US first lady Michelle Obama, along with her daughters and mother, came face-to-face with the Terracotta Warriors yesterday as part of a week-long tour of the mainland that has taken in several tourist sites while largely avoiding politics.
The family stepped into one of the vast pits at the burial site outside Xian, in Shaanxi province, to view the ancient statues. The site houses about 8,000 life-size warriors left by China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who reigned in the third century BC. The statues are a hugely popular tourist draw, attracting five million visitors last year.
Since arriving in Beijing on Thursday night for a visit focusing on "soft" issues, Obama has toured the Forbidden City, a former imperial palace, with her counterpart Peng Liyuan and also promoted education and overseas study.
She touched briefly on politics during a speech on Saturday at Peking University's Stanford Centre that was otherwise devoted to encouraging American students to study in China.
"When it comes to expressing yourself freely and worshipping as you choose and having open access to information, we believe those are universal rights that are the birthright of every person on this planet," she said.
"We believe that all people deserve the opportunity to fulfil their highest potential, as I was able to do in the United States."
As her motorcade arrived at the US embassy in Beijing on Sunday for a roundtable with educators and families, two people outside began shouting.
Police and men in grey sweatshirts hurried to subdue them. It was unclear why they were yelling.
Later that day Obama strolled along the Great Wall north of the capital. Vendors at the tourist site appeared to have removed T-shirts that are typically on sale showing President Obama in a Mao hat, with one merchant revealing a boxful of the stashed souvenirs stored in the back of her tent.