So you’ll have to forgive me if I gush a bit in this post — our main activity today was a visit to the Terracotta Soldiers, which I’ve wanted to ever since I first read about them in about the fifth grade. An estimated 8,000 clay horses and warriors — each of which has a unique face — were buried near the mausoleum of Emperor Qin Shihuang around 210 B.C., and they were intended to protect the emperor in the afterlife. But the project was not mentioned in historical records and was only discovered in March 1974 by farmers attempting to dig a well on the site.

The excavation site is about an hour’s drive outside Xi’an, and the three pits are in various states of completion. In total, about 2,000 figures have been uncovered so far. The largest, Pit One, has ranks of reconstructed soldiers in place, while Pit Two has little more than shards of soldiers and their accoutrements. Pit Three is the smallest, but it contains a partially reconstructed terracotta chariot with accompanying steeds and rider.

Terracotta 1

(Michael Blank/YDN)


(Michael Blank/YDN)


(Michael Blank/YDN)

The visit to the Terracotta Soldiers was the high point of the day, which had just one official event — a dinner banquet with provincial leaders — after a slew of tourist activities.

We began the day with a visit to the History Museum of Shaanxi Province, which proved to contain a surprisingly interesting array of archeological finds from millennia of Chinese history.


Before visiting the Terracotta Soldiers, trip participants enjoyed a guided tour at the History Museum of Shaanxi Province (Michael Blank/YDN)

Its collections included the earliest paper fragments discovered in China, which date to 140-87 B.C. Made of hemp fiber, they were actually used as packing material, not for writing. Later in our tour of the museum exhibits, we also saw an early example of block printing. Paper and printing are considered to be two of China’s great inventions, along with compasses and gunpowder.

Among the more surprising items on display at the museum were pottery figures of polo players dating to 618-907 A.D. We were told that the game was brought to China from Persia (now Iran) around this time.

“Emperors liked polo … because it was a leisure activity that also improved riding skills,” our tour guide told us.

After the museum, we made a short drive to the Big Goose Pagoda, an ancient Buddhist temple in Xi’an.

Pagoda Small

Students burn incense as an offering at the Big Goose Pagoda, an ancient Buddhist temple in Xi’an. (Michael Blank/YDN)

And then before setting off for the Terracotta Soldiers, we were treated to a feast of dumplings for lunch. The meal featured 14 different kinds of dumplings;

  • panfrield pork with scallion
  • pork with onions (a better version of the potstickers of my childhood)
  • pork with pumpkin
  • shrimp
  • tomato and egg
  • fish
  • chicken
  • spicy chicken
  • pork (again, this time in green and white wrappers)
  • spicy pork
  • pork and mushroom
  • ham
  • ham and vegetables
  • dumpling soup
  • Lunch

    Students are served a soup that determines how lucky they will be by the number of dumplings in the bowl. (Michael Blank/YDN)

    The general consensus among the students was that this was one of the best meals we have had all trip. After a few days of heavy, formal food, it was refreshing to taste something a little more ordinary.

    This was especially desirable in Xi’an, as the street food on offer everywhere — but especially in the Islamic night market — was sorely tempting. But instead of opening our wallets for meat skewers and flatbread cooked outside, most of us bought souvenirs: miniature warriors, jewelry, various Mao-related paraphernalia.

    The night market, which was still humming at 11 and 12 each night, was one of my favorite parts of our stay in Xi’an, and probably of the entire trip so far. One of the few downsides of the trip is that the tightly programmed schedule leaves us with few opportunities to strike out on our own. It is discoveries like the night market that make me sure that I will want to come back to China — not necessarily as a student, as Yale is heavily pushing us, but certainly as a visitor.