The Mistress in Xi'an

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May 25th 2009
Published: June 21st 2009
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Lady YangLady YangLady Yang

Her love affair with her father-in-law the Emperor, inspired a Beijing opera as well as a poem still recited to this day.
Lady Yang was one of the four beauties of China. She lived during the Tang dynasty and was briefly married to the Imperial Prince......until the prince's father fancied her and made her his favorite concubine in the Tang harem. How's that for a love story?

The Hua Qing Hot Springs was a gift from Emperor Tang Ming Huang for Lady Yang to spend the cold spring months. So in love was this Emperor that relay horses transported her favorite fruit, lychees, to this palace . No wonder the Chinese call premium quality lychees as "concubine smile" , inspired by this consort's love for this fruit. As the favorite concubine, Lady Yang and her family enjoyed many privileges and earned court titles. But all good things must come to an end. Lady Yang's adopted son, An Lu Shan, clashed with her royal cousin and led a rebellion against the Empire, forcing the Imperial Court to flee to Chengdu. As the troops took over, they demanded for the head of Lady Yang. The story goes that Emperor Tang Ming Huang "ordered" Lady Yang to instead commit suicide. Dead at 38, this love story inspired this now famous poem "Song
Hua Qing Hot SpringsHua Qing Hot SpringsHua Qing Hot Springs

Lady Yang was gifted with this huge property by her lover, Emperor Tang Ming Huang, who happened to be her father-in-law. Hmmmm......
of Everlasting Sorrow" as well as a Beijing opera entitled "Drunken Concubine".

From One Imperial Capital (Beijing) to An Ancient Capital (Xi'an)

Our choice of Xian was prompted by a desire to check out the world-famous terra-cotta warriors guarding the tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang in the capital of Shaanxi Province. Many blogs on Xian cited how this heritage site was discovered only in 1974 by a farmer digging for a water well. But how many know that this farmer still lives today and holds office at the Maoseleum to sign Xian History books available for sale at the Museum? Or that there were actually pictures of the terra-cotta warriors at the very time of discovery, displaying some unbelievable colors which by now have faded? Or that the Emperor's tomb remains underground, until such time that ongoing research yields solutions on how best to preserve these archaelogical finds in all its awesome hues and shades?

The flight from Beijing to Xian was a short one. Ruth was waiting to cart us away from the airport to our first destination in Xian on a rented van. It was so much cheaper
Terra Cotta Warriors, Upon DiscoveryTerra Cotta Warriors, Upon DiscoveryTerra Cotta Warriors, Upon Discovery

These are photos of photos. Those warriors were not exactly dull and colorless when they were first discovered. This is how they looked then, before the colors faded.
and of course, more comfortable, to rent a van (1600RMB for 3 days) and a guide (Ruth's Travel Agency - Chien Liu - charged us 300 RMB per day) as there were 6 of us to split the bill. Xian is so different from Beijing. More rural, if you like, yet so rich in history. After all, Xian is one of China's 4 ancient capitals and boasts of 3,000 years of history. There were no wide boulevards nor huge squares in the league of Tiananmen . But we were happy to find many parks and a good-sized walled city. In the next 3 days we were here, we were able to cover much. It helped that the temperature was very pleasant in the mid-20s, just right for the many strolls in the park we engaged in while there.

Walled City of Xian

Xian was formerly called Chang'an (Tang and Han Dynasties), Fenghao (Zhou Dynasty), Daxing (Sui Dynasty), Fengyuan, then Anxi, then Jingzhao (Yuan Dynasty), among many other names. I guess that happens if the place has been an ancient capital to about 12 dynasties . For some time, Xi'an was the capital of the Middle
The Empress of Xi'anThe Empress of Xi'anThe Empress of Xi'an

These fifty-something nuts may have lost their marbles, but remain cheerful travelers!
Kingdom and recorded as the largest city in the world. Its present name Xi'an, consists of two Chinese characters which literally means "Western Peace".

This ancient capital boasts of a well-preserved 12-kilometer long (some say 25 kilometers) defensive wall which divided the city into inner city and outer city. The city walls we see today were alleged to have been constructed using kiwi and glutinous rice (as cement?), then reconstructed to its present state during the Ming Dynasty in 1370. As soon as we saw the high walls enclosing the royal residence, we had to ask Ruth how big an area we needed to cover. We promised ourselves that the 6 mile walk in Beijing was not to be repeated and that this holiday will be......a holiday. No torturing long walks. Nah. Having been reassured about the acreage of the walled enclosure, we cheerfully moved on. We did not make for good listeners today, but Ruth just talked on and on. Some made their mark, others were heard and just as promptly forgotten. When we found these red and yellow royal chairs carried on the shoulders of lesser mortals, we amused Ruth with our royal photo
Do Not Climb, Do Not Scale The WallDo Not Climb, Do Not Scale The WallDo Not Climb, Do Not Scale The Wall

Still in the Walled City, where we found many amusing signs.
ops. After all, it isn't everyday that May is proclaimed Empress.

The city walls are so well preserved. Our 12 year old Paolo reminded me of my plan to go biking on top of the wide city walls, but there were no bicycles for rent at the time. Rather, there were small buggies available to ferry tourists around the walls. We instead walked around and listened to some Feng Shui lectures inside the Museum. We also checked out the many weapons of battle on display atop the city walls, reminding us how the city capital of many dynasties survived many attacks. Quite the contrary, Xi'an means "perpetual peace" or "western peace".

After listening to lectures on feng shui . pi xiu and the 5 elements, we ventured out and checked out the Chinese signages. I don't mean just the signages in Pidgin English. I meant signages such as directions for north, south, east and west. The Chinese of old used animals to represent any of these 4 directions. Dragons or turtles for north or south, east or west. I've got to admit I don't remember which is which.

Big Wild

Big Wild Goose PagodaBig Wild Goose PagodaBig Wild Goose Pagoda

This park makes for a very relaxing stroll. Pagodas, courtyards, museums, bronze statues, and more amusing signs.
Goose Pagoda

Construction of the Da Yan Pagoda (Giant Wild Goose) began in the year 652 during the Tang Dynasty. This pagoda, a repository of many Buddhist materials brought in from India by Xuanzang, is declared a holy site for Buddhists. A Buddhist monk, Xuanzang endured 17 years of travel along the Silk Road, until he came back to Chang'an (now Xi'an) to become the first abbot of Da Ci'en Temple. Here, Xuanwang established a translation center for all the transported Buddhist scriptures originally written in Sanskrit.

As the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, one imagines how traders, merchants and religious men like Xuanzang traveled in those days. Xi'an rose in economic power , cultural and religious significance during the Han Dynasty when the Silk Road was established. This transcontinental route linked the Roman Empire in the West with the Imperial Court of China in the East. This ancient route started in Xi'an (then called Chang'an), skirted through deserts and mountains, and went westwards all the way to Rome.

Our sightseeing was not limited to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda. The complex has on its North Plaza the biggest
Da Ci'en Temple Da Ci'en Temple Da Ci'en Temple

A stone's throw away from the 7 storey Big Wild Goose Pagoda.
music fountain plaza in Asia. Ruth recommended that we go back to this Plaza for the 9pm music fountain show. Perhaps after dinner? Further on, the Da Ci'en Temple courtyard hugging the Big Wild Goose Pagoda is such a refreshing sight. The gardens and courtyards have such a polished composition that its mere serenity soothed our soul. There were even big stones on the gardens with "friendly reminders" that say more than "Keep off the Grass". There was an element of gentility and tranquility around the pagoda complex . The only distraction we found was whenever we had to strain to listen to Ruth explain the prevailing (pavillion to us) made of UD (wood to us). After about an hour or so, we somehow got the gist of the legend relating to the PREVAILING MADE OF UD.

Dumpling Banquet

The dumpling banquet in the Shaanxi Grand Opera House Theater Restaurant was truly an adventure. One after another, we were served bamboo basket after bamboo basket of various steamed dumplings. The kitchen staff have taken such great care fashioning these dumplings in such shapes that will give you a clue of what
Duck Dumplings?Duck Dumplings?Duck Dumplings?

Each dumpling in this banquet is shaped to look like what is wrapped inside. There were ducks, walnuts, fish, pig (pork), etc.
is wrapped inside. Thinly cubed walnuts cooked in a distinct sauce wrapped in these thin flour wrappers were shaped to look like walnuts. The pork siomai look like piglets, complete with ears and tails. And the duck dumplings! There was no mistaking these delicacy , with their thin long graceful necks, looking almost like swans.

The highlight of the banquet was the soup where an English-speaking waitress was called in to explain the ritual to us as soon as it was served. Showing us 17 tiny dumplings which she dropped into the steaming soup, she instructed us to each ladle our own soup into our bowl , with eyes shut. Anyone who finds any of those tiny dumplings in his/her soup bowl is declared the lucky one. One dumpling in your bowl means "one good journey". When we asked what it would mean if we don't get any (I did not get any), this same English-speaking waitress said it means "no worries". Whatever. 😊

Some tourists chose to watch the post-banquet cultural performance .One look at the brochure and we read that the show consisted of rites and music from the Tang
Xi'an Dumpling BanquetXi'an Dumpling BanquetXi'an Dumpling Banquet

This is some culinary adventure! Mon had to close his eyes, scoop some soup, and if he gets a dumpling in the ladle, he's lucky! (Is Boy praying for a dumpling when it's his turn?)
Dynasty, a short skit about the "Quarrel of the Ducks", a "Spring Outing", etc. We opted out of this, wishing to be back in our Aurum International Hotel with our sated gustatory senses. Tomorrow, we check out the Terra Cotta Warriors, the Royal Hua Qing Spring Palace, Banpo Museum, and the Wujian Pavilion of the historic Xi'an Incident fame. Should be good for more than just a stroll. Thank goodness the Aurum International Hotel serves very good international buffet breakfast. And good coffee too. I bet Mon is so pleased he'd be spared from duty to buy me a cup of brew every morning!

The Necropolis: Terra Cotta Warrior, All 10,000 of Them

Discovered only in 1974, this easily counts as one of the most extraordinary archaelogical finds in history. All of 10,000, of which 6,000 are warriors , of which 3,000 have been restored. These warriors, previously exquisitely painted, guard the Emperor's tomb which to this day remains unexcavated. There are 169 "satellite tombs" of which only 69 have been dug up. What a pity those colors faded as the terra cotta figures were exposed to the elements. But photos were taken of the
Colorful WarriorsColorful WarriorsColorful Warriors

Let's hope those researchers find how best to preserve the colors of these archaelogical finds.
finds, giving us a glimpse of how exciting those moments must have been for the archaelogists upon discovering this necropolis.

We visited 3 pits. The first pit looked more like a huge stadium or aircraft hangar housing the 6,000 terra cotta warriors in battle formation. The warriors included infantrymen complete with their steed , reassembled and back in their original ranks. The common soldiers have hair knot only on one side . Why? Archers, for one, need the "space" unobstructed by a hair knot as they pull the arrow back to take aim. Makes a lot of sense. Naturally, the higher-ranking "generals" have 2 hair knots!

The 2nd pit is an excavation still in progress showing the imperial cavalry consisting of about 900 soldiers, saddled horses and horses hitched to chariots. Some of the excavated sculptures were encased in glass so it can be viewed more closely. The 3rd pit is the smallest, showing the "headquarters" , offices or war rooms, if you like. It also showed photos of how the archaelogical finds looked upon discovery. These were quite amazing photos . Etched for the longest time in my mind are pictures of terra cotta warriors in the single shade of sandy beige. Truth to tell, the most profound image held in my recent memory is Bill Clinton down below with the warriors. Didn't expect that those finds were actually painted sculptures, with such colors and hues fading upon exposure when they were excavated. The last pit also showed the traps where attempted thefts were met with the harrowing prospect of dying trapped within the underground chambers. Human bones of these trapped thieves were found in this pit.

With hopes that science will soon yield plausible solutions to the fading colors of the terra cotta warriors, the excavation of the royal tomb of Emperor Qin Shi Huang will just have to be put on hold.

Banpo Neolithic Village

The cultural significance of Xi'an is not limited to the discovery of the Terra Cotta Warriors. It also happens to be the site of the discovery in 1954 of a 5,000 to 6,000 year-old Neolithic Village at Banpo, just outside the city limits.

Banpo houses this Museum which showcases how so advanced the Chinese civilization is. While one can easily be floored by the impressive Terra Cotta Warriors, this ancient village makes one wonder if the Chinese lived in another planet before settling down here on earth. Like drainage, sewage, animal husbandry and food storage seem to be an ancient Chinese invention, as the exhibits would show. The structures within this complex likewise speak of an ancient community. Perhaps they even have a school and social center? I wonder.

Drum and Bell Towers and Muslim Food Street

We actually visited the Drum and Bell Towers, strolled through the Muslim Food Street, tried out some local snacks, on the very day we took our flight from Xi'an to Shanghai. You may say this blog is not chronologically correct, but you will soon find out why.

Smog threatens to cloud the skyline of Xi'an on the day of our departure. Just the same, we had our final shots here with the two towers in the background. As we busied ourselves with our cameras and videocams, our 12 year old Paolo spotted a McDonald's in the area. Trust kids to lust for McDo burgers and fries, despite all the dimsum banquet and peking duck dinner.
Puto Bumbong, Anyone?Puto Bumbong, Anyone?Puto Bumbong, Anyone?

This is their version of the Philippines' puto bumbong, a rice cake shaped like rolls . steamed in bamboos and laid out in banana leaves or flour wrappers.

While munching his burger, fries and chicken nuggets, we grouped together for a leisurely stroll along the Muslim Food Market. There we found many local snacks. Initially wary to try any, we soon found ourselves buying those pomegranate pancakes and eyeing those glutinous rice cakes as we moved along. Hmmm, yummy. We ate those with a prayer that our stomachs won't be so picky.

Ruth assisted us as we checked in our luggage for our flight to Shanghai. We shared her dreams to be a Tour Leader someday. Here's one very hardworking guide who gladly shared her life ambition with us. In the 3 days she worked as our guide, we sensed her lack of material wealth yet delighted in her very cheerful attitude towards life. She took pride in her work, and took good care of us. We pray that someday, Ruth will be a Tour Leader!

Hua Qing Palace and Hot Springs and the Wujian Pavillion

In late Qing Dynasty, foreign troops attacked Beijing. The empress dowager Cixi (famous for having ordered the construction of the Marble Boat beached at the edge of
Still in Hua Qing Palace and Hot SpringsStill in Hua Qing Palace and Hot SpringsStill in Hua Qing Palace and Hot Springs

Preparing for the concert in Lady Yang's tradition: the dance of the feathers!
Kunming Lake in Beijing's Summer Palace) escaped from Beijing to Xi'an. She chose Huaqing Palace at Lishan to live in. To please her, local officials built a building named Liangbao Lou on West Street for the purpose of holding her jewels. Now, if history has not been kind to the Empress Dowager Cixi, you know why.

Just before the final outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War , the famous "Xi'an Incident" of 1936 took place inside the city walls. Chiang Kai-shek was arrested in order to force him to cooperate with the forces led by his enemy Mao Zedong in fighting the Japanese. This resulted in a truce between the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China. Our guide Ruth pointed out to us the "Demonstration Pavillion" where Chiang Kai Shek allegedly stayed in hiding while Mao's generals searched for him within the Hua Qing complex.

So much for history. This blog started with Lady Yang's love story, so I'd end this blog again with her story.

We enjoyed walking around in the Emperor's favorite consort's winter palace. The pools in Hua Qing Hot Springs may tell a lot of stories
Fountain of YouthFountain of YouthFountain of Youth

This fountain draws the (female) crowd with its alleged magical powers. Wash up, and take away 10 yrs off your face. Cool, huh?
from the Tang Dynasty's period. Who is to tell how many leisurely walks the Lady and her Emperor made in these gardens? Or wonder what they talked about? Her statue depicting her half-naked and looking so much like the "other woman" does not jibe with the traditions of her time (7th century). Near this statue, there is one other attraction that really draws in the tourists. The female kind. It is said that water flowing from the fountain has magical powers. Read: Women washing their faces in the basin will look 10 years younger. So, you bet we took our chances !

As we strolled out of the palace grounds, we found the palace staff setting up lights, lining up chairs and fixing a stage in the middle of the pond. We soon learned that weather permitting, concerts are regularly held here . Lady Yang is credited with the choreography of the "Dance of the Feathers" and such performances still draw crowds here. While some may sneer at her background or how she and her family may have indeed taken advantage of their royal connections, her life story is really more than just a
Pay Per View?Pay Per View?Pay Per View?

We wondered too......then learned these guys paid to watch an ancient film.
love story. When the Emperor asks his favorite concubine to commit suicide rather than be arrested, it is a sad tale indeed. But another story goes that when the mutinous troops asked for Lady Yang's head, the Emperor acceded to save his throne. But when the beautiful consort was taken away and strangled, the Emperor wept and before long, this same coward abdicated. (Ahhh, men....) No wonder the poem romanticizing this sad love affair is still read and appreciated today. The same story has so fascinated many poets, artists and even movie directors.

But then again, perhaps not all good things must come to a sad end. The Japanese have another version of Lady Yang's life and adventure. Many Japanese believe that Yokihi, as she came to be called there, did not commit suicide, but was in fact allowed to escape to Japan to live out the remainder of her life. They even have a tomb to prove it! Perhaps Lady Yang found another love? Who's to tell? She's a lady of many talents.

Additional photos below
Photos: 22, Displayed: 22


Within The Ming Dynasty City WallWithin The Ming Dynasty City Wall
Within The Ming Dynasty City Wall

The rectagular complex has a Drum and Bell Towers. 21 beats on the drum for sunrise, 21 strikes on the bell for sunset.
All of 7 Storeys!All of 7 Storeys!
All of 7 Storeys!

The Big Wild Goose Pagoda is the repository of all those Buddhist scriptures transported from India to Xi'an , and translated by a Buddhist Monk.
Lovely Photo, Eh?Lovely Photo, Eh?
Lovely Photo, Eh?

Happily married. She's happy. He's married. Lol.
Can't Hold It!Can't Hold It!
Can't Hold It!

That's what happens when the guy taking the shot takes too long!
Heed This Advice!Heed This Advice!
Heed This Advice!

Some signs may have amused us, but this one is worth heeding!

21st June 2009

Fascinating blog. I had absolutely no idea the terracotta warriors were originally painted. Those photos are amazing. What a shame they couldn't have been better preserved. Thanks for sharing your travels - as always I have enjoyed reading your blog.
22nd June 2009

Love the pics
Great souvenirs for us to look at your pics. Iwent with Leslie to Xian 2 years ago...was a great week-end. I need some time to read all your we were running this morning in KL....and tomorrow we are visiting Borobodur...where are you for the moment? Guilin is indeed nearer to seems (not that I want to do it) only 9 hours bus from Shenzen. Peter
22nd June 2009

Love Story
I do hope Lady Yang escaped to Japan and met someone else who was willing to die for her and not the other way around.hehe ... this also reminded me of our street dumplings in hong kong and that i want to go to china someday ^^ pffff! VISA!
22nd June 2009

This couldn't have come up at a better time! I am leaving for China and will be in Xian for a couple of days in the first week of July. Your article will come in handy. Any more tips are welcome. Great work. Prakash
1st July 2009

Isn't Xian fun?
I LOVE your pay per view picture! Catching up on your blogs - glad you're having a good time in China! Safe travels. Anna
26th January 2010

help regarding van rental
hi! my friends and i are travelling to xi'an on march 29, 2010. can you recommend a van rental please that will pick us up at the airport, bring us to the terracotta warriors, then bring us back to the airport again for our flight to beijing. we don't want to take any tours. we just want a van to bring us to the warriors. i am assuming that the the total number of hours of this rental would be 8 to 10 hours?

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