This wide-ranging documentary — from the classic three-part “Cities in China Series” — presents a cultural history of the ancient Chinese imperial city, once the greatest capital in the world and the Eastern terminus of the famed Silk Road.
Just outside the city lies one of the world’s most spectacular archaeological sites, the burial tomb of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang Di, who unified the country and connected the Great Wall. The highlight of the film is its extensive and unique footage of his immense underground army vault, which is larger than a football field, and filled with a life-sized pottery army numbering some 6,000 startlingly lifelike warriors, plus horses, chariots, and weapons.
Traveling to nearby areas, the film shows many smaller but also impressive sights. A demonstration of calligraphic stone-rubbing illustrates how picture, style, idea, and moral character come together in Chinese writing. Among several other important archaeological sites visited are the majestic tumulus of the Empress Wu, who boldly left her memorial slab blank so it could be filled in by future generations, and the tomb of her granddaughter, the Princess Yung-tai, with its beautiful murals and exquisite glazed figurines in wall niches.
Interspersed with these memories of the past are contemporary scenes of the region’s ever-pervasive yellow earth and the enduring, perennial life that it sustains.