Shanxi: China’s Cradle of Civilization

Shanxi, China’s cradle of civilization, is endowed with an eventful past and rich cultural heritage that inspire generations after generation.

The province with its affluent mineral resources and strategic geographical location provided ample scope for growth of various empires that dominated China for 3,000 years of recorded history. The loaded historical heritage of the region spanning across mountains, river valleys and plateaus speak volumes about social, political, cultural and economic development s that led to crystallization of the Chinese nationhood.

Geography of Shanxi: Fertile Ground for Civilization

The geography of Shanxi, China’s celebrated land of ancestral, offered strategic advantage for Neolithic civilizations to flourish. The plateau surrounded by the Taihang, Zhongtiao and Luliang Mountains to the east, south and west allowed ample promise of security from external invasion. Interspersing valleys created by the Fen, Hai and Yellow Rivers provided fertile ground for agriculture and food supplies.

Shanxi Province is also rich in natural resources, such as coal, timber, bauxite, limestone, laterite, and potassium. These reserves helped ancient communities to exploit them and emerge dominant over clans settled in other parts of China.

History of Shanxi: The Evolution of Civilization

Emperor Yan, the legendary Han king, ruled from Changzhi, a city in the southeast region of Shanxi, around 25th century BC. The province of Shanxi, China’s historical birthplace, was also home to ancient legendary emperors Yao, Shun and Yu who ruled about 5,000 years ago. The Xia Dynasty, the first recorded dynasty to rule China, came from the clans inhibiting the southern areas of the province.

Ancient architecture - Shanxi, China

Shanxi rose to prominence under the Jin rulers and became a powerful state when the Spring and Autumn Period was in full flow. In 453 BC, it was partitioned between Han, Zhao and Wei states and a period of war ensued. Emperor Qin Shi Huang occupied it during his unification drive. The Han period saw reemergence of Shanxi as China’s important cultural center. The province was subsequently became part of all major dynastic rules until the Sui period.

Shanxi became the political and cultural center of China again during the Tang Dynasty. Taiyuan of the province was the native place of the Tang rulers. China’s only female ruler Empress Wu Zetian was from the province. Shanxi was home to three of five dynasties that dominated China during the Five Dynasties period. The glory was lost subsequently and it was merged with neighboring provinces until the end of Yuan dynasty.

During the Ming Dynasty, Shanxi was restored to its provincial status. The Qing rulers officially named it Shanxi Province and included all areas northward up to the Great Wall in Inner Mongolia within its political limits. The province remained under the control of Yen Hsi-shan, a local warlord, during the Republic period. When Second Sino-Japanese War broke out, Shanxi became China’ most important battle ground as Communist guerrillas found shelter in the mountainous regions.

During the Chinese Civil War, Shanxi was one of the foremost bases of the People's Liberation Army who overtook it completely in early 1949 defeating Yen Hsi-shan.

The Cradle of Civilization

Large-scale discovery of historical heritage across the length and breadth of the province attest the status of Shanxi as China’s cradle of culture. The province has 35,000 historical sites depicting ancient architecture, murals and sculptures. The Buddhist Yungang Grotto and ancient township of Pingyao, the banking center of China during the Qing Dynasty, are listed by the UNESCO in its world heritage list. The Yingxian Wooden Pagoda, Shuanglin temple, the outer and inner layers of the Great Wall passing through Shanxi and palaces in Datong City speak volumes about the history and culture of China.

Read more about locations and cities in ancient China

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