2017
05.01

TOMB FIGURES ON DISPLAY

SYNOPSIS:  From overbearing crowds above ground to “little people” crowds below ground.   About Jin Di’s remote tomb.

There hasn’t been a major museum I visited in my life, that I left as hurriedly as this one!   Xian’s Provincial Museum is modern, famous, big, and filled with thousands of precious artifacts.  So I hear.  The ticket lines outside the museum were formidable. Entrance to the museum is free if you show your ID.  What that accomplishes is beyond me.  Why not just hand out free tickets?  Do they catch criminals that way?  Hardly!  Even foreigners can get in for free with their passports. This  ID business just struck me as one of those nonsense bureaucratic measures only the Chinese (and perhaps the Germans) could come up with.

I was not about to wait in that line.  If you were willing to pay $5, you could enter immediately.  Time is money.  I paid.  I should have known that the line outside was only a mirror indication of the zoo that unfolded inside.  Thousands of people were crowding in front of every showcase and every display.  I zipped through all the floors, not to see the artifacts, but to check if it was that bad everywhere; it was.  Much of what is on display has been excavated in the province, and stretches thousands of years.  I got that much.  But I got to see perhaps five objects up close. 

The museum also boasts a special section of Tang Dynasty Murals taken from various cave sites and grottoes of the province.  This exhibit, even though permanent, costs $50 extra.  I knew it would be very quiet in there; but I am not a mural specialist and I had set my heart on another site.

The notes I had taken at home reminded me to visit a little-known site.  I had even jotted down a metro and a bus schedule to reach the destination:  The tomb of Jin Di.  Not even half as famous as Shih’s tomb, this one is later and like Shih’s tomb, outside of town.  But unlike the area around Shih’s tomb, this one had not yet succumbed to modern development, but was still surrounded by undeveloped country side.  It could be a quiet spot where I might recover from the weight of the 30 million people in Xian. 

Excavations there, had unearthed rather unique “little people”.  Jin and his wife are buried here, but neither one of their tombs has been opened, or if they have, they are not open to the public.  The site itself is rather underwhelming.  Over 80 “strip burials” are flanking the burial hill in all four cardinal directions.  It’s these narrow strip tombs that have been excavated and turned into a museum.  Some are as short as a few meters, others as long as 30 meters. 

Shih’s idea of life-size burials was unsustainable and unnecessary.  If you believe in the continuation of life after death, and the power of everything to be alive, then small-sized replicas suffice to outfit you royally in the afterlife.  And smaller sizes were affordable!  The Egyptians had figured that out long ago with their practice of burying themselves with daily-life objects, and notably 365 Ushapti figures.  Each of them only measured a few inches, but each of them would become a servant in the afterlife; one for each day.

In Jin’s satellite tombs, the deceased were concerned with outfitting themselves with all the necessities and the luxuries of life.   To that end, they replicated every aspect of their daily lives.  There was livestock, lots of it:  herds of pigs, cows, sheep and other animals such as dogs and horses.  There were workers and construction materials, workshops and homes.  And there were lots and lots of “little people”.  They were made by generic molds and then outfitted with arms that would fit their function, such as work, or just standing there in high positions, arms folded.  The final touch were the clothes these “dolls” were wrapped in, that gave them their final, rather dignified look.  Stripped of their clothes they looked a bit creepy, I have to say. 

A few of these excavated tombs were left intact as museum showcases with all of their burial goods in place.  Thick glass ceilings were constructed, covering them up.  A large museum hall was built over it all, lined with very dark, carpeted corridors. The experience for the visitor therefore became to walk either on top of these burials looking down into them, or walking down to the pit ground levels peeking in sideways. 

I very much enjoyed this visit on various levels.  First, only about 10 other people were at the museum.  It was quiet.  The site was practically deserted and hardly any of the few visitors even bothered to circle around the burial mound itself or to venture out to the one reconstructed tomb gate, which further showed photographs of the excavations.  What a welcome relief from the crowds this morning! 

I also appreciated the uniqueness of the site.  As many parallels as there are to burials in Egypt — daily life is represented endlessly in Egyptian tombs — this one was distinctly different and memorable.  However, if you like sensational sites, like Shih’s, don’t bother coming.  I would not have thought a spot like this possible in overcrowded Xian.  I am glad I had a chance to see it.

This morning I had come in the bus with only one other visitor!  The bus only runs about every two hours (compare that with overcrowded buses every four minutes running to Shi’s site) and as I had not checked the bus schedule when I arrived, I promptly missed the outgoing bus by about 5 minutes.  But I was not alone.  Jenny and Dao from Hong Kong also missed the bus and so we spent a couple of hours chatting about travels, the world, this and that.  There is no such thing as wasted time when you travel.  Either I see something, or I reflect and write, or I talk to people.

It is time to pack once again and to move on.  Just to be safe tomorrow, I checked out the train station.  Thanks to the added security and ever-present army and police force, it has become a maze with access to the station restricted and regulated, by channeling people through just one narrow entrance where ID and luggage are checked.  Knowing is half the battle, especially for me, since I can’t read any of the signs that are posted everywhere.  Walking through this maze today will make it that much easier tomorrow when I have all the luggage to deal with. 

A little fast-food place near the station provided a delicious rice dish for dinner.   You are never far from healthy, delicious, and affordable food in China; it is great.

I spent one last night in my little apartment.  A couple of days ago, I had met my virtual host, Tao, after all.  He helped me figure out the hot water situation.  Very nice guy.  Booking this over any hotel was a good choice.  I highly recommend it.

Good night.

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  1. It will be interesting to compare and contrast Shih’s tomb to Jin Di’s when you do China/Xian in 150 and then both of them compared to the Egyptians. Tombs are so revealing…so to speak.
    And those little people without their arms or clothes…could be aliens from another planet they’re so strange.