The Seven Wonders of China: Part 1/5

February 11, 2013

1. Xian, the first emperor and the Terra Cotta Warriors

From this Discovery Channel program on the Seven Wonders of China, we learn that there are 55 ethnic groups and 235 living languages. The first of the seven wonders is near Xian, which was the capital of thirteen of China’s Dynasties.

In 1974, Chinese farmers digging a well near Xian discovered the first of the terra cotta warriors guarding China’s first emperor, Shi Huangdi, of the Qin Dynasty (221 – 207 BC).

The terra cotta warriors are one of China’s most popular tourist attractions. About 10 million tourists visit annually.  No two terra cotta soldiers look alike.

The first emperor centralized the government, standardized the written language, currency, and weights and measures. With these changes, he created China’s national identity. Forcing hundreds of thousands of workers, he also had The Great Wall completed.

Most Chinese believe in the immortality of the spirit and life after death.

It is tradition that the Chinese believe there is continuity between life and death, and people may take things with them for comfort in the spiritual world, which explains why the first emperor had such an elaborate tomb built.

Continued on February 12, 2013 in The Seven Wonders of China: Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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China’s Ancient Chimes

July 17, 2012

In 1977, a discovery was made in China—a complete set of chime bells were unearthed from the tomb of Marquis Yi, who lived during the Warring States Period (475 to 221 BC). These chimes were older than the Qin Dynasty’s famous Terra Cotta warriors (221 to 206 B.C.) were.

When the chimes were discovered in Hubei Province (located in Central China), a plot of land was being leveled to build a factory.  The Red Army officer in charge of the work had an interest in archeology.

The officer discovered that the workers were selling the ancient bronze and iron artifacts they were digging up. He convinced local authorities there might be an ancient tomb buried below the site.

When the tomb was unearthed, a set of chime bells was found.  These musical instruments were an important part of ritual and court music going back to ancient times. An American professor in New York City even called these chimes the eighth wonder of the ancient world.

The sixty-five chime bells weighed about 5 tons.

No other set of chimes like this had been discovered in China before and this set was in excellent condition.

A project was launched in 1979 to duplicate four sets of these chimes. More than a 100 scientists and technicians were recruited.  In 1998, twenty years after the discovery, the project was completed. One of the sets was sent to Taiwan as a gift.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This post originally appeared September 2010


Visiting Xian – a city with more than 3,100 years of history

April 17, 2012

We are taking a quick trip to Xian (in pictures that is). Xian was China’s ancient capital for more than a thousand years before being moved to Beijing.

After landing in Xian in 2008, (our third visit to the city since 1999) we found a great driver. He was honest and knowledgeable. Here’s the cell phone number he had at the time (136-0916-251). If you visit Xian, I recommend you book him for the entire stay. He also introduced us to some experiences we’d never had on previous trips.

The Famous Terra Cotta warriors were created to guard China’s first emperor Qin Shi Huangdi (221-204 B.C.). Qin Shi Huangdi made Xian China’s first capital until Kublai Khan moved the capital to Beijing where he ruled his Khanbalik Empire, from 1264 to 1267.

Xian was known as Chang’an before the Ming Dynasty and is one of the four great ancient capitals of China having held that distinction under several of the most important dynasties in China’s history. In fact, Xian was a cultural center more than a thousand years before Jesus Christ was born.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Note: This revised post first appeared February 19, 2010


Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 5/5

October 25, 2011

During the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1643 AD), China mostly isolated itself from the world by rebuilding the Great Wall and a string of impregnable fortresses to protect China’s heartland from Mongol invasion.

One of those fortresses was a new military city built on the ruins of Tang Chang’ an, and the Ming named this city “Western Peace”—which in Chinese/Mandarin is “Xi’an”.

Xi’an was one-sixth the size of Tang Chang’ an, but nearly six hundred years later, its walls are still standing.

Charles Higham says these walls are the most extraordinary, largest, best-preserved set of defensive walls in the world.

The last segment of Neville Gishford‘s Discovery Channel documentary, China’s Most Honourable City, introduces Zheng Canyang, the engineer responsible for preserving Xi’an’s walls, and Zheng explains how the walls would have been defended.

History records that when the walls of this third city faced its first attack, they stood firm, but the attack did not come during the Ming or Qing Dynasties. It came five hundred years later from April to November 1926.

As China bled from the Civil War between warlords, the CCP and the KMT, a powerful Chinese general by the name of Liu Zhenhua attacked Xi’an with a large army and modern artillery.

However, the 20th century artillery rounds only dented the walls, and after months, Xi’an’s walls still stood and Liu Zhenhua’s army retreated.

The siege was part of an anti-Guominjun campaign lasting from late 1925 to early 1927, which raged across North China and had nothing to do with the civil war between CCP and KMT, explaining why this military campaign received no coverage in the popular media or academic circles. Source: A Study of the Siege of Xi’an and its Historical Significance by Kingsley Tsang

The newest enemy to Xi’an’s ancient walls comes from modernization and the millions of inhabitants of the city. As the water table below the city is sucked dry from so many people, this has caused the earth to sink, which is pulling down the walls, and engineers and scientists work to discover ways to save them.

This link to Xi’an will take you to the photo page on my Website of our trip there in 2008.

Return to Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 4 or start with Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 2/5

October 22, 2011

In Part One, I mentioned the subway system that was under construction in modern Xi’an.  That was in September 2008.

For an update, Travel China Guide.com says, “The Xi’an subway system is scheduled to have 6 lines, with a total length of 251.8 kilometers… While the first phase of subway Line 2 has been in use since Sep 16, 2011, the other five lines are designed to be finished in 2018 in sequence.”

When the second phase is completed, the full length of Line 2 will be 26.64 kilometers (about 16.5 miles).

The population of Xi’an has also increased since Neville Gishford hosted the documentary for China’s Most Honourable City. Today, there are more than 8 million people living there.

This segment of Gishford’s documentary starts with Archaeologist Charles Higham, a world famous authority on ancient Asian cities.

Higham says, “A delegation of jugglers from Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD, who is regarded as one of the greatest emperors in Roman history) traveled and performed in the Han Court of Chang’ an.”

More than two thousand years ago, the walls of Chang’ an (Xi’an) were made of rammed (compressed) earth and much of the city from kiln fired clay bricks, which was a revolutionary building material at the time that changed the history of architecture.

The builders of Han Chang’ an (Xi’an) used this new technology in revolutionary ways such as building an underground sewer system connected to the moat that surrounded the city.

Continued on October 19, 2011, in Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 3 or return to Part 1

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.


Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 1/5

October 21, 2011

Most people outside China only know of Beijing (once known as Peking) as the capital of China. However, another city was China’s capital for more than a thousand years.

In fact, Chang’ an (Xi’an) served as the capital for twelve dynasties, including the Western Zhou, Qin, Western Han, Sui and Tang dynasties, spanning more than eleven hundred years. It was also the cultural center of the Silk Road.

In 2008, the last time we visited Xi’an, subway construction was running behind schedule due to a law that does not allow the destruction of historical sites such as the tombs of emperors.  There are so many of these tombs below ground that the subway tunnels must be diverted to avoid them resulting in delays.

With such a long history, the Discovery Channel produced a documentary of Xi’an (Chang’ an) called China’s Most Honourable City.

To learn about Xi’an’s long history also teaches us much about China’s civilization. Discovery Channel’s Neville Gishford will take us on this historical journey leading to the present.

Gishford says, “It (Han Chang’ an) was more powerful than Rome. If any Roman army had actually gone there, they would have been absolutely annihilated.”

Han Chang’ an (Xi’an) was larger than Constantinople and richer than Egypt’s Alexandria.  It was a fortress so powerful that even 20th century artillery could not knock its walls down.

Today, Xi’an is home to millions of people and thousands of men made of clay, the Terra Cotta Warriors guarding China’s first emperor.

In addition, the massive city wall is more than six hundred years old and longer than 12 kilometers. Cracks are appearing and an engineering team keeps close watch and makes repairs

However, the Xi’an of today was first build over two thousand years ago and has been three cities—not one.  The Han Dynasty built the first city (Chang’ an), which is close to the modern city of Xi’an and the old eroding walls are still visible.

At 36 square kilometers, Han Chang’ an was more than one and a half times the size of Rome.

Continued on October 18, 2011, in Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

To subscribe to “iLook China”, sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.


Qin Shi Huangdi – The Man who unified China – (Viewed as Single Page)

June 14, 2011

Professor Jeffrey Riegel, of the University of California, Berkeley traveled to China to unlock the truth behind one of the earth’s greatest legends, a man larger than life, the first emperor of China, Shi Huangdi (259-210 BC). This post comes from the documentary film of China’s first emperor.

The first time we visited his tomb was December 1999.

Shi Huangdi was barely thirteen when his father died (246 BC) after being king of Qin for three years. The legends say Shi Huangdi was a tyrant driven mad by power.

He had a tomb built the likes of which humanity has never seen. When the first emperor died, he was the most powerful man on earth. He created an empire that outlasted Rome by a thousand years, he ruled ten times the population of ancient Egypt, and today’s China owes its existence to this man.

Months after becoming king at thirteen, Shi Huangdi overcomes his mother’s desire to rule in his name and took his nation to war. He was the youngest king to wage war and soon proved he was also the greatest warrior.

He soon becomes known as the Tiger of Qin.

Shi Huangdi wages war against his enemies for ten years. At the time, there were seven countries in China besides Qin. The seven countries in what we know as China today were Zhao, Yen, Wei, Han, Chi, Chu and Qin.

During the war to conquer Zhao, Shi Huangdi’s army took ten thousand prisoners. The rules of war say these prisoners must be fed and sheltered. However, Shi Huangdi changed the rules.

He shows his troops what to do by beheading an enemy troop and calls on his army to do the same.

He says, “There is only one way to treat weakness and that is to exploit it. There is only one way for Qin to survive, and that is to conquer.”

All 10,000 Zhao prisoners were beheaded.

By the time Qin Shi Huangdi turns  twenty, he had captured thirteen cities from the state of Han and twenty from the other states. Huangdi’s rival countries send a combined army to stop him but they are repelled.

Some of Huangdi’s success is because of the precision weapons Qin craftsmen make for his loyal, highly trained army. Discover more of China’s Warrior King

However, while the king of Qin is conquering China, there is an enemy scheming to replace him.

His mother, the dowager queen, has taken a lover, who masquerades as a eunuch. The queen has had two illegitimate sons with this lover, who steals two royal seals that gives him authority to mobilize troops in an attempt to replace Shi Huandgi with one of the king’s half brothers.

Qin’s prime minister discovers the plot and a trap is set to destroy the rebel army. The dowager queen’s lover is captured, tortured and his mangled body pulled apart by four horses while the queen mother is forced to watch.

While the death sentence is being carried out, Huandgi has his two half brothers strangled to remove this threat to his throne.

With this challenge to the throne removed, Shi Huangdi has learned a lesson. He is ruthless and rids himself of his mother and his prime minister.

There is a dramatic scene where the prime minister asks for forgiveness for letting the queen mother do what she did.

The prime minister is exiled and not allowed to see the queen mother again. Within a year, the disgraced prime minister kills himself.

A scholar, who believes in harsh laws, becomes Huangdi’s closest advisor.

By 227 BC, the Qin state has conquered the states of Han, Wei and Zhao.

The state of Yen knows it is next and sends professional assassins disguised as peace emissaries to kill Shi Huangdi. The emissaries arrive in Xian with gifts and an assassin strikes.

Since no weapons are allowed in the throne room, there are no armed guards to protect the king. Only the king has a weapon and only the king can call the troops to save him.

By 223 BC, Shi Huangdi is ready to unify China. Only the states of Chi and Chu are left, but the Chu army destroys his first invasion force.

Shi Huangdi raises another army and invades again. A million troops face each other and it becomes a standoff. To win, Shi Huangdi tricks the Chu generals to make a mistake, and the last great obstacle to the unification of China falls.

Chi is the last country that has not been defeated. To avoid the slaughter, Chi joins Shi Huangdi without a fight.

Qin is now China.

At the age of 34, Qin Shi Huangdi was crowned with a veil of stars as the first god emperor of the Qin people and China.

The system of governance put into place will long outlast the emperor.

Qin Shi Huangdi commissions a Terra Cotta army that will guard him in death, and the troops are larger than life. In one pit, more than two hundred sets of armor made of stone have been found with no bodies to wear them.

It is believed that the armor may have been made for the spirits of dead soldiers who suffered violent deaths in combat so the dead would not become vengeful spirits.

The totalitarian philosophy in the new Chinese empire was called legalism.

Rules govern every part of every citizen’s daily life with the punishment spelled out. Physical punishment could mean mutilation.

For example, if two are caught having sex, they will be beheaded. Every aspect of private life is part of Qin law.

In 220 BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi goes on an inspection tour of his empire. With the major wars over, millions of troops are put to work finishing the Great Wall of China, which was designed to stop the nomadic tribes to the north from raiding into China, which they have done for centuries.

The Great Wall is the greatest engineering project of the ancient world. It is thirty feet high and more than three thousand miles long. At one point, over a million people worked on the wall and about a quarter died.

The emperor makes more demands. He sends hundreds of thousands to build a tomb that fits his rank as the first divine emperor of China.

The burial mound, larger than the largest pyramid in Egypt, is at the center of an above ground and underground city. His tomb is made of bronze surrounded by
mercury rivers and oceans.

Recently, using ground penetrating radar and other instruments, a three dimensional model is built of this underground complex.

By 215 BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi’s tomb is almost finished. The chamber where his body will rest is the size of a football field and will be hermitically sealed.

Then the tomb will be covered with a million tons of earth creating the hill we see today.

However, the Emperor doesn’t plan to die. Seeking advice from his doctor, he is given mercury capsules. At the time, it was believed that mercury would increase longevity.

Having lots of sex with multiple partners was also considered another way to increase life. The emperor follows the doctor’s advice and sends his doctor on an expedition to find an elixir for immortality.

The emperor isolates himself and delegates the power to rule the empire to those he trusts most. These men suppress free thought.

Entire libraries are burned. Those who try to hide documents are branded on the face and sentenced to a life of force labor — mostly on The Great Wall. Anyone who resists is buried alive.

Professor Jeffrey Riegel, of the University of California, Berkeley, says that Chinese archeologists have no immediate plans to unearth the tomb, because there is no way to safeguard the contents from decay.

Chinese alchemists knew liquid mercury as the only substance that could dissolve gold. To the ancient mind, that meant mercury had power that might prolong life.

However, the human body cannot absorb pure mercury so the Chinese alchemists made a compound the emperor could digest.

As the mercury is absorbed, it slowly destroyed his nervous system and brain.

Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi becomes aggressive, argumentative and paranoid. He goes into hiding. Anyone revealing his location is killed. His kidneys’ are failing and he starts talking to the gods.

Thirty-five years after becoming the king of Qin at thirteen, he goes on another Imperial tour. But this time, he is blind to a nation that is bankrupt and near famine.

All the emperor can think about is living forever.

He’s told that giant fish guards the island of the immortals. The emperor dreams that he is a sea god who will kill the giant fish.

Near the end of 210 BC, he visits the ocean hunting the giant fish with a crossbow while wading in the surf.

His advisors plan what to do with China once the emperor dies. On the return to the capital, the emperor falls ill and the Imperial convoy stops.

In the seventh month of 2010 BC, the first emperor’s search for immortality ends. At the age of fifty, Qin Shi Huangdi is dead.

While China’s first emperor is being buried according to his wishes, a power struggle rages outside the tomb.

By tradition, the oldest son should have become the emperor but several ministers want a younger son on the throne. The others are assassinated and there is a slaughter.

The emperor will also not go alone to the afterlife.

While his chosen successors are being assassinated, hundreds of his favorite concubines will stay with their master and die with him.

The tomb’s designers and builders will be sealed in the tomb too. Everyone who knows the way dies.

Qin Shi Huangdi left a legacy—a unified nation with a single written language and a system of administration that is still in use today.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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