely scenic spot of great historical significance. At the northwest edge of the town, you’ll find Shiping Mountain, which acts as the entrance to one of the southernmost sections of the Great Wall. Unlike the Badaling section of the Great Wall in Beijing, this 3-kilometre stretch of the Great Wall has not been renovated and is largely in ruins but is none-the-less beautiful. It was built during the late Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and from its perch on Mount Shiping it provides a breath-taking view of the surrounding countryside.

Compared to most small towns in Guizhou, Zhenyuan is relatively easy to get to. There are direct trains from Guiyang to Zhenyuan that take about 4 to 5 hours and from there the ancient part of the town is about a 10 minute drive from the train station. There are also regular trains from Kaili City to Zhenyuan, which only take about 2 hours, and also a few long haul buses from Kaili to Zhenyuan. Once you’re in Zhenyuan, there are plenty of guesthouses on the waterfront that are reasonably priced and offer a wonderful view of the Wuyang River.

Dong Oral Literature

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Dong people are renowned for their singing, particularly for the formation of what are known as Kam Grand Choirs, which are called Kgal Laox in their own language. Operas are also particularly popular among the Dong people.

Many folktales are preserved in Dong oral literature, usually in the form of songs. The focus of many popular tales re-count the leaders of past uprisings, such as Wu Mian, who led the 1378 rebellion against the Ming Dynasty during drought and famine, and Wu Jinyin, who revolted in 1740 because of a rise in grain taxes. Non-historical folktales include the two orphan brothers, Ding Lang and the dragon princess, the frog and the swallow, the dog, and the singing tree.

 

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Miao Agriculture and Craftworks

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The cultivation of rice and maize are the chief means of subsistence for the Miao people. Rice, maize, millet and sweet potatoes are their staple foods, although in more northern areas they eat maize, buckwheat, potatoes and oats. Miao food typically employs sour and peppery flavours to enhance their dishes. Although the Miao diet is relatively simple, Miao dishes such as Fish in Sour Soup and snacks such as La Rou (a kind of cured, smoked bacon) are popular throughout Guizhou for their rich, flavoursome taste.

miao02The craftwork of the Miao people is particularly magnificent. Miao men are accomplished at silverwork and all of the silver adornments worn by the Miao women will have been made by Miao silversmiths. The artistry of the Miao traditional dress is in part thanks to these silversmiths and in part thanks to the Miao women’s aptitude for embroidery. Their skill at embroidery is renowned throughout China and the Miao women embroider all of their own clothes. The main colours used in Miao embroidery are red and green, although colours will vary between different subgroups of Miao people. The patterns and figures embroidered on clothing are based partly on the natural world but also partly on the artists’ imagination. This is why dragons and phoenixes also feature in many designs and why certain animals, such as fish and birds, and plants will look different compared to how they appear in real life. Miao embroidery is famed for its delicacy, imaginative designs and use of vibrant colour.

苗族银饰The Miao women are also famed for their skill at the art of batik and their technique dates back over 1,000 years. First, the women use a knife that has been dipped in hot wax to draw a pattern onto the cloth. The cloth is then boiled in dye, which melts the wax. Once the wax has melted off, the cloth is removed from the boiling dye. The rest of the cloth will be coloured by the dye but the pattern under the wax will have remained the original colour of the cloth. These batik cloths are incredibly colourful and, although the method seems crude, the patterns on the cloth can be wonderfully elaborate.

The craftworks of the Miao people are beyond compare and look even more beautiful when worn during festivals or daily life. If you’re travelling through Guizhou during festival time, we strongly recommend you visit any of the Miao villages and marvel at the stunning traditional dress of the Miao people.

 

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Miao Traditional Dress

miao Traditional Dress

The daily clothing worn by Miao people will differ from place to place and many of the Miao subgroups are designated by the colour of their clothes, such as the Hmub Miao of southeast Guizhou who are often referred to as the Black Miao because of their characteristically indigo coloured clothing. In northwest Guizhou and northeast Yunnan, the Miao men will typically wear linen jackets that are colourfully embroidered and woollen blankets draped over their shoulders that are decorated in geometric patterns. In other areas, the men will wear short jackets that are buttoned down the front or to the left, long trousers with wide belts and long black scarves. In west Hunan and northeast Guizhou, the women wear jackets buttoned on the right and trousers that have delicately embroidered collars, sleeves and trouser legs. In other areas, the women wear high-collared short jackets and pleated skirts of varying length. These pleated skirts can have hundreds or even thousands of vertical pleats.

miao01The pleated skirts worn by many young Miao women are culturally significant and wonderful legends abound as to how they came to be. The legend called “the Origin of the Pleated Skirts” states that, in order to differentiate themselves from other ethnic minorities, a mother and daughter set about sewing a unique skirt for the Miao people. They thought long and hard about what the skirt should look like but to no avail. Later, as they were walking through the countryside, they came across a kind of local fungus. The shape of this fungus inspired them and they set about sewing a skirt that would imitate the pleats of the fungus. Once it was complete, they wore the skirt to the flower site to thread flowers onto it. Other Miao women saw the skirt and all immediately praised it. Eventually, these pleated skirts spread throughout the Miao villages and even women from different branches of the Miao people began to wear pleated skirts of different lengths.

These pleated skirts can be divided into three lengths: long, mid-length and short. Long skirts reach near the ankle, mid-length skirts are below the knee and short skirts are above the knee. The length of the skirt can be used to distinguish different subgroups of Miao. For example, in Leishan there are a group of Miao women referred to as “short skirt Miao” because their skirts are only about 20 centimetres long. The legend behind this short skirt goes that a long time ago, in ancient times, there was a very brave and handsome Miao hunter. One day he caught a beautiful golden pheasant and sent it to his beloved, a girl called Abang. To express her gratitude, Abang wove cloth by hand and then stitched and embroidered it to imitate the feathers of the golden pheasant. When the hunter returned, she wore the beautifully decorated short skirt and looked as magnificent as the golden pheasant. Thereafter, this style of richly coloured and delicately embroidered short skirt became popular in Leishan.

Miao01On top of their beautifully embroidered clothes, Miao women are also famed for the glittering silver adornments that they wear during festival time. The Miao people regard silver as a symbol of wealth and so have a particular fondness for it. They also believe silver symbolises light and good health, so wearing silver will ward off evil spirits, stave off natural disasters and bring good fortune. When it comes to the ornamental silver worn by the Miao women, the heavier the better, so some festival outfits can weigh upwards of 20 to 30 jin (about 10 to 15 kg).

A typical festival outfit worn by a Miao woman will include a hat or crown, horns, a comb, earrings or ear pendants, a neckband, a necklace, a collar, bracelets, and rings, all made of silver. Most of these will have been handmade by Miao silversmiths. The decorations are typically in four styles: symmetrical style, balanced style, connected style and radiating style. They usually feature patterns involving dragons, phoenixes, flowers and birds.

The most striking of these adornments is the silver hat or crown. Common motifs for the silver hats are a magpie stepping on plum, a golden pheasant calling out, a peacock spreading its tail, and a male and female phoenix perched together. These motifs can vary in appearance from region to region. For example, the phoenix hat of the Huangping region features hundreds of silver flowers, four birds and one phoenix. The silver pieces at the back of this hat are meant to imitate the phoenix’s tail feathers.

In some Miao villages, such as the ones near Kaili, Leishan, Danzhai and Taijiang, the silver horns are the most important adornment. They vary in thickness and are meant to look like the horns of a bull. The horns are each typically 50 to 70 centimetres long. They normally have patterns hammered into them, such as phoenixes or dragons holding pearls, and are sometimes decorated with feathers or tassels. The collar is another indispensable silver adornment for Miao women and is sometimes called a “moon plate” because it is shaped like a crescent moon. Miao women will also wear either 3 to 5 bracelets or 7 to 8 bracelets on each wrist. These bracelets come in several different styles and can even be made to look like dragons.

The Chinese often refer to Miao women as “fairies” because of the ethereal appearance that their festival clothes give them. They are considered so beautiful and majestic in their traditional dress that they appear almost otherworldly. If you plan on visiting any of the Miao villages, we strongly recommend that you aim to arrive during festival time and catch these fairies flitting about the villages, singing and dancing in their glittering splendour.

 

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Dong Agriculture and Craftwork

dong rice

Dong people are well-known for cultivating dozens of varieties of glutinous rice, which are called “Kam rice” or “good rice”. They also typically grow maize, millet and mushrooms, and a variety of fruit, such as plums, peaches, pears, and watermelons, to supplement their diet. Dong people raise pigs, chickens, ducks, geese and fish for food, water buffalo for ploughing and for food, and dogs for protection and companionship. The “four pillars” of Dong cuisine are glutinous rice, pickled vegetables, red chillies and rice wine. Other popular local food includes barbecued fish, oil tea, and glutinous rice snacks. The Dong people also occasionally eat giant salamander, which is considered a rare local specialty. They will normally have two hot meals (breakfast and dinner) and one cold meal (lunch) every day.

dong life02Cotton is locally grown and weaved into cloth that is used to make clothes. Silks and finer cloths are exclusively used to make festival clothing. Dong men will normally wear short jackets with buttons down the middle, although in the south they wear collarless shirts and turbans. Dong women wear skirts or trousers that have beautifully embroidered hems. They wear their hair in a coil and wrap their legs and heads in decorative scarves.

Most regions where Dong villages are found are also famous for their fir trees. Dong people use the wood from these trees to build their houses and other structures in the village. They are skilful carpenters, and are also accomplished at silverwork and wickerwork. Wickerwork is usually done by the men, who use materials such as glutinous rice straw and bamboo to make baskets and other wicker furnishings.

 

 

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The Performance of Miao Ethnic Minority

miao performance01

Performances in Miao villages will always be set to music and, when it comes to the Miao people, the lusheng[1] is the instrument of choice, although other instruments like the suona[2] and the copper drum are also popular. During many festivals, the lusheng dance will be the focal attraction. It is a traditional dance performed by the Miao people in southeast Guizhou. This style of dance can be divided into two types: lined dance and stepping dance. In the lined dance, the performers will hold their lusheng, stand in a line and dance while turning around, with the performer playing the largest lusheng as their axis. In the stepping dance, two performers will play lusheng of the same size and act as the leaders of the dance. The other performers will circle around them and follow their movements.

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The stepping dance in Rongshui County, Guangxi, is considered particularly magnificent as dozens of lusheng are played and hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of people will join in the dance. It is a true spectacle of joy and a wonderful opportunity to hear the folk music played on the lusheng. In western Guizhou, Yunnan and Sichuan the Miao people have become particularly famous for their special, acrobatic lusheng dance. Normally it involves one, two, four or eight performers. For example, in Yuanyang, Yunnan, a performer will climb up a decorated wooden pole that is several metres high whilst still playing the lusheng. While continuing to play, they will pick an object off of the top of the pole and climb down. Finally, when they are one or two metres from the ground, they will somersault off of the pole while still playing their lusheng. Other acrobatic tricks include playing the lusheng upside down, playing it whilst performing rolls, and playing it whilst jumping over objects.

 

[1] Lusheng: A wind instrument made of multiple bamboo pipes, each fitted with a free reed, that are all in turn fitted into a large, hardwood pipe. Normally there are five or six bamboo pipes that are each of a different pitch. Air is blown into the hardwood pipe to create sound. They vary in size from small, handheld ones to ones that are several metres in length.

[2] Suona: A Chinese wind instrument. It is made up of a horn with a double reed that makes a distinctively loud and high-pitched sound. It comes in several sizes and the size of the horn affects the sound it makes. It is used throughout China in ritual music and folk music.

 

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Da Ci’en Temple

Da Ci’en Temple in Xi’an city is best known for housing the famous Great Wild Goose Pagoda and the largest musical water fountain in Asia. Yet there is more to this temple than simply these two attractions. The temple site is separated into four squares, each with its own attractions and historical meaning. The history behind this Buddhist temple is both fascinating and poignant. The reason behind its name, in particular, is a story of mourning and filial piety[1], a concept held in high-esteem in Chinese culture. So what exactly does “Da Ci’en” mean? And what does Da Ci’en Temple have to offer tourists today?

Da Ci’en Temple rests on the site of an ancient pagoda that was built in 589 A.D., during the Sui Dynasty, and was called Wu Lou (Five Storey) Temple. Over the years this temple fell into disrepair, but in 648 A.D., during the Tang Dynasty, the crown prince Li Zhi spearheaded the renovation of the temple in honour of his mother, the Empress Wende, who had tragically suffered an early death. Li Zhi wanted to pay tribute to his mother’s kindness and so named the temple “Da Ci’en”, which means “kindness and grace” in Chinese. This Temple of Kindness and Grace has stood as a monument to Empress Wende for centuries and it was said that, when Li Zhi became emperor and changed his name to Emperor Gaozong, he still took time to look out from Hanyuan Palace at the temple twice a day in order to pay homage to his beloved mother. The famous Buddhist monk Xuanzhang[2] was abbot of this temple and masterminded the construction of the Great Wild Goose Pagoda there. The temple originally had 13 separate courtyards and 1,879 rooms, all of them unmatched in their grandeur, but tragically the temple once again fell into disrepair after the fall of the Tang Dynasty. It was renovated during the Ming Dynasty and the surviving halls and rooms were all built during that time.

Nowadays the temple is full of interesting historical sites and stunning gardens that are regularly enjoyed by tourists and locals alike. The temple site is separated into four parts: the North, South, East, and West Squares. In the North Square you’ll find a copper statue of an ancient book that tells the story of how the Tang Dynasty rose to power. There are two Buddhist beacons in this square, both 9 metres tall, which are designed after the famous Mogao Grottoes in Dunhuang. You’ll also find statues of famous figures from the Tang Dynasty, such as the poets Li Bai, Du Fu, Wang Wei, and Han Yu, the unparalleled calligrapher Huai Su, and the “King of Chinese Medicine” Sun Simiao, scattered throughout the square.

In the South Square the focal attraction is the statue of the monk Xuanzhang. It is a place where many Buddhists and locals come to relax and appreciate the majesty of this historical figure. In the East Square you’ll find the Shaanxi Opera Garden, where visitors can enjoy stunning reliefs, paintings and statues of writers, scenes and characters from the Qinqiang (Shaanxi) style of Opera. The West Square is also a garden but it is predominantly dedicated to representations of daily life in ancient Shaanxi and is called the Shaanxi Folk Customs Garden. The only recognisable historical figures in the garden are sandstone statues of the Tang generals Qin Shubao and Yuchi Jingde, who together guard the gate into the park. The rest of the statues depict scenes and features of ancient Shaanxi life, such as the roaring crowd during a local opera and the large, round baked wheat cake that has been a staple food in Shaanxi for hundreds of years. The streets that link the North and the South Square also contain similar statues of wrestling competitions, birthday parties or visits to the doctor in ancient Shaanxi and are also a perfect place to pick up a few souvenirs.

On top of all of this, you also have the Tang Ci’en Temple Site Park (originally Chunxiao Garden) to the east of Da Ci’en Temple, where locals and tourists can relax and practice Tai Chi. It rests on the site of the original Da Ci’en temple and thus contains many statues that depict the temple’s history. Not to mention there is also the Great Tang All Day Mall in the south part of Da Ci’en Temple, which is a triumphant combination of modern buildings and artificial Tang-style architecture. This huge mall complex contains some fantastic attractions, including the Zhenguan Monument, the Xi’an Concert Hall, the Xi’an Grand Theatre, the Qujiang Cinema and the Shaanxi Art Gallery, to name but a few.

With all of these magnificent attractions on offer, you’ll need to set aside at least a full day to get the most out of your trip to Da Ci’en Temple.

[1] Filial Piety: the concept of being devoted to and respectful of ones parents and elders. It is particularly important in Chinese culture.

[2] Xuanzhang (602 – 664 A.D.): Xuanzhang was a Chinese Buddhist monk and scholar, who mainly studied and focused his efforts upon the interaction between China and India during the Tang Dynasty.

Join our travel to visit the Da Ci’en Temple: Explore the Silk Road in China and Explore Chinese Culture through the Ages

The Terracotta Army

The Terracotta Army is commonly regarded as one of the Eight Wonders of the Ancient World and has received great international fame and praise throughout the years. In 1987 it was listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and has remained one of the most culturally significant sites in China since the day it was first discovered. The Terracotta Army is located 37 kilometres to the east of Xi’an city in the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses. The Army was established as part of the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China and the first person to unify the regions that make up modern day China. The history of the Terracotta Army is delicately intertwined with the history of China itself. A trip to the Terracotta Army rewards the visitor with a surreal, almost chilling, insight into what coming face to face with Qin Shi Huang’s formidable army would have been like.

Historian Sima Qian[1] recorded that the building of Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum began in 246 B.C., when the Emperor was only 13 years old, and supposedly took over 700,000 labourers and 11 years to complete. Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum was built on Mount Li because, with its rich gold and jade mines, it was considered a particularly auspicious location. The mausoleum was designed to protect the Emperor and provide him with everything he would need in the afterlife. Thus the mausoleum is a necropolis, an immemorial, stone representation of the palace that Qin Shi Huang occupied in life, with offices, halls, stables, towers, ornaments, officials, acrobats and, most importantly, a lifelike replica of his army. The presence of the necropolis was corroborated by Sima Qian, who mentions all of the features of the Mausoleum except, rather bizarrely, the Terracotta Army.

After the death of the Emperor in 210 B.C., the Mausoleum was hermetically-sealed and remained unopened for nearly 2,000 years. It wasn’t until 1974, when some farmers were attempting to dig a water-well near Mount Li, that Pit one of the Terracotta Army was accidentally unearthed. Archaeologists flocked to the site and began excavating the area, eventually discovering three more pits of Terracotta Warriors in the process. The warriors were all found arranged as if to protect the tomb from the east, which is where all of the states that were conquered by the Qin Dynasty lay. To date, approximately 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses have been uncovered from these pits.

Pit one of the Terracotta Army is still by far the most impressive, boasting 6,000 figures arranged in their original military formation. Pit two contains the cavalry and infantry units, as well as a few war chariots. It is thought to represent a military guard. Pit three is thought to be the command post since it contains high-ranking officers and a war chariot. Pit four has been left empty for unknown reasons, although it has been posited that perhaps it was simply left unfinished by its builders. Other non-military terracotta figures have been found in other pits, such as officials, acrobats and musicians, but these pits are not arranged in the same way as those containing the Terracotta Army.

What makes the Terracotta Army so brilliantly unique, on top of its impressive size, is the fact that every single figure is different. Their height, uniform and hairstyle are all different, depending on military rank, and the face of each warrior has been uniquely moulded based on a living counterpart. Originally the figures were all beautifully painted and held real weapons but tragically most of the paint flaked off when it was exposed to dry air during the excavation and the weapons had almost all been looted long before the site was excavated. In Pits one and two there is evidence of fire damage and it has been posited that Xiang Yu, a contender to the throne after the death of the first Emperor, may have looted the tombs, taken the weapons and attempted to destroy the army. Many of the current warriors on display have been pieced together from fragments as they were badly damaged when the roof rafters collapsed during the fire.

In spite of this unfortunate damage, some of the figures have maintained their colour, such as the famed Green-Faced Soldier[2] of Pit two, and some weapons, such as swords, spears, battle-axes, scimitars, shields, crossbows, and arrowheads, have been recovered from the pits. Some of the weapons were coated with a layer of chromium dioxide, which has kept them rust-free for nearly 2,000 years. Some are still sharp and carry inscriptions that date manufacture between 245 and 228 B.C., meaning they were used in combat before they were buried here.

It is important to note that each warrior was not moulded and fired as it is now but was crafted as part of the first known assembly line to have existed in the civilised world. The heads, arms, legs, and torsos of each warrior were created separately at separate workshops and then assembled later on. It is believed that originally only eight face moulds were used and then clay was added and sculpted onto the face after assembly to give each warrior their individual facial features. During the time these figures were being mass produced, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on whatever part it had made, which is how we know that each part of the warriors and other figures was manufactured separately.

When the British Museum held an exhibition of the Terracotta Warriors from 2007 to 2008, exhibiting a small selection of real figures from the excavation sites, it resulted in the most successful year they had since the King Tutankhamen exhibition in 1972. So popular and stunning are the Terracotta Warriors that they have attracted attention worldwide, bringing about some of the most successful exhibitions in the world, including one at the Forum de Barcelona in Barcelona and one at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. If the possibility of seeing them individually has managed to generate this much hype, imagine what it must be like to see them altogether, in military formation, in almost the exact same positions they were in when they were originally placed in their tombs.

The Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses and the Qin Shi Huang Mausoleum have now been incorporated into one tourist attraction known as Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s Mausoleum Site Park. There you’ll find regular free shuttle buses that will take you from the site of the Terracotta Army to Lishan Garden. Lishan Garden acts as the perfect complement to the Terracotta Army as it contains Qin Shi Huang’s burial mound, ritual sacrifice pits, the Museum of Terracotta Acrobatics, the Museum of Terracotta Civil Officials, the Museum of Stone Armour and the Museum of Bronze Chariots and Horses. The Museum of Bronze Chariots and Horses is a wonderful exhibition of all the figures found throughout the pits that are crafted from bronze rather than terracotta. They loom out of their glass cases, lifelike in their shimmering skin. The other museums are based around pits where terracotta figures are still being excavated and present the perfect opportunity to watch a live archaeological dig. The chance to watch the Terracotta figures being unearthed and thus the opportunity to watch history being made is one that we know you won’t want to pass up. The only area that is not open to the public and has not been excavated is the main tomb, where the Emperor’s remains rest. In spite of an on-going debate as to whether the tomb should be opened or not, it is universally thought that it will remain undisturbed as a mark of respect to the Emperor.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang wanted to build a monument to his achievements that would last throughout the ages. With his stunning Terracotta Army, whose popularity has not waned since they were unearthed, still standing in their original military formation as a testament to his prowess, I think you’ll agree that he achieved what he set out to do. Thanks to this incredible feat, China’s first Emperor has made himself truly immortal.

[1] Sima Qian (145–90 BCE): A Chinese historian whose most noted work was called “Shiji” or “Records of the Grand Historian”

[2] The Green-Faced Soldier: A single Terracotta Warrior whose face has inexplicably been painted green instead of pink

The Terracotta Army is one of the many wonderful stops on travel Explore the Silk Road in China and Explore Chinese Culture through the Ages