Banpo Village and the Terracotta Army: the fallen matriarchy and the fallen soldiers

Whenever I visit a place like the Terracotta Army Museum, I realise that humans are absolutely crazy. All this fuss over death – or perhaps not wanting to die? And it doesn’t just begin and end with China. My visits to the Pyramids of Giza and the Taj Mahal were equally astounding.

When we have to go, we have to go – right? But I guess there’s no harm in bringing an entire army down with you. 

Banpo Village

For today, I decided to join a tour. The Terracotta Army Museum is about an hour away from the old city and I couldn’t be bothered to waste time with navigation and bumbling around like an idiot. Cost-wise, it also isn’t worth doing everything on your own on public transport. Plus it’s nice having a tour guide take the time to explain everything to us. 

And the first stop on our tour was the Banpo Village. Like quite a few tourist attractions in China, it was discovered accidentally when someone was trying to build a factory on the site.

“Nowadays,” my tour guide says, “it is a man’s world here in China. But 6000 years ago, it was a woman’s world. Man and woman don’t need to get married. Man can just visit the woman’s house at night. When you have a baby, it doesn’t matter who the father is. 

“But as the population grew, we needed more men to till the land to provide food. That’s how it changed from a woman’s world to a man’s world.”


Most countries around the world are so unapologetically patriarchal that it’s hard to imagine that matriarchal societies even existed. BUT – I’ve heard the story my tour guide recounted several times in several different countries. From Japan to India to Peru to Canada. It was indeed a woman’s world before it became a man’s world. 

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia:

“The Yangshao Culture was matrilineal, meaning that women were in charge and one’s ancestry was traced through the mother’s line, not the father’s. Although western scholars have disputed this claim as some “Marxist invention,” the physical evidence from Banpo speaks for itself: every female’s grave that has been opened has more grave goods than the males; and no grave of the 250 discovered and excavated show any indication of a male chieftain but plenty of evidence for female leaders (based on the number of grave goods and the type). This points toward a matrilineal society in the strictest sense of women being in power and men subordinate.”

I’m not sure that I care for a matriarchal society anymore than I can for a patriarchal society. Power is power. In the wrong hands, it is abused and grows corrupt.

End of story. 

The Terracotta Army Museum

Like the Banpo Village, the Terracotta Army was accidentally discovered when farmers were digging to find a well. You know that saying – that the treasures are in your backyard. Well, in this case, the saying proved to be really quite literal. There’s a bookstore near the museum where one of the gentlemen who found the army is selling autographed books. The books are a cool 200 yuan (US$30). 


And there it is. Another childhood dreamed fulfilled. I can tick the checkbox and say I’ve done it. Seen those clay warriors up close and personal. 

Firstly, the soldiers are super tall and super big. I’ve never seen real men look that tall and that big. Even their hands were huge – the size of half a watermelon just ready to land on your face. And no – people weren’t actually this big back in the day. Each solider’s face was also surprisingly lifelike. When I stared into one, there was a certain feeling that the soldiers themselves are an over-exaggerated replica of people that once lived. 

I couldn’t help but think that we humans have been faking our features and making ourselves look bigger/smaller well before the days of Instagram. Told you we humans are bloody crazy. 

You can buy a terracotta warrior for your home if you like. This one is an archer. 

The site itself is incredibly impressive – but the past is still in the process of being discovered and excavated. Many of these soldiers are like humpty dumpty and need to be put back together again. There’s a ‘soldier hospital’ at the back lefthand side of the pit where the some of the fallen soldiers are being restored. 

The museum is divided into three pits. The first pit is the biggest and most impressive. You can tell the rank of the soldiers by the way they’re dressed and the way their hair is done up. One knot or two knots. Armour or no armour. How big their belly is and so on and so forth. 

All in all, it was a greaaaat day. It was super cold (-6 degrees celsius!) and there was a lot of walking to do. The air quality is pretty poor as well so I can’t say I enjoyed being outside for that many hours. I can feel the irritation in my throat and in my lungs. Also I woke up this morning with my left knee in agony. I hope it heals soon so that I can enjoy my very last day in Xi’an. 

Till next time – enjoy history!


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