Many people in the West have never heard of Xi’an, but few are unaware of China’s Army of Terracotta Warriors. Otherwise known as "Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor", it is one of the most monumental archaeological finds in world history, these thousands of hand-crafted warriors guarded Qin Shihuang in his subterranean mausoleum for 2,000 years until farmers stumbled upon them in 1974 while digging a well. Whether China’s first unifier (Qin) was preparing to invade heaven and hell or just needed 10,000 people to boss around in the afterlife, we’ll never know. But what he left for the world to find (or more likely, never find) in the countryside of Xi’an has mushroomed the city’s already formidable appeal.
There are three pits where the soldiers have been unearthed: Pit 1 is the largest and has over 2,000 rank-and-file soldiers on display, and it’s believed to contain over 6,000 in total. Get a look at the front line of archers and crossbowmen and note how many warriors are weaponless. They originally brandished swords, axes, spears and other pole-arms, but those have unfortunately been lost to time. Sadly, the 35 wooden chariots in this pit have long been disintegrated. Pit 2 has around 1,300 mid-ranking soldiers, and you can get up close and personal with five of them, including a couple of archers, a few officers, and a cavalryman. Prepare to be awed by the intricate detail that goes right down to the tread on their boots. Pit 3 is the smallest and is the officers’ quarters. There are 72 soldiers here, most of them high-ranking officials. Remember that every single soldier at Bingmayong is unique, from his facial expression and hair right down to his armor and footprint.
Many people like to start with Pit 3 first and work up to the largest – Pit 1 (which is basically housed in an airplane hangar) – saving the biggest for last. We won’t tell you one route is better than the other because it depends what you want to see first. You can cruise between them as many times as you want anyway, so don’t sweat the decision. There are audio guides for ¥40 and a ¥200 deposit, but some feel it’s a waste of money, though they are cheaper than the personal guides that will harass you out front (they generally run ¥100-150; be ready to haggle). There is English captioning inside.
Don’t forget to check out the museum to the right of the main entrance. It features two excellent bronze chariots that were unearthed near the tomb of Qin Shihuang.