Sunday, July 1, 2012
BEIJING OPERA AND THE TERRACOTTA ARMY OF XIAN.
Before leaving Beijing, we attended the traditional Opera that is no longer performed anywhere in China but Beijing. It is considered old-fashioned, an old art. There were no pictures allowed of the opera, nor the beautiful costumes on display in the lobby. Cast members entertained us at our tables while we enjoyed refreshments. A teapot with a three-foot long spout was used to dramatically pour our tea into tiny cups without splashing or spilling a drop, much to our delight. On stage, one very acrobatic act performed in slow motion, with every muscle in coordination, had us holding our breath. The performers painted faces were allowed to show no emotions; their lips could not move, not even to take a breath. You could see their nostrils flare as they took in air during extremely strenuous moves. It put us on the edge of our seats. The opera is part singing, part acrobatics and part storytelling. One story (all printed in English on screens at the side of the stage) involved a hateful government edict presented to the people. They conspire to steal the key and change the offensive edict. This is important because in old China, it was the only form of protest the people had, through their art. One act was a about a Shogan who falls in love with his concubine. Another "social issue." It was wonderful. Viki told us most people skip the Opera, but, I would certainly recommend it if you have a chance to see it.
The next morning, we flew to Xian, pronounced shy-ann. Realize that the soldiers were discovered in 1974 and they have been designated the 8th wonder of the world. Xian was once the capital of China during the first of thirteen dynasties, the Ching Dynasty. Here, underground, lay the roots of the dynasty, for over 2000 years. The photo of a photo taken by the archaeologists shows what the soldiers looked like as they began to uncover this phenomenal treasure.
The soldiers are displayed in the pits from which they came and covered over by a roof. This photo shows the immensity of this pit. They carried weapons because the soldiers were ready to do battle for their emperor when he died. The soldiers were destroyed by the incoming faction of government after the Emperor who ordered the armies built, died, while inspecting the army. The soldiers weapons were removed, then the figures were broken up and covered over.
This photo shows the depth of one of the pits. There is six pits open to the public if I remember correctly. There is 8,000 soldiers, over three hundred chariots, wagons, and horses, jade armor, animals, dancer, acrobats plus other people, statesmen or persons important to the Emperor.
A flash only carries so far and it is difficult to get really good pictures of the soldiers. But the immensity of the task and the visible definition of the clothing, the hands, the features overwhelms. I find myself continually amazed at the wonders people crafted when given inspiration, and that I should have the privilege of seeing them.
The soldiers, when first removed had color in their faces and clothing. The Chinese government is building a new museum for the soldiers because they've lost their color from exposure to light and air. The roof leaks in places and since the discovery, they've found 73 more mounds, 16 of which they've opened up and reburied until they have perfected a technology to preserve the color and prevent deterioration of the figures. The rest will not be opened until they have the financial reserves and technology to care for this enormous treasure. The Terracotta Army is also a UNESCO site. UNESCO means this is a world treasure, to be preserved for all mankind and funded and preserved by shared funds. That designation carries a lot of responsibility and cooperation between countries around the world and benefits all of us.
Some of the best views of the warriors are replicas from the museum store.
You can buy one of these and have it shipped back to the United States. The replicas are a treasure as well as the man who discovered the soldiers and had to turn his farm over to the government. He was given the official job as book signer. He is a small man, very quiet, doesn't say much. He is no longer allowed to have his picture taken because his eyes were damaged by so many flashes. A cute story about him: He was told President Clinton would be visiting and he was taught a bit of English to greet the President. He learned to say "How are you?" He was coached that the Clintons would likely say, fine, thank you and he should answer, I'm fine too. But, Clinton said "Hello". And the farmer, who was nervous said, "Who are you?" And Clinton said, "I'm Hillary Clinton's husband." And the farmer said "Me too!"
The Provincial Shaanxi History Museum, adjacent to the pits, holds this team of horses. All under glass, tough to get a decent photo of them.
And this chariot driver. The detail in the clothing, the hands, the faces...truly awesome. All of these figures were modeled after real people. They were fired in kilns and then painted.
The horse to me has a wary expression as though aware of a stranger's approach.
I was surprised at how little from the pits was in the museum. Hopefully that will change as they rebuild and restore.
One of the best things about the museum was their noodle lunch. A guy on each end of a long counter holds a hunk of noodle dough like this. This cook was quickly shaving off a piece of dough into hot broth that made wide noodles. Xian is a hard wheat growing region. It used to be that for birthday celebrations, long noodles were made to fit around a child's waist. Now they want cake.
The guy on the other end of the system, had the same size hunk of dough that he stretched, and stretched and stretched until it spontaneously separated into this long strand of fine noodles. It was a real show to watch. I tasted both soups and they were both delicious. I guess it doesn't take much to impress Westerners. I loved it. Is it any wonder Marco Polo decided to bring this wonderful food back to Italy?
I fell in love with the exquisite pottery in the museum. This piece is a pillow, believe it or not.
My second favorite was a depiction of what an ancient Chinese home would look like, with animals encased in the same abode.
Notice the precisely rendered hooves on this horse. This artist loved horses, you can tell.
And the musicians on a camel. Whimsical.
For more pottery, click the link below: