12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
The Chinese city of Xi”an would not probably be on the tourist map if it was not for the discovery of the Terracotta Warriors by local farmers in 1974, without doubt one of the most significant archaeological finds of the 20th century. In some ways that is a pity as Xi”an itself is of great historical interest dating back to the beginning of recorded time, the centre surrounded by a massive wall. However don”t be fooled into thinking that the gates were built to take the Chinese equivalent of chariots two thousand years ago. The whole edifice was rebuilt in the 1980s. Rather like the French walled city of Carcassonne, just outside Toulouse, it is not all that it seems. And if to re-enforce Xi”an”s position in the 21st century it is the Chinese home of Rolls-Royce and a whole host of technological leaders in the aerospace industry. Labour is very cheap and the staff extremely keen.
Xi”an was the first capital of a unified China and today by air Beijing is 90 minutes to the north and Shanghai just under two hours due west. You can come and go by train to either city, and whilst it is a slow process it does allow the Chinese countryside to be seen and the fine railway service experienced although the best trains operate overnight. You might think that in a communist state there would be just one class of rail travel. Not so. In fact there are four classes and also de-luxe between major cities.
Xi”ian is a bustling city, the taxis very cheap, and if anything even more spine tingling than Beijing, although slower. On the empty motorway into the city two managed to run into each other. Fortunately ABTN does not understand Chinese. The very centre of Xi”ian is dominated by the Bell Tower isolated on an island on the intersection of the main thoroughfares in the city. On one side are huge new buildings under construction, on another the main trading street with markets and shops, some selling the very latest in mobile technology and others ancient Chinese craft ware that would not have been out of place two thousand years ago. Not far away is the Moslem quarter, a stark reminder that Xi”ian was the start (and finish) of the Silk Road to India and Middle East. Marco Polo came this way.
For the tourist Xi”an is the Terracotta Warriors, less than one hour outside the city. It is a ”must see” when it comes to China. The Queen took in Xi”an when she made her historic tour in 1986. Discovered in 1974 the 6,000 life size warriors date from 246BC. Today it is one of the world”s great museums the well laid out site accounting for the huge number of (mostly Chinese) tourists. The international traveller is looked after and a dining area serves the type of Chinese food that Europeans seem to like.
Upon ascending the throne at the age of 13, Qin Shi Huang, later the first Emperor of all China, began on his mausoleum and its terracotta warrior protectors. It took 11 years to finish consuming the energies of 700,000 labourers. The museum covers an area of 16,300 square metres, divided into three sections: No. 1 Pit, No. 2 Pit, and Pit No. 3.
They were tagged in the order of their discoveries. No. 1 Pit is the largest, a sort of massive aircraft hangar and first opened to the public on China's National Day 1979. There are columns of soldiers at the front, followed by war chariots at the back. Row after row. 6,000 warriors. You stand at one end and admire and then walk down the side. No. 2 Pit, discovered in 1976, contains over a thousand warriors and 90 chariots of wood. It was unveiled to the public in 1994. Archaeologists came upon No. 3 Pit also in 1976. It went on display in 1989, with 68 warriors and war chariots. The whole place is a live museum with detailed research on-going and a large staff of skilled professionals looking at every aspect of its history. Fascinating.
Xi”an is not just the Terracotta Warriors. It is the capital of Shaanix, a huge province right in the centre of China covering 205,600 square kilometres.
From a historical point of view there is much to see but if your stay is brief do take in the Da Yan Pagoda, just a couple of miles south of the city centre, a magnificent seven storey high structure 140 feet tall which you can climb. Not far away is the History Museum of Shaanix, said to be the largest of its kind in the country. Don”t expect the same standard of hotels that you will find in Beijing (although to be fair prices are a lot less too). Even the local Shangri La (the Hong Kong group presently has 16 properties in China) is more four star standard than five (but very adequate all the same) and some of the lesser properties actually within the walled city are probably worth giving a miss. However in China a visit one year will result in great changes 12 months later. New hotels are opening in the city centre in 2005.
This is the concluding fourth part (see issues 31 May 19 July, 9 August) of ABTN”s tour of China, the editor”s first trip to that captivating country. Three nights in Beijing, two in Xi”an and four in Shanghai would seem to be a minimum. A five-night boat trip down the Yangtze could be added (and will certainly be included next time). Our thanks to Air China, Cultural Tours, Hyatt, JW Marriott and Shangri La.