Xi’an: China’s Historical Birthplace

Xi’an, China’s ancient political center, stands testimony to 3,000 years of nation building process that contributed to a distinct historical and cultural heritage. The city served as capital of 13 prominent dynasties and steered the fortune of Chinese civilization for more than ten centuries.

The eastern terminus and the most developed city on the Silk Road, Xi’an facilitated expansion of Han culture in China and outside. Seventy-three emperors belonging to Zhou, Han, Tang and Qin dynasties ruled China from Xi’an and added glorious splendors to its historical heritage.

History of Xi’an: China’s eternal city

For almost half of the last 3,000 years, the historical course of China was defined from imperial palaces of Xi’an, capital of Shaanxi province.

The city emerged as a prominent political and cultural center in 11th century BC when the Zhou rulers made it their capital. Known as Feng, the city was the center of political activity until 770 BC when political crisis forced the king to move eastward to Luoyang. Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor, made Xianyang, on the northern suburb of modern Xi'an, his center of power and built the magnificent Terracotta Army Mausoleum to east of the city.

In 202 BC, Liu Bang founded the Han rule and made Xi'an as his capital. Known as Chang'an or city of perpetual peace during the Han Dynasty, the city was massive construction activities that defined its modern limits. It stood witness to widespread developments that made ushered an era of Chinese culture. In 130 BC, Zhang Qian set out from Xi’an, China’s foremost trading center, to explore the Silk Road. The city saw changing of sovereigns during the period of unrest that followed end of the Han rule.

Xi’an During Sui and Tang Rule

Xi'an China

The Sui Dynasty came to power in 582 AD and selected Xi’an as the place for his center of authority. A new fortified capital called Daxing was built with much fanfare and decoration. The city rose to become the largest urban center in the world during this period.

When the Tang Dynasty captured power in 618 AD, Daxing was renamed as Chang'an. They developed the city as a center of learning, architecture, commerce and culture that steered China through its golden age. Hiuen Tsang, the monk and explorer, opened a center in the city to translate Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit to Chinese. A number of pagodas, including the Great Wild Goose Pagoda, were constructed. The city was sacked by rebels during the Huang Chao Rebellion in 880 AD.

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Xi’an: The End of Political Influence

The end of Tang Dynasty bought massive devastation to the city and inhabitants were moved to new capital Luoyang. This marked the end of Xi’an as the foremost political center of China. When the Ming rulers came to power, a new portion of the Great Wall was constructed. In October 1911, when the emperor was overt thrown and the Republic was established, many Manchus inhabitants are killed by ethnic Han people.

In December 1936, Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek was imprisoned by his two generals at Xi’an. The incident reestablished the power of the communists. On December 24, the Kuomintang and communists agreed at Xi’an to form the United Front against the Japanese invasion and successfully freed the country. In May 1949, the communists overcome the KMT forces and occupied Xi’an, China’s ancient capital. The city has grown to be an example of China’s cosmopolitan culture and tourist destination.

The Qin Terracotta Warriors in Xi’an

The Terracotta Army Mausoleum of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor, located near Xi’an is China’s most prominent cultural masterpiece after the Great Wall. Created about 2,200 years ago, the tomb is spread over 22,000 square meters with a huge collection of statues, artifacts and cultural symbols. Farmers working in their fields unearthed the huge tomb in 1974 and now it stands as one of the most visited.

The Qin monument is divided into three chambers that houses life-size terracotta statutes of 8,000 foot warriors, 150 cavalry men, 520 horses and 130 chariots. The Terracotta Army Mausoleum also has hundreds of terracotta figures of non-military officials, musicians, artists and acrobats. Each figure varies in height according to importance of their role and social order.

The first chamber of Xi’an Terracotta Army Museum has 6,000 life-size terracotta statues of soldiers and horses. All men are stood in battle formation across 11 corridors each separated by a 3-meter-wide brick pavement. The second chamber houses cavalry, archery, chariot and infantry units. It has about 1,300 pottery figures. The third chamber is a command center with a terracotta statue of a high-ranking official mounted on a chariot and surrounded by more than 67 figures. Each figure is distinguished by an individualized appearance in its face, mouth and hairstyle.

A nearby mound is believed to be the tomb of the emperor. According to archeologists, an entire necropolis resembling the royal palace and surrounding city was constructed in an area of about one square miles. As many as 700 pits and tombs have also been located in the surrounding area. There were 31 pits of exotic animal and birds are also unearthed near Xi’an Terracotta Warriors Museum.

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