E-Travel Log #4: Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors

Attention Teachers: Please see teacher notes below.

Dear Students:

Wo men zou ba! Let’s go! In this travel log, we’re going to take a train from Beijing to the ancient city of Xi’an. From there, we’ll visit the site of the famous Army of Terracotta Warriors. We’ll also tell you the story of China’s most famous woman warrior, Hua Mulan; challenge you with two more guess-who poems about Asian animals; and list some more answers to your questions. Enjoy!


All aboard! Xi’an, the capital of China’s Shaanxi Province, is a fourteen hour Buying Food at the Train  Stationtrain ride southwest of Beijing. We’re taking the overnight train, due to arrive at 10:15 A.M. It’s a full train and we’re in a compartment with six narrow beds. Would you prefer one on the bottom, middle or top? Sleep tight! We can buy breakfast and eat it right on the train. OTrain Station in Xi'anr, if you prefer, we can buy it in the train station once we arrive in Xi’an.


Wake up! We’ve arrived in Xi’an. It’s the year 1004 B.C. – three thousand years before we left Beijing. Beijing, now, is just a small village and Xi’an is the capital city of the Zhou Dynasty. Going far further back in time, according to an ancient Chinese myth, Xi’an was also the capital when the Yellow Emperor, the original ancestor of all Chinese people, reigned. Though he is a prehistoric character, the Yellow Emperor is believed to have introduced Taoism, the boat, bamboo, writing and pottery to China. According to another myth, Xi’an was even around during the time of the god Fuxi and his wife, the goddess Nügua. Fuxi and Nügua supposedly had human bodies from the waist up and dragon tails. Nügua is said to have made people out of clay and invented marriage, while Fuxi gave humans the gifts of hunting, fishing and animal husbandry.


Jumping back into historic time, Xi’an was also the capital of China during the Qin Dynasty (221- 206 B.C.). The Qin’s ruthless ruler, Qin Shihuang, gave the Middle Kingdom its future foreign name, China. (‘Q’ in Chinese is pronounced like ‘ch’ in English.) Qin Shihuang also wanted to live forever himself – even after his life on this earth ended. So, he built an army out of clay to protect his tomb. Over seven thousand life-sized Terracotta Warriors, holding bronze swords, dagger-axes, spears, longbows and crossbows, and accompanied by 35 horse-drawn chariots, were buried alongside Qin Shihuang. They stood silent guard for over two thousand years until they were discovered in 1974 by villagers digging a well. Archaeologists are still excavating the site today. Some of them believe that more warriors and other treasures planted by Qin Shihuang may still lie buried near the famous tomb.


For more than 16 centuries after Qin Shihuang made his pottery army, Xi’an thrived as the starting point of the Silk Road in China. Camel-drawn caravans loaded with fine silk left Xi’an and oasis-hopped across the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts before passing out of China, through Central Asia and on to places as far away as India, Egypt and Greece. Returning caravans brought brand new products, like ivory, gems, glass and precious metals; and brand new religions, like Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity, to China. In the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A.D.), thanks to Silk Road trade, Xi’an became one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the world.


The terracotta warriors were all men; but one of China’s most famous warriors was a woman, Hua Mulan (Mulan for short). In fact, Mulan was so famous that, in time, her name became the nickname for all women soldiers in China. Maybe you know the Walt Disney version of Mulan’s story. Here’s the Chinese version:

During the Nanbei Dynasty (420-589 AD), China was divided into different kingdoms and there were many wars among them. Almost all men were drafted to fight in the wars. One day, a draft order arrived at Hua Mulan’s home, demanding her father leave immediately for war. Mulan’s father had been a general but now he was more than 60 years old and was troubled with sickness. Mulan loved her father very much and was very upset with the order.

In order to save her father, Mulan came up with a very brave idea. She dressed herself up as a man and went to war in his place. She pretended to be her father’s son and took the position as a general. She fought bravely and cleverly, and eventually led her soldiers to victory. When the emperor asked Mulan what she wanted as a reward, she said that she only wanted to go back home to be with her parents. When she got home, she changed out of her armor and back into her own clothing. Her soldier friends were shocked to see her. For twelve years they had no idea she was a woman!


There is also a Chinese legend that says Mulan used to be a goddess in the heavenly court. Because she made a mistake, she was given the punishment of living and fighting in the earthly world to redeem her sin. Since she was actually a goddess, according to the legend, she had extraordinary skills and made an outstanding general.

Mulan’s story was written down in a long poem called Mulan Ci, and passed on from generation to generation. Nowadays, Chinese students study this poem when they are in grade six or seven and they have to recite the whole piece by the end of the school year.


Here are two more guess-who animal poems, each with seven syllables per line. Guess who!

Animal #1

Preoccupied with dinner
Hurrying and scurrying
Pouches bursting at the seams
You too are on the menu

Animal #2

A herd of milking mammals
Grazes grass under the swell
Gives people leather and meat
Has flippers in place of feet

The answers to the poems in the last report are the Asian elephant and the bear (moon bears, sun bears, black bears and polar bears all live in Asia). We saw some captive sun bears at the Great Wall.


Here are more answers to your questions. These questions were answered by second and third grade students at Shanghai Shangyin WYSE Elementary School.

1. Do you learn other languages? If so, which ones? Yes, we learn English at school as one of the major subjects.

2. How many Chinese characters are there? Can one character stand for
more than one word? How long does it take to learn all of them? We think there are countless characters. One character can stand for more than one word. That’s part of what we have to study in our Chinese lessons. We have to remember the different meanings and usage of characters. It takes about two years for us to learn 3,000 – 4,000 of them. When we get older we will start to learn ancient Chinese literature which is very different from the modern Chinese. Same characters can mean different things across history so there’s always more to learn about the Chinese language.

3. What sports do you play? We play soccer, basketball and badminton. We like to swim and some of us take swimming lessons. We also like to ride our kick-board, which is like a skateboard but with a handle.

4. What do you do after school on a typical day? After we finish our homework, we watch cartoon TV shows, play computer games and practice musical instruments. (Note by Lilia: This is a private art school. Art and music play an important role in the curriculum so the students have to practice what they learn at home.)

5. How do you celebrate your birthday? We have big birthday parties. We invite our friends, and they bring gifts for us. We also sing the birthday song and eat birthday cakes. By the way, this is how you sing Happy Birthday in Chinese (the melody is the same as in English):

Zhu ni shengri kuai le
Zhu ni shengri kuai le
Zhu ni shengri kuai-le-uh
Zhe ni shengri kuai le!

6. What chores do you do at home? A lot of us have maids at home so we don’t have to work too much at home. But we make our beds and clean our own rooms.

7. Do you have any pets? Yes and No. About 35% of the students in our class have pets like dogs, cats, gold fish and birds at home. We like pets but our parents might not let us keep them.

8. Do you ever listen to American music? If so, which artists? We don’t know. We listen to some English music but we can’t tell which countries they are from.

9. Do your parents have jobs outside the home? If so, what are they? A lot of our parents are business people, bankers, office workers, musicians and engineers.

10. What food does Chinese children like the best? We love ice-cream. Our favorite places to eat are McDonald’s and KFC.

11. How long is the school day and school year? We have classes from 7:45am to 4pm. One school year is divided into two semesters. The first one goes from September to January or February, and then we have our winter break. The second semester starts after the Chinese New Year and finishes in June. Our summer break is two months, July and August.

12. What are the sizes of classes in elementary schools in China? Our school has smaller classes because it’s not a public school. There are only about 19 students in our class.

13. What forms of transportation do the children use to get to school? Some of us take school buses. Some walk to the school because they live close by. Some others have their parents take them to the school in their family cars.

14. Do Chinese children read books by American authors? We know some American novels like Tom Sawyer, but we haven’t read the whole book. We don’t really know when we read a book where the author is from because we read everything in Chinese.

15. How much homework is given to elementary children? Not too much for us. We spend about half an hour only everyday on our homework. That’s not counting the time we spend on practicing musical instruments.

16. What kinds of music do the children enjoy? We like soft and happy music. We listen to children music and Chinese pop music.

17. Do the children have physical education classes? Yes, we do. We have a huge sports area where we can play soccer and basketball. The school is still building an indoor gym, so when it rains, we can only play chess games in our classrooms.


That’s all for this travel log. In our next report, we’ll visit another city on the Silk Road called Dunhuang, an oasis town in the Gobi Desert famous for its sand dunes and Buddhist cave art. Till then, learn lots! Zai jian!

Paul and Lilia
China Project Coordinators


In our last report, we mentioned Chinese chess. For more information about Chinese chess and other games children play in China, visit the Tour of Shangyin Elementary School here. You’ll need to use your username and password to access the pages.

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E-Travel Log #4: Xi'an - Terracotta Warriors


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