Xi’an is the modern capital of Shaanxi Province, but the Xi’an area has a legacy dating back thousands of years—most notably as the capital of China’s first imperial dynasty, the Qin (221–206 BCE), as well as of the Han and Tang dynasties. The terracotta soldiers from the burial tomb of the Qin emperor Shi Huangdi are located about 30 kilometers from the city.

Xi’an is the capital of Shaanxi Province in central China. The city, which is the largest in the province, is situated in the central part of Shaanxi in the Wei River valley north of the Qinling range. The area around Xi’an has been inhabited for thousands of years; the remains of a well-established village from around 5000 BCE have been found at Banpo. The Xi’an area was also chosen as the capital of the Zhou dynasty (1045–256 BCE), of China’s first imperial dynasty, the Qin (221–206 BCE), and also of the Han (206 BCE–220 CE) and the Tang dynasties (618–907 CE). The city was then known as “Chang’an.” The renowned terracotta soldiers—a life-size army of some 8,000 troops that was commissioned by the first emperor of the Qin dynasty (Shi Huangdi) as part of his tomb—are located about 30 kilometers east of the city. Many other archaeological sites dot the area.

For hundreds of years Xi’an was the gateway to the Silk Roads to central Asia, and during the Tang dynasty it was the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the world. The Big Wild Goose Pagoda, which was completed in 709, still stands 64 meters tall, and the old part of Xi’an, with the drum tower, the bell tower, and a mosque dating to the eighteenth century, is surrounded by one of the best-preserved city walls in China. The walls date to the fourteenth century and were originally 14 kilometers long and measured 12 meters in height and 18 meters in width. The modern city has a major textile industry and some electrical industries, and food processing factories are located in a rich agricultural region in the river valley. Tourism is a major source of income. Xi’an is also home to several important colleges.

Further Reading

Bonavia, J. (Rev. by Baumer, C.). (2004). The Silk Road: From Xi’an to Kashgar. New York: W. W. Norton.

Xiang Yang. (1992). Xi’an, ancienne capitale de la Chine [Xi’an, ancient capital of China]. Beijing: Editions en langue étrangères.

Source: Nielsen, Bent. (2009). Xi’an. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 2496–2497. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

The Bell Tower in the center of Xi’an, entered through an underpass on the north side. It was originally built in the fourteenth century, but was rebuilt at the present location in 1739 during the Qing dynasty. A large iron bell in the tower is used to mark the time each day. PHOTO BY PAUL AND BERNICE NOLL.

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