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Michelle Obama visits China’s Terra-Cotta Army, jump-ropes with young women

Michelle Obama dropped into this ancient city Monday for a five-hour sightseeing tour, giving her and her family a view of China’s long history — plus a little jump-roping on the side.

Xi’an is the terminus of the legendary Silk Road, a series of trade routes that linked the East and the West for centuries, and is also home to the Terra-Cotta Army. The life-size clay sculptures were discovered in the spring of 1974 in the eastern suburbs of the city by farmers digging a well near the grave of China’s first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.

Led through the archeological site by museum director Cao Wei, Obama journeyed down into several pits, the largest of which contains 6,000 warriors arranged along brick-paved corridors in battle formation.

Cao led Obama, her daughters and her mother onto a restoration platform in the first pit, where archeologists piece together fragments of the sculptures like jigsaw puzzles. The first lady and her family lingered in the pit, asking questions and listening as Cao explained through an interpreter that the soldiers have varying poses and facial expressions.

The dusty orange figures — ranging from 6 feet to 6-feet-5-inches tall — were about Obama’s height. Few of the site’s 5 million annual visitors get to look into their steely faces, as the first lady did.

First lady Michelle Obama with daughters Sasha and Malia visited the Terracotta Warriors in China's Shaanxi province Monday and joined in folk dances at a welcome ceremony. (Reuters)

Obama and her family also visited the 600-year-old Xi’an city wall, an imposing rectangular structure that spans nine miles and reaches 40 feet high — the oldest and most well-preserved defensive city wall in the country.

A ceremony at the wall included men dressed in the sculptural military uniforms of Tang Dynasty warriors and folk dancers in colorful costumes. A group of children from a local high school greeted the first lady. She smiled and the family clapped as they performed tricks, including shuttlecock kicking. Obama took a turn, winning applause.

But the real question was, would she be able to resist joining a group of teens who were doing double Dutch?

The sun was shining, and a light breeze filled the air. A young woman invited Obama to jump-rope, and she said yes. Changing from her kitten heels into flats, she skipped a green rope for several beats.

When the young women, from a high school affiliated with Northwest Polytechnic University, asked Obama to join in double Dutch — when two ropes are simultaneously turned in opposite directions — she demurred.

“I’ve already done my jumping, and I’m not going to break a leg,” she said.

Xi’an is in the home province of Xi Jinping, China’s president. Xi’s father was instrumental in the restoration and preservation of the city wall.

On Sunday, Obama walked along a section of the Great Wall of China outside Beijing. In a video posted on the White House Web site, she called it “one of the great wonders on the planet.”

Starting Tuesday, Obama will spend her last two days in China in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, where she will meet with high school students and, along with her mother and daughters, visit a research base that is home to giant pandas.

Her final stop before returning to Washington will be lunch at a Tibetan restaurant in Chengdu. The Tibetan community complains of authoritarian crackdowns on political leaders and widespread discriminatory practices by the Chinese government.

The subject of Tibet is politically sensitive, and a senior White House official traveling with the first lady said Obama wanted to meet with the Tibetans because they are an important minority group.

Krissah Thompson began writing for The Washington Post in 2001. She has been a business reporter, covered presidential campaigns and written about civil rights and race. More recently, she has covered the first lady's office, politics and culture.

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