This is the story of two old men, Mr Yang Zhifa and Mr Qin Shihuang who was a lot older than Mr Yang. As you would have guessed, both were Chinese gentlemen.
Way back in 1974, Mr Yang Zhifa, a young illiterate farmer in Shaanxi province in Central China, was digging a well along with some of his neighbours. As they removed the earth, they chanced upon a curious sight. They found pieces of a clay statue- a head came out first, then a dismembered arm. And more bits and pieces as they dug along. As they gazed in wonder at this strange sight, they realized they were onto something unusual. And one of the group presumably promptly informed the local Communist Party chieftain. Remember that in 1974 the Communist party was strong, STRONG in upper case. Remember, Mao was still the supremo; he passed away only two years later, in 1976.
Anyway, coming back to the story, Mr Yang’s information to the “Party” set off some frenetic activity among the Chinese archaeologists and this news spread all across the world. Archaeologists all over smelt that they were onto something rather significant, the two thousand year old “Terracotta Warriors”.
Which brings us to the second old gentleman, Mr Qin Shihuang, himself.
Way back, circa 200 BC, more than 2000 years ago, Mr Qin became the king of a small province in China with his capital located somewhere near Xi’an (pronounced shee-aan). He was a rather precocious thirteen- year old young monarch and he decided to do something meaningful out of his kingly powers. Like conquering other provincial chieftains and stringing together the earliest version of the China state. He had not much to seek to the West of Xi’an (western parts of China are acres-upon-acres of desert), so he trained his eyes Eastwards, in the general direction of Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Guangzhou etc. Which he annexed one-by-one.
Somewhat unusual for a thirteen year old chap, he also made rather ambitious plans for his “after-life”. He decided that when he died he will get buried with his entire army of soldiers, mid-rung officials and generals. And with horses and chariots. They would be there to protect him even in his “after-life”. Not the live army, but its replica in clay. Even as he set about expanding his empire, an army of artisans commenced production of the clay pieces. These were not ordinary clay pieces, but life-size replicas of soldiers, nearly six feet in height. Even the horses and chariots were made life-like. And what is more, each of the pieces looked distinct from the other. Each one of the thousands. And, given the nature of the emperor’s conquests, his “army” was buried facing East, in the direction of the territories he had annexed. Understandable enough, as that was the direction from which enemies would descend upon his tomb, out for retribution.
As Emperor Qin’s destiny would have it, he died early. And his empire ended soon after, it did not extend beyond his successor- his son- who had so painstakingly completed the tomb of Emperor Qin along with his terracotta warriors.
This tomb was discovered by Mr Yang and his neighbours some 2000 years later and was immediately hailed as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all times, certainly the best of the twentieth century. Experts are still piecing to this day the soldiers of the past. Out of the 8000 or so buried nearly 800 have been reconstructed and placed where they were supposed to be originally. The complex reconstruction work still goes on, even after some 35 years. And it is said that this would take a few more years. There are more pits to be dug, more terracotta warriors to be found.
Which brings us to Mr Yang. Now a wizened old man, he sits at the curio shop at the site next to a large pile of souvenir books on the Terracota Warriors. Under a large sign which forbids visitors from taking his photograph. He does allow them to capture him on their digital cameras only if the visitors pay him a specified sum of money for which even offers to autograph the book.
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