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SHANXI PROVINCE

XIAN, TERRACOTTA ARMY, BAN PO CUN, FRAGRANT SPRINGS

Following summer school at Renmin University in Beijing, a group of twelve students participated in a tour of China organised by Renmin University and the Department of Education. It was the first such tour, and Renmin University did not have the experience the the commercial tour operators had built up. However the Renmin University tour was considerably cheaper than a commercial tour, and in all respects Renmin University did a magnificent job. We saw a side of China that is invisble to tourists

The planned itinerary was Xian, Chengdu, and Chongqing by rail, then by boat down the Yangtze through the Yangtze Gorges to Wuhan, then by rail to Guangzhou, and finally Hong Hong where we would depart for Europe. Unfortunately after we had left Xian for Chengdu, heavy storms washed away the railway tracks to Chegdu and we had to return to Xian. Although the tracks were soon repaired, it was impossible to make up the lost time in order to catch the Yangtze river boat, and we had to go direct to Wuhan and forego the Yangtze Gorges trip.

Travel was by 'hard class' - six persons in an open sleeping compartment. Quite an adventure at first, although as we spent most nights on trains it began to pall. However it could have been worse - there was a cheaper class where there were no beds, just small hard seats on which it was impossible to sleep. It reminded me of the packed trains that were the norm in the UK in the 1950s - I could remember countless all-night journeys in old GWR steam trains, sitting on my suitcase in the corridor. From that perspective, Chinese hard class was definitely an improvement.

Xian is a provincial town, with only a few noteworthy old buildings, the main attraction being the vast number of historic sites in the vicinity. We did the usual tourist run - Qin Shi Huang Di's tomb, the Terracotta Army, and Ban Po neolithic village - however as this was a quasi-official tour we took in Fragrant Springs Park where the historic "Xian Incident" was explained to us (see image). The cave in which the Guomindang (KMT - Kuomintang) warlord Chang Kai Shek hid before he was captured by the northern warlords has become a monument - Chang Kai Shek is not much loved in mainland China.