The high point of my travels in the past year was my first visit to Xi’an to see the famous terracotta army. I’d expected to be somewhere between impressed and overwhelmed. My response was roughly half-way in between. I was in a bit of a daze, trying to focus on the individual members of the army, while being distracted by the ranks upon ranks of warriors. Were they all different? Perhaps. There were several different facial types, but very small changes are often sufficient to make faces look different. I looked closely at some sections and came to the conclusion that it is possible that several figures could be based on the same model. You can see an example in the group whose photograph is above.
The terracotta army was breath-taking, but it was not the epiphany.
The epiphany came as I walked around the huge pit and came to the portion where the restoration is going on. Suddenly I realized that the figures were not dug out of the ground whole. They were a jumble, and many were shattered into pieces. It is the painstaking work of an army of modern archaeologists which is piecing them together. In the photo above you can see one of these warriors being reconstructed. Until then my lazy impression was that India has its Taj Mahal, China its terracotta army. I understood that the differences are enormous: the Taj Mahal and the Forbidden Palace are complete artefacts which only need care. The terracotta army needs to be reconstructed. In that moment of epiphany I realized the truth: China has created technical expertise to actively restore its past glory.