China is one of the birth places of human civilisation. With an exotic historical past, China has attracted travellers and tourists from around the world for hundreds of years. In a recent trip to China, Shamsuddoza Sajen of The Daily Star has tried to get a glimpse of the grandeur of Ancient China through his visits to the Great Wall, the Shimao Site and the Terracota Warrior Sites.
When we talk about China, the image that generally comes to our mind is that of an economic miracle. But during a recent trip to China, I had the opportunity to get a glimpse of the achievements of ancient China, which is a testament to the grandiose of this primieval civilisation.
The tour was arranged by China Daily, a leading English newspaper of China. They had invited 20 journalists from 12 countries of Asia for a five-day stay, from Sept 24- Sept 28, and we had the opportunity to visit three important landmarks of ancient Chinese civilization.
On the first day of the trip, we visited the Zhenbei Observation Deck, which is about five to six kilometres away from Yulin, the northern most part of Shaanxi province. The largest watch tower along the Great Wall, the deck was constructed in 1607 during the Ming Dynasty.
On our arrival at the entrance gate, we were greeted with melodious music buzzing from a nearby shop. Our translator explained to us that this was a popular folk music of the area. I was eager to listen to the music for a while but the tour guide hurried us along to collect the ticket and cross the decorative entry gate that led to the fortress.
When we were approaching the main structure, we were left spellbound by the grandeur of the construction. Around a 100 feet tall, the structure is protected by a wide base of rammed wall which gives you the impression of a great fortress. Our tour guide started climbing up the stairs and we followed him, intently listening to historical tidbits about this marvelous monument. But it is always difficult to keep your attention to historical facts when the real thing stands before you with all its mystery and glory. After reaching the top of the fortress, we encountered a local group of tourists who were very warm and welcoming to us, once again exemplifying the warmth and cordiality of Chinese culture.
From the top, you will get a view of another wonder of China - the Yellow River, which passes by the wall. The tour guide shared that this is the only site where the Yellow River and the Great Wall meets. There is an old fable about how an old cow used the powers that it had been granted by the gods to furrow a magnificent deep river, which has been giving boons to generations of Chinese people. Little wonder then that they revere this as the mother river.
After spending some time at the top, we climbed down and visited the museums built on the courtyard of the fortress. There we found various relics related the walls, including building materials of the wall, and arms and utensils used by the guards of the fortress. Later, we visited a nearby site where we touched the holy water of the Yellow River.
Next day, we started early in the morning. The weather was chilly like early winter in Bangladesh. Johnny, our translator, told me in his usual formal tone, “Now, we are taking you back to 4000 years ago.” To me, it was like going back to our Indus civilisation, when people in our part of the world built marvelous cities with straight streets and well-designed sewers, indicating a well-developed urban life in the ancient past. I was wondering how it would feel to get a glimpse of Ancient China in the shadow of the bubbling urbanisation of Yulin.
After a one hour bus ride, we reached the Shimao Stone City. In the bus, I learnt from Johnny that the Chinese word shi stands for stone while mao means high land. At the entrance, we were handed a brochure of the archaeological site, which stated that this was the largest Neolithic stone walled settlement in China, dating from 2300-1800 BC.
The local guide and our translator led us to the main site through a wood-built path snaking around the main site. As we were moving up, the wind was getting wilder and I was feeling the chill to the bone. The main site is kept open for visitors. It was an imperial complex in the centre, surrounded by one or two city walls. Shaped like a pyramid, the bottom of the structure is wider than the top, and it is over ten stories in height. Such a grand place could only be the residence of the city rulers. From this high platform, one could have an extensive view of the surrounding areas. If you come down, you will get into an oval shaped inner city area, which is again encircled by a crescent-shaped extension of the inner city. The layout of the stone-walled settlement indicated the principles of urban planning in ancient China. It also reveals that the stratification of people according to their accommodation in relation to the centre of the city has been going on since the birth of the concept of cities. Archaeologists found a large number of human skulls, particularly of women aged around twenty, buried near the walls. It shows that like many civilisations around world, the ritual of human sacrifice to build wall foundations was prevalent in this area while also giving an indication of the inferior status of suffered by women here. Instead of hiding this truth, the tour guide brought our attention to it, and I highly appreciated this. She might have wanted to show us how the Chinese society has progressed over centuries and reiterate the fact that Chinese women now live in a better and freer world. After a lot of selfies and group pictures, we again boarded the bus. But our wonderment refused to leave us. It requires a lot of planning and smart engineering to build such a vast city structure. From the site, we could also glean that there was a well-organised government and probably a well-developed social life in the Neolithic period in this part of China.
On the last day of our trip, we visited another great monument of ancient Chinese civilization - the famous terracotta warrior site. Earlier that day, we arrived at Xian from Yulin, taking a 45 minute flight. After keeping our luggage at the hotel, we all hurried to the bus with the excitement of little kids on an exciting field trip.
It took two hours of bus ride to reach the site. After reaching the site, we found hundreds of tourists from home and abroad roaming around the site. It was like a festival, celebrating the Chinese heritage.
Due to time constraints, we only managed to see The First Emperor's Terra-Cotta Army exhibition area. It is made up of three pits containing the Terra-Cotta Army and an exhibition hall that features the bronze chariots and horses.
As we entered the first pit, we were awed by the enormity of the site. This is the largest pit and also the most-photographed one. Instead of listening to the tour guide, we all started photographing the enigmatic warriors. There is a large viewing platform, offering a full view of the pit with nearly 1,600 life-sized pottery figures and chariots.
Besides the pits, there were two sets of large painted bronze chariots and horses displayed at the exhibition hall, which were intended for the First Emperor's soul to go on his inspection of the country in the afterlife. In a corner of the site, there were archaeologists who were working on their findings.
Chariots and smaller objects of the unearthed pits are on display at the Chariot Exhibition Hall. Along with them, there's an elaborate introduction of the details and functions of the tomb complex. After visiting the site, we bought some souvenirs; magnets with various motifs of the terracotta warriors imprinted on them. It was a great way to end the trip.
Five days in Xi'an and Yulin rewarded me with everlasting memories of China's timeless charm. There's still much more to discover, such as the Mountain Huashan, Famen Temple, Hukou Waterfall of the Yellow River, Cave Dwellings and so on. I was already planning my next trip here during my departure flight to Bangladesh!
The writer is Sr. Editorial Assistant,
The Daily Star. Email:firstname.lastname@example.org