Ancient city Xi'an witnesses a key moment in China-US relations

Terra Cotta Warriors Photo: Ding Yi/

It has taken me a while to complete this post about Mrs. Michelle Obama's visit to Xi'an, but here it is finally.

After a long train trip that lasted for nearly 12 hours, I arrived in Xi'an in the early morning of March 24 where US First Lady Michelle Obama was scheduled to visit the Terra Cotta Warriors and the Xi'an City Wall.

Tired and hungry, I teetered out of the Xi'an Railway Station in search of a hotel for a rest, but suddenly my feet came to a standstill when I saw the magnificence of the city wall standing opposite the railway station. A local taxi driver told me it was "just a small part of the southern section" of the ancient City Wall in Xi'an, which served as the capital of 13 dynasties in ancient China and the starting point of the ancient Silk Road.

I reached the Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors an hour earlier than the opening time, waiting for my target, Mrs. Obama, with no knowledge about when she would come.

Knowing my identity as a journalist, a ticket seller told me, "Michelle Obama's visit is just a common thing for our museum as it has hosted countless foreign heavyweights and heads of state over the past three decades. The museum will not stop selling tickets to ordinary visitors today."

Although the museum operated as normal, the security check was much more tight in preparation for the visit by the US First Lady with every visitor ordered to accept pat-down and bag check.

Mrs. Michelle Obama's bodyguards Photo: Ding Yi/

About three hours after I entered the museum, nearly 100 Chinese policemen were deployed in every corner outside the exhibition halls and in three different pits, with a team of beefy men wearing black suit and earphone, supposedly being Mrs. Obama's bodyguards, entering the Pit One.

At around 1:00 pm, the policemen started site-clearing and segregated all the visitors from the main road leading to the Pit One, which I thought was the first exhibition hall Mrs. Obama would visit. All the visitors including me were dissipated to a low-lying area on the left side of the Pit One that made it difficult to see how Mrs. Obama walked into the exhibition hall. I supposed that she might have entered the exhibition hall through a side door.

A visitor complained, "In the United States, our president Xi Jinping will not receive such a 'ceremonious' reception, as the country respects people's rights."

I missed another golden opportunity of getting a glimpse of the US First Lady, who later wrote in her blog on the White House website, "I actually had a chance to stand face-to-face with some of the (terra cotta) warriors, and I saw that each one is incredibly unique, complete with its own lifelike facial expressions. Some have beards and mustaches, and others have weapons like swords or spears."

A fleet of luxury cars, with one carrying Mrs. Michelle Obama, arrive at the Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors on March 24. Photo: Ding Yi/

At around 3:00 pm, a fleet of luxury cars, with one carrying Mrs. Obama, left the museum, which marked the end of my task in Xi'an.

Mrs. Obama is the third US First Lady to visit the Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors, following Mrs. Nancy Reagan and Mrs. Hilary Clinton.

In 1984, then US President Ronald Reagan visited the Museum of Terra Cotta Warriors and his touching the crupper of a terra cotta horse was reported by US media as apple-polishing China. (Flap the crupper of a horse means flattering somebody in Chinese literally)

Mr. Reagan was the first US president to visit the museum.

Fourteen years later, then US President Bill Clinton, who advocated establishing a strategic partnership between the United States and China, paid a visit to the museum and restored a terra cotta warrior by connecting a head with a body. Mr. Clinton said that he wanted to be the head of the museum in a bid to express his fondness for the terra cotta warriors.

Xi'an City Wall Photo: Ding Yi/

After seeing the Terra Cotta Warriors, Mrs. Obama returned to the city to view the Xi'an City Wall, which was completed in the 14th century.

As she walked along the City Wall, she interacted with the local residents and artists, enjoyed a performance by drummers and folk dancers and joined a group of students from a local school in a double dutch jump rope demonstration.

"Here at Xi'an, you can't miss how both sides of China – the ancient and the modern – are intertwined in a city that is as much a part of China's past as it is its future," Mrs. Obama wrote in her blog.

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