Xian

1987

Xian — Western Peace is, to the modern visitor, synonymous with the terracotta army which has been unearthed at the tomb of Qin Emperor Huang Ti (256-209 B.C.) in Lintong. I don't like the self-agrandissement of totalitarian mausoleums, for me Xian is the largest Moslem city in China and the much diminished remnant of glorious Changan which was China's capital during the 1500 years of her first cultural and scientific flourishing. See the Synchronology of China.

We did join a Chinese day-excursion to Lintong and looked at the well-publicised clay soldiers and the excavations of a prehistoric village nearby, but did not take photographs. I thought that it is most remarkable, that the soldiers were buried, thousands of them, apparently shortly after they had been erected. An army buried alife, as it were, the end to human sacrifice and incidentally of monotheism in China.... Confucius lived and taught atheist humanism around 500 BC, and all my intellectual Chinese friends are immensely proud of this fact, notwithstanding that the uneducated people are haunted by some of the worst superstitions to this very day....

 Xian is a bustling city, as this traffic jam at an intersection shows, but in 1987 it couldn't be compared to Shanghai, Beijing, or Guangzhou — a Moslem backwater — which, after all, is an old and important facet of China.. 

 The last Yüan emperor with his grandchild.

 

 In Shaanxi noodles and deep-fried baozi replace rice as staple food.

 

 Steamed dumplings off the sidewalk. Barbara sits behind the gentleman in the anorak.

 

 A pregnant girl happily knittng for her coming child — and a stack of Chinese Kinderkarren.

 

 A young family riding home on their Volkswagen.

 

 an important gent buys a steamed lunch wrapped in corn husks.

A "funeral parlor," everything one needs to send the dead off successfully, all made from paper to be burned at the graveside — only the Dharma Wheels are left behind. Most Chinese, whether the "believed" in Catholicism, Protestantism, Daoism, or were Confucian Atheist want to be cremated in a Buddhist rite. The Buddhist monks know the way to to Xitian guo—Western Paradise. I am not sure that this also applies to Moslems. — The women giggled when I asked what for these paraphenalia were used: "Si, xiansheng, si! " Death, Sir, death! She rowed her arms at the figures and the paper-money trays on the wall.  

 Meanwhile let the living enjoy a long live on earth, eat! Only in France does food play such an important role as in China and there is plenty of it: More soft, steamed dumplings with a dash of hot sauce.... The small pots in the foreground are individual portions of pilaf and hot-spiced soups, for which Barbara developed a special liking, she couldn't get it hot enough....

 

Tian Shui and Maiji Shan

Xian station reminded me of the end of WW II in Germany, a chaotic camp of refugees fleeing from the advancing Soviet Army: children and mothers wearing all their clothes one on top the other, bed-rolls, baskets, wild characters from Tibet and Xinjiang wearing broad-brimmed flap hats, thousands.... But I was able to garner first-class, "soft-seat" tickets to Tian Shui on the route to Lanzhou. Climbing stealthily over the waiting hapless we reached the gate and were sucked into the flood of people storming the train. This scene too evoked distant, frightening post-war memories.

Tian Shui — Heaven Water is nowhere in Gansu half-way between Xian and Lanzhou. We arrived in complete darkness, and only with great obstinacy and the help of a young woman tourguide was I able to secure us a room in the local Chinese hotel.... which you see here. We paid $10 for four beds , which were immaculately clean. It was not the lowest of accomodations we stayed in — those would happen only in 1995 in Darchen in Tibet (at $50 for a room!) — only the lavatory was dreadful...

The reason for stopping in Tian Shui was to see the Buddhist shrines of Maiji Shan — Corn Cob Mountain one of the ancient way-stations along the Silk Road.

  Built during the Northern Wei Dynasty around 450 AD at the same time as Dunhuang two very large Buddhas and 195 caves have been carved into a steep sandstone rock. They are decorated with a few murals and stone sculptures imported from Shanxi. Like in Dunhuang you need a giude to open the doors. Fortunately the woman from the night before with the three German teachers in tow appeared just when I was loosing my composure at the local CITS office. I was saved, and fate had it that the same German maidens would soon save us once again in Lanzhou.

Abandoned troglytic dwellings along the railway through the Löss mountains of Gansu 

On new tickets we continued a day later to Lanzhou, this time on "hard seats" which we shared with a newly wed, pregnant Mongolian beauty, her husband, and mother-in-law. They were curious and friendly but chewed — and spat — sunflower seeds all day.... Every couple of hours a woman attendand, who also served hot water for our tea cups, would wipe the floor and our feet with a wet mop. Late at night we were back in good old Lanzhou. This time I knew where to find a middling room with bath, but in 1983 I would have declared any fortune-teller a crazy liar who would have prophesied my return to this town.

 

 

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