Monday, July 30, 2018

Everlasting Sorrow

Setting for the show. Imagine a mountain as the unseen background and a full moon.

Although exhausted from an international flight and two days of non-stop sightseeing, we were dropped off for the evening performance named "Everlasting Sorrow." Our guide prepped us with  the story line and we sat expecting some colorful costumes and special effects. The Chinese love drama, but little did we know what we were in for. 

This show is an absolute must if you visit the Terracotta Warriors. It takes place on the grounds of the Tang Dynasty's winter palace, a beautiful setting of a temple with a lake in front and hill behind. .

From the moment the show started, sleepy or not, it grabbed our full attention. The cast  flew through the air as if they were levitating, the stage changed before our eyes and the most fabulous dancers moved delicately in their cumbersome, yet extraordinary costumes.  Imagine a combination of Cirque du Soleil, a Las Vegas Show, a Broadway musical, a Hollywood Epic, and the Chinese Opera-- all to lyrical, evocative music. Smoke and mirrors, fire and fountains rising from the lake, a cast of at least a hundred, the entire hillside behind the temple illuminated -- including a roaring waterfall.  This production pulled out every trick in the book of special effects.  We were in total awe, what could possibly happen next? Just when we were sure we had seen it all, doves were released and flew over our heads. 

I would return to see this show time and time again. You can’t possible appreciate each scene with so much happening on stage.  Don’t miss it and take a camera with a telephoto lens. 

 With apologies to poet Bai Juyi, we are excerpting portions of his poem, Everlasting Sorrow, as we attempt to convey the beauty and grandeur of this production.

 China's Emperor, craving beauty that might shake an empire, 
Was on the throne for many years, searching, never finding,

Till a little child of the Yang clan...
 ... At last one day was chosen for the imperial household. 

 If she but turned her head and smiled, there were cast a hundred spells, 
And the powder and paint of the Six Palaces faded into nothing. 

... It was early spring. They bathed her in the Flower Pure Pool, 
Which warmed and smoothed the creamy-tinted crystal of her skin ...

... When first the Emperor noticed her and chose her for his bride ...

 The cloud of her hair, petal of her cheek, gold ripples of her crown when she moved ... ... the Emperor, from that time forth, forsook his early hearings ...

 And lavished all his time on her with feasts and revelry,  

His mistress of the spring, his despot of the night.

Her sisters and her brothers all were given titles;
 And, because she so illumined and glorified her clan, 
She brought to every father, every mother through the empire, 
Happiness when a girl was born rather than a boy. 

 ... The Emperor's eyes could never gaze on her enough- 

 Till war-drums, booming ... shocked the whole earth 
And broke the tunes of The Rainbow Skirt and the Feathered Coat.

The Forbidden City, the nine-tiered palace, loomed in the dust 
From thousands of horses and chariots headed southwest. 
The imperial flag opened the way, now moving and now pausing- - 

But thirty miles from the capital, beyond the western gate, 
The men of the army stopped, not one of them would stir 
Till under their horses' hoofs they might trample those moth- eyebrows.... 
Flowery hairpins fell to the ground, no one picked them up, 
And a green and white jade hair-tassel and a yellowgold hair- bird.  

The Emperor could not save her, he could only cover his face. 
And later when he turned to look, the place of blood and tears 
Was hidden in a yellow dust blown by a cold wind. ...

... a petal was like her face and a willow-leaf her eyebrow -- 
And what could he do but cry whenever he looked at them?

... Her Pear-Garden Players became white-haired  ... 

... a Taoist priest ... was a guest of heaven, 
Able to summon spirits by his concentrated mind. 
And people were so moved by the Emperor's constant brooding 
That they besought the Taoist priest to see if he could find her. 

He opened his way in space and clove the ether like lightning, 
Up to heaven, under the earth, looking everywhere ... 

Above, he searched the Green Void, below, the Yellow Spring; 
But he failed, in either place, to find the one he looked for. 
And then he heard accounts of an enchanted isle at sea, 
A part of the intangible and incorporeal world, 
With pavilions and fine towers in the five-coloured air, 
And of exquisite immortals moving to and fro, 
And of one among them-whom they called The Ever True- 
With a face of snow and flowers resembling hers he sought ... 


... And the tear-drops drifting down her sad white face 
Were like a rain in spring on the blossom of the pear. 
But love glowed deep within her eyes when she bade him thank her liege, 
...  she took out, with emotion, the pledges he had given 
And, through his envoy, sent him back a shell box and gold hairpin, 
But kept one branch of the hairpin and one side of the box,  Breaking the gold of the hairpin, breaking the shell of the box; 
"Our souls belong together," she said, " like this gold and this shell -- 
Somewhere, sometime, on earth or in heaven, we shall surely 

And she sent him, by his messenger, a sentence reminding him 
Of vows which had been known only to their two hearts: 
"On the seventh day of the Seventh-month, in the Palace of Long Life, 
We told each other secretly in the quiet midnight world 
That we wished to fly in heaven, two birds with the wings of one, 
And to grow together on the earth, two branches of one tree."  

Earth endures, heaven endures; some time both shall end, 
While this unending sorrow goes on and on for ever. 

Our bus of weary world travelers relived the experience all the way back to Xi'an, relieved that no one had listened to our grumbling about extending an already tiring day. Definitely worth a sleep deficit.

Bai Juyi (772-846) was known as the people's poet. Famous poets of his era, Tang Dynasty (618-906), produced more sophisticated work for the court, but Bai poems were simpler and beloved by the majority of readers. Not unlike Barbara Cartland of romance writers or Joyce Kilmer of "Trees" fame.

Guess we aren't as enlightened as members of the Tang court because we find them elegant and touching. If you would like to read "Everlasting Sorrow" in its entirety or more of Bai Juyi's work, go to

Friday, July 20, 2018

Good Girls Meet Terracotta Army

Judy says: Our first full day in Xi'an continued with a bus ride to the Emperor Qin Shi Huang's Mausoleum Site Museum.

Chinese fire drill. Photo by Debi Lander.
We arrived to discover, are you ready, a genuine Chinese fire drill taking place. (Does anyone out there remember the American teenage version?)

Photo by Debi Lander.
There seemed to be no reason other than practice and preparedness, so we continued on as soon as it was over. The complex is enormous - we took shuttles from the entrance gate to the museum area - and soon discovered why.
The shuttle station.
Debi continues: In 1974, two peasant farmers digging a well in their field discovered one of the top ten archeological sites of all time. The remarkable story has fascinated me for over 40 years, and Judy and I recently went to Xi’an, China to see the Army of Terracotta Warriors for ourselves.

The Terracotta Army is a collection of life-sized clay sculptures depicting the soldiers of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. No two look alike and researches believe the contingent to be 8,000 strong with accompanying horses and chariots. The army was buried with the emperor in 210 BC, to protect him in his afterlife. Recent studies using ground-penetrating radar suggest the army is just part of an extraordinary necropolis, approximately 38 square miles, of which only a small portion has been uncovered. 

Arriving at the Museum 
The tombs lie about an hour’s drive from Xi’an, in Shaanxi Province, China’s central region. Many hotels and tour groups arrange visits to the UNESCO World Heritage site. 

After arriving, we first explored the Mausoleum Museum. Its treasures include two intricate bronze chariots’, each with four horses and charioteer found near the terracotta soldiers’ underground pits. The bronzes are half life-sized and clearly detail the clothing, mechanics, and horsemanship of the ancient world. 

The second bronze chariot in the museum
The museum also gives visitors a 360-degree close-up view of various ranking terracotta soldiers and their bronze weapons. The higher in rank, the larger the sculpture. 

Judy adds: I could have spent a day studying each one and reading every label and placard except... the crush of people was as claustrophobic as it was frustrating. Curse of the remarkable, I guess.

Kneeling Archer in the museum
Debi continues: We were anxious and fidgety as we’d come thousands of miles to view the army of soldiers. “Not so fast,” said our guide. He headed us toward Pit 3, site of ongoing excavations and saved the best for last- the immense Pit 1.

He was right! Staring into Pit 3, I looked down into deep earthen rows containing broken fragments. Unfortunately, time, water and land shifts caused the sculptures to topple and break. The complexity of brushing away layers of dirt, carefully extracting pieces, and finally reconstructing the soldiers is painfully slow. International teams of researchers have come to assist. 

Ongoing excavation work in Pit 3

Can you imagine the difficulty of putting the pieces together? 

Pit 2, although small, displays all the types of terracotta warriors found so far, including infantries, cavalries, chariot warriors, and archers. They are arranged in formations with their horses. The chariots or wagons were wood and therefore disintegrated. 

The warriors in formation in Pit 2

Judy adds: Pit 2  brings home the immensity of this find. Can you imagine the first archaeologists who saw this as they go from excitement, exhilaration and awe over the find to dismay over the job ahead? Not to mention the curators who are currently working on the intricate and enormous project,  wondering when it will be finished. Which brings us to the craftsmen who created and assembled the army in the first place.

Debi continues: Pit 1 simply takes your breath away. The size of the Quonset hut-like building itself overwhelms; the behemoth enclosure could fit two of the largest jumbo jets. The warriors stand tall, each five to six feet tall weighing between 300-400 pounds. Legs and feet form a solid base, but the rest of each figure is hollow. Torsos, arms, hands, and heads were molded separately then attached. Final details added later. Apparently, each warrior has its artist's name etched into its foot to make sure the work met standards. 

The overwhelming site of the Terracotta Army in Pit 1

Squadrons of soldiers, divided by solid partitions, stand ready to march or mount their nearby horses, also made of clay. The assemblage feels both creepy and awe-inspiringly magnificent. The realistic faces, especially their eyes, project piercing looks. Glance away, and the army might start advancing at any moment.

A closer look into Pit 1.

Originally each figure was painted, but once as the terracotta fragments are exposed to oxygen, the paint begins to decompose and flake off. For this reason, future work has stalled. I can imagine the colorful army would have stopped anyone in their tracks. 


Intrigued by this massive project, we learned that over 700,000 people were enslaved for the 36-38 years it took to build the Emperor’s self-indulgent tomb. Even worse, upon his death, the grave was covered over, and the workers killed to keep anyone from revealing the location. Some, including numerous concubines, were buried alive. All was left undisturbed for centuries while the warriors silently kept guard for the Emperor in his afterlife. 

Judy adds: No doubt, Emperor Qin Shi Huang was a cruel, ruthless ruler, which is one reason  his dynasty was a short one. But he left behind a unified country that today bears his name and the term "emperor" which other rulers adopted for the next 2,000 years. Add to that a system of laws, abolishing feudalism, creating a standardized alphabet, tax system and currency,  road widths, wheel sizes, axle lengths and all other kinds of measurements.

He began work destroying walls that separated the country, replacing them with connecting walls to create a Great Wall for better protection country-wide, along with a national road system. He ordered construction of the 34-kilometer-long Lingqu  canal to facilitate delivery of supplies to the army, transportation and trade A major engineering feat, it linked the Xiang, which flows into the Yangtze, with the Li Jiang, which flows into the Pearl, aiding expansion into the south and west. Weapons of defeated armies were melted down to be made into works of art. Altogether, not a bad legacy.

Look closely to see how the soldiers were pieced together and see traces of their original paint. 
Tips:  We arrived in the late afternoon, crowds were way down, but we didn’t get a chance to see the video in the welcome center nor visit the gift shop.  Allow a half day at minimum.

Judy says: Better yet, stay in the area overnight to fully enjoy the Army and the Tang dynasty winter palace and the spectacular theatrical experience we will tell you about next week!