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History & Culture
Xi'an and its surrounding area is at the very heart of China's history. This city served as the capital seat of twelve dynasties for more than 1100 years, and its Wei valley is the legendary birthplace of Chinese civilization. It was here that the mythical Yellow Emperor (third millennium BC) conquered the other warring tribes to give birth to the Chinese nation.

Over the centuries successive capitals have changed their names and locations, as well as their characters. The remains of Gaojing, the capital during the Western Zhou dynasty (1027-771 BC), consist of crude bronze artifacts for cooking, burial and farming. They reflect an early agricultural society. This is in contrast to the despotic Emperor Qinshihuang's (r. 221-207 BC) Xianyang, a capital city erected twenty-eight km west of modern day Xi'an. Built on a scale to befit such a tyrant, it came to be detested by the people as a symbol of his oppressive and short-lived regime.

The Western Han dynasty (206BC-8AD) moved the capital to within ten kilometres of Xi'an. It was during this prosperous period that Chang'an, as it was then known, rose to international prominence. A century after the opening of the Silk Road, Julius Caesar appeared one evening at the theater wearing a garment that caused a sensation - it was a silk robe from Chang'an. Silk, paper, tea, iron casting and irrigation were other inventions similarly exported to the West at this time.

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After the Eastern Han dynasty (8-220 AD) transferred the imperial capital to Luoyang, it didn't return to Xi'an until China was once more reunified under the Sui dynasty (589-618). Once more the grandiose schemes of a despotic, conquering Emperor were curtailed by a dynasty more amenable to the people. During the golden age of the Tang dynasty (618-907), when China led the world in culture, technology and wealth, Chang'an became a focus for new ideas. A vast and splendid city of eighty square km, only twenty less than today's industrialized city, it contained a two million strong population. So beautiful were its buildings and orderly its design that the Japanese used Chang'an as the model for the still extant, smaller cities of Kyoto and Nara.

As the Tang Emperors pushed back China's frontiers more and more cultures from Central Asia, India and Persia were absorbed into the cosmopolitan capital. Besides the especially strong Buddhist community, there were also Zoroastrian, Muslim, Manichaean and Nestorian ones. The town thronged to the raucous rhythms of markets, taverns, workshops, and even polo matches.

Between the 11th and the 8th centuries b.c the capital of the Zhou-dynasty was Hao. It was located in the north of China, a few kilometers west of today’s Xi'an. Although the Zhou-dynasty moved to Luoyang in 771 b.c, Hao remained one of the largest cities in northern China. During the 4th century BC it became the capital of the Qin-dynasty. This didn’t change after Qin Shi Huangdi had united all Chinese states one century later, however he changed the city name into Xianyang.

In the 3rd century b.c. Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi was determined to have a capital that had to be at least equal to his power and gave order to a million people to extend the city with boulevard and palaces. The city developed very fast and had in no time almost one million habitants. The success of the city didn’t keep unnoticed. Therefore two centuries later, rebels captured the city and overthrew the dynasty.

The Han-dynasty became the successors of the Qin-dynasty. They built their new capital of Chang’an at the north of today’s Xi’an. The new city was completed by the 1st century b.c. The city walls contained 8 main streets and loads of alleys, also outside the city walls there were large suburbs. In this period the trading between west-Asia and the Roman Empire found his start.

In 25 years a.d., the government moved the seat from Chang’an to the more eastern Luoyang, which meant the decline of importance of the city Chang’an. Chang’an declined in importance, until the first Sui-dynasty emperor Wen-ti. He decided to built a new city of Chang’an in the south-east of the city which was built by the Han-dynasty. Although the successor of Wen-ti moved back with his government to Luoyang, the Tang-dynasty returned the capital to Chang’an and completed the city, which was designed by emperor Sui.

During the Tang-dynasty Chang’an its importance as a city increased more and more. For 2 centuries the city was the center of cultural and political renaissance. This period is considered to be the golden ages of ancient China. This made Chang’an automatically one of the most important cities of the ancient world.
History of Xi’an

Chang’an attracted people from all over the world. In its glory days the city had almost 2 million inhabitants, living on an area of almost 50 square km. By the Grand Canal, Chang’an was connected with the ports of southern-China and by the “Silk Road” with Persia, Byzantium and the Middle-East. The foreigners who arrived in Chang’an brought other kinds of fashion, culture and religion with them. The ones who established themselves started mosques and churches and shops, which attracted therefore other foreigners like students from all over Asia.

During the 10th century the Tang-dynasty lost its power and the capital moved to Kaifeng. The loss of the capital also meant the end of Chang’an as a glorious city. Chang’an remained a regional center for the following Ming and Qing-dynasties. Until 1949, when new industries and universities activated the development of Xi’an again, this doubled the population to 2 million inhabitants, in no time.

Last Updated ( Thursday, 06 November 2008 )
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