Friday, October 7, 2011

The Terra Cotta Warriors

If you’ve ever been in the company of friends who’ve been to China, you’ve heard them launch into the requisite, world-weary confirmation that they have indeed seen the Terra Cotta Warriors. The establishment of this fact has the quality of a salutation. It’s like the meaningless “How was your trip?” converted into Renminbis. Of course there is also the Great Wall. How could one go to China without “doing the Wall?” doing being the gerund that is generally used by affluent couples who joylessly check off the must-see sites in their progress from middle to late-middle age. Imagine going to China and not seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors. What would happen? Would one have to make an appearance before the International Criminal Court of Tourism, where travelers who have gone to Rome without journeying to either the Caracalla Baths or the Vatican are put on trial, along with those refuseniks who, when visiting London, play hooky on seeing the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. Many nice, intelligent people go to these sites. Many of them have advanced degrees from prestigious institutions, so it is hard to fathom what is going on. Did André Malraux visit the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors or the Forbidden City when he was collecting the impressions he reflected on in Man’s Fate? OK, yes, the Forbidden City was probably not as overrun by tourists as it is today, and the Terra Cotta Warrior had yet to be unearthed, but you get the idea. Great fiction writers like Malraux, Graham Greene and V.S. Naipaul who travel and write about their travels more often than not tend to prefer red light districts to tourist sites, for what it’s worth.

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