If Beijing is the political heart of China, then Xi’an is its historical center. An ancient philosopher once mused that all those seeking the truth should go to China. A contemporary philosopher added that no visit to China is complete without a journey to Xi’an. This reflects the important position Xi’an holds as a famed historical and cultural city and one of China’s six major ancient capitals.
Indeed, Xi’an has made unparalleled contributions to the history and culture of China. For more than a millennium, it was the stage on which the histories of more than a dozen Chinese dynasties unfolded. Every move and every action originating from Xi’an had a far-reaching influence on the course of China’s social development.
It is where Zhou dynasty aristocrats instituted rites and composed music while offering libations to gods and ancestors and feasting themselves out of bronze utensils. It is where they inscribed their laws in bronzeware and stone tablets, many of which remain to this day. It is where the Qin army eliminated six rival states and initiated the first centralized autocracy in Chinese history. Principles of philosophy and government established by the the Qin would endure for more than a hundred generations.
Xi’an is where Han and Tang monarchs established their capital city of Chang’an. It was the eastern terminus of the celebrated Silk Road and an oriental metropolis thronged with visitors and merchants from every nook and corner of the world.
Today, the rich and deep-rooted historical and cultural heritage of Xi’an is visable through a wealth of cultural relics, museums, and historical sites including the world-famous terracotta army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang. The flat plane on the city’s outskirts is strewn with the tomb mounds of emperors, empresses, aristocrats, ranking officials and scholars. Pick up a fragment of something from the ground, and it may turn out to be part of a Qin dynasty brick, a Han dynasty tile or a porcelain chard from the Tang dynasty.
The English word “China” is actually a transliteration of the Chinese ideogram meaning “Qin”. Those who live in and around Xi’an are direct descendents of the Qin people. Emperors chose Xi’an as their capital partly because of its fertile land and sufficient water supply and partly because it was militarily formidable because of the mountains that skirted it. It is precisely because of its somewhat isolated location that Xi’an was able to preserve so much of its history and culture to this day. The local dialect of Xi’an and the Guanzhong Plain is reflective of the rhythm and timbre of archaic Chinese. Weddings, funerals, celebrations, diet, and social etiquette are all evocative of the social mores and traditions of the dynasties of the Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang.
Today Xi’an and its environs comprise a robust and bustling urban area with over 6,000,000 inhabitants. Xi’an has transformed itself into a modern metropolis with an impressive mix of commerce, trade, tourism, science, technology, manufacturing, and education.
In the Neolithic period, about 6,000 years ago, excavations show a matriarchal clan was formed at Banpo village, now part of Xi’an. Around 1027 b.c. the Zhou dynasty kings established their capital in settlements only a few miles from the present-day city. In 231 BC, Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of unified China, set about enlarging the settlement of Xiangyang, about 15 miles northwest of the city. Xiangyang, established under earlier Qin rulers as the capital, became heavily populated and in 213 BC. Qin Shi Huang decided to move his court to the south bank of the Wei River. A vast palace was begun, however, work not completed by the time of his death. Some years later when the Qin fell to the Han (206 BC), this and most of the other palaces were destroyed. The conqueror, Liu Bang, first emperor of the Han Dynasty, also established his capital only a few miles north of modern Xi’an.
From about 35 AD, the city went into a decline that lasted for five and a half centuries. In 583 AD the Sui emperor, Wen Di, established his capital southeast of Chang’an. The city flourished and under the Tang Dynasty became the most important city in Asia. It had a population of more than a million people living in a vast, well-planned area protected by large walls with ramparts. The area occupied by the old city was greater than that of present-day Xi’an. For over a millennium, from the Second Century BC, China’s silk was transported from Xi’an to central Asia and Europe.
Museums in Xi’an
FOREST OF STELE: The Forest of Stele is located on the site of the Imperial Collage of Learned Confusian Scholars which was established during the Tang Dynasty. It became a Confusian temple in 1090 AD during the Song Dynasty. It now houses the oldest and richest collection of steles in China. A stele is an upright stone or slab with an inscribed surface. The stele are numerous enough to be likened to a forest, hence the name. This museum consists of six large exhibition halls, seven corridors and a stele pavilion. There are more than 1,000 stele of eight dynasties from the Han down to the Qing. They are of great value to historians and for the study of calligraphic development.
MAUSOLEUM OF QIN SHI HUANG AND MUSEUM OF THE QIN TERRACOTTA FIGURES: Qin Shi Huang was the founding emperor of the Qin Dynasty. His tomb is on the south bank of the Wei River about three miles east of the country town of Lintong. This is one of China’s most important historical sites, and has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Begun in 247 B.C., when Qin Shi Huang was enthroned at the age of 13, the mausoleum is in fact a magnificent underground palace. According to records, more than 700,000 people were employed in its construction which took 36 years to complete.
Between 1974 and 1976, three massive vaults were discovered. Vault number one, the largest, contains 6,000 life-size terra-cotta figures of armed warriors and horses. It is 351 yards long from east to west, 68 yards wide from north to south, and 5.47 yards deep, covering an area of 15,601 square yards. The three vaults were determined by archaeologists to be pits for burial objects accompanying the tomb of Qin Shi Huang. In October 1979, an on-site museum was built above vault number one. Since then, two additional structures have been built to cover vaults two and three Ranging from 5 feet 8inches to 6 feet in height, the vivid life-size warrior figures are clad in armor or short gowns belted at the waist, with leggings and tightly-lashed boots. Thier weapons consisted of bows and arrows, swords and spears.
BIG GOOSE PAGODA: Located a couple of miles south of Xi’an, the Big Goose Pagoda, the city’s emblem, was first built in 653 A.D. Xuan Zang, a renowned Buddhist monk who had completed a pilgrimage to India and neighboring countries, proposed that the pagoda be built to store the Buddhist scriptures he had secured during his trip. Xuan Zang was made abbot of the temple where be translated the scriptures into Chinese. From 701 to 704, the five-story pagoda was rebuilt into a seven-story, 331 ft. high structure with stairs winding to the top floor. Built with gray bricks, this pavilion-like pagoda with arched portals on each floor is a masterpiece of Buddhist architecture with a distinct Chinese style.
SMALL GOOSE PAGODA: This temple is near the Big Goose Pagoda, and was built in 707 AD It has 15 stories and is 148 ft. high. It has a fine and delicate style. On the north and south doors are exquisitely-carved ivory designs and Buddhist figures.
BANPO MUSEUM: Banpo village is a neolithic site is a few miles from Xi’an. The Banpo people settled here some 6,000 years ago. They cultivated their land, built houses, and lived as primitive clan. Five excavations since 1954 have uncovered a village of 45 houses, stone-age pottery, tools, and bones. The site covers an area of 60,000 – square yards. It is divided into living quarters, a pottery-making center and a graveyard. The museum built to protect the site covers some 33,400 square feet.
Shaanxi Province is situated in the center of China. The geological center of China is located in the Province’s Jingyang County. The province is 1,000 kilometers long from north to south and 360 kilometers wide from the east to the west. Adjacent to Shanxi, Henan, Hubei,Sichuan, Gansu Provinces and Ningxia and lnnerMongolia autonomous regions, Shaanxi serves as the vital industrial. Transportation, and communication junction to link and central parts of China with the southwestern and northwestern parts of the country. In all, Shaanxi Province covers an area of 205,600 square square kilometers. It is divided into three natural areas from the north to the south, the Northern Plateau, the Guanzhong Plain and the Qinba Mountainous Region. The population of Shaanxi Province is 29.3 million people.
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