Ancient Chinese Cities: Five Cradles of A Great Civilization

Hangzhou - Ancient Chinese Cities

Ancient Chinese cities endowed with rich historical milieu stand tall even today, reminding us of the evolution of a nation with an indomitable spirit to sustain and progress. The ancient Chinese Civilization originated in the Yellow River Valley during the early Neolithic age about 12,000 years ago. With continuous evolution over the next thousands of years, it gradually spread to the Yangtze River valley and the contiguous areas and developed surrounding ancient centers of political and economic importance.

The advent of various clans and dynasties led to the establishment of ancient Chinese cities, which became the harbinger of the modern-day megalopolises. These cities played a pivotal role in shaping empires, flourishing commercial activities, and patronizing cultural growth through the ages to define the course of national advancement.

Beijing: The Eternal City

The 3,000-year-old historical heritage of Beijing is shrouded in myth, legends, and folklore.  Home to some of the greatest historical sites of China, this fulcrum of ancient cities has been the epicenter of political power for the last 1,000 years. It was the seat of power of Ji and Yan, the two ancient ruling families, who thrived before Qin Shihuang united China.

Six imperial dynasties also ruled China from this historic city. It survived political upheavals and foreign invasions throughout the ages to steer the evolution of the Chinese nation when many other cities of yore failed to survive. The Forbidden City, ancient palaces, temples, tombs, and the remnants of the Great Wall of China give Beijing a proud of place among the most renowned Chinese cities.


(formerly known as Chang An – or forever peace): The City of Antiquity

The antique character and ambiance make Xi’an the foremost among the ancient Chinese cities. Xi’an is home to the Terracotta Army Mausoleum of Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of China. Qin established the first imperial capital of China in the city after uniting the country in 221 BC. The city wall, Shaanxi History Museum, tombs, palaces, and temples spread throughout the city limits and its periphery dot Xi’an with abundant historical symbols. 

Chang’an (the former name for Xi’an) was the capital of the Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui and Tang Dynasties and during its heyday in the Tang Dynasty was one of the largest and most populous cities in the world with modern estimates of between 800,000 to 1,000,000 within its cities walls which was unheard of in the ancient world at that time. 

Nanjing - Ancient Chinese Cities

Nanjing: The Historic City

One of the four great ancient capitals of China, Nanjing is interspersed with plentiful well-preserved historic and cultural landmarks. Six imperial families ruled China from the city originally founded by last Wu ruler Fu Chai in 495 BC. The southern dynasties made Nanjing the main seat of power for over 250 years during the North-South Division.

Despite incessant civil wars, the city grew into one of the largest metropolises in the world and steered China by patronizing arts, religion, sculpture, innovations in technology, and intellectual spread. The Stone City, the Fuzimiao Confucius Temple, the Chaotian Palace, the Gate of China, Zhu Yuanzhang Tomb, and Qixiam, Linggu, Jiming Buddhist temples are some of the historical milestones dotting the city. Nanjing enjoys a unique place among ancient Chinese cities for its numerous gardens constructed by imperial families.

Luoyang: The City of Emperors

Luoyang’s imperial past bestows the city with immense significance among the ancient Chinese cities. Historical records show that the city was the capital of over 90 imperial rulers, and that 13 dynasties chose it as their seat of power. Considered one of the birthplaces of Chinese civilization, the 5,000-year-old city was home to Laozi, founder of Taoism, and Guan Yu, a great warrior. Longmen caves, the Han Tombs Museum, Guanlin Temple, and the 20-centuries old Baima Temple mystify visitors with their historical importance.

Hangzhou: The Ancient Chinese City of Culture

Immortalized by poets and artists for its natural scenery, Hangzhou’s fame among ancient Chinese cities rests on its immaculate cultural heritage. A retreat for imperial rulers, historical relics are scattered throughout the city. Hundreds of landscaped gardens, springs, pagodas, temples, and palaces built over thousands of years dot Hangzhou with splendid beauty. The Grand Canal, West Lake, Chenghuang temple, Lingyin Temple, and the mythological mountains add to the ancient feel in Hangzhou. 

Hangzhou and the West Lake is also said to be one of the most beautiful places in China and the ancient Chinese have said that above there is heaven and below on earth there is Hangzhou. See the image at the top of this page.

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