Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 1/5

Most people outside China only know of Beijing (once known as Peking) as the capital of China. However, another city was China’s capital for more than a thousand years.

In fact, Chang’ an (Xi’an) served as the capital for twelve dynasties, including the Western Zhou, Qin, Western Han, Sui and Tang dynasties, spanning more than eleven hundred years. It was also the cultural center of the Silk Road.

In 2008, the last time we visited Xi’an, subway construction was running behind schedule due to a law that does not allow the destruction of historical sites such as the tombs of emperors.  There are so many of these tombs below ground that the subway tunnels must be diverted to avoid them resulting in delays.

With such a long history, the Discovery Channel produced a documentary of Xi’an (Chang’ an) called China’s Most Honourable City.

To learn about Xi’an’s long history also teaches us much about China’s civilization. Discovery Channel’s Neville Gishford will take us on this historical journey leading to the present.

Gishford says, “It (Han Chang’ an) was more powerful than Rome. If any Roman army had actually gone there, they would have been absolutely annihilated.”

Han Chang’ an (Xi’an) was larger than Constantinople and richer than Egypt’s Alexandria.  It was a fortress so powerful that even 20th century artillery could not knock its walls down.

Today, Xi’an is home to millions of people and thousands of men made of clay, the Terra Cotta Warriors guarding China’s first emperor.

In addition, the massive city wall is more than six hundred years old and longer than 12 kilometers. Cracks are appearing and an engineering team keeps close watch and makes repairs

However, the Xi’an of today was first build over two thousand years ago and has been three cities—not one.  The Han Dynasty built the first city (Chang’ an), which is close to the modern city of Xi’an and the old eroding walls are still visible.

At 36 square kilometers, Han Chang’ an was more than one and a half times the size of Rome.

Continued on October 18, 2011, in Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 2

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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4 Responses to Xi’an (Chang’ an) – China’s Ancient Capital – Part 1/5

  1. Merlin says:

    Comparing Rome and China? Ouch. I’m just curious if the Romans could produce a force equal to Chinese?

    So Xian is now making a subway system? It would be an awesome mistake if the subway crew ACCIDENTALLY busted through a wall in the Qin Emperor’s tomb. Even though the diggers, if not killed instantantly from traps or mercury poisoning, would probably be tossed in jail for life for their wonderous find.

    • Merlin,

      No problem with the subway regarding China’s first emperor. The Qin Emperor’s tomb is about a 45-minute drive outside the city. Maybe they will have a subway line or light rail run to the tomb, but I doubt if there will be any problems—just make it easier to reach the Terra Cotta Warriors site for tourists and avoid the traffic jambs.


      As for Rome producing an equal force to match China’s armies of that era—I doubt it. Roman field armies rarely reached sizes above 100,000 but in China armies were often that size or larger. In addition, Roman weaponry and tactics was no match for China. The “Art of War” had been written several centuries before the Han Dynasty.

      If you were to watch all the posts on this site about the “First Emperor” you would discover that his armies sometimes numbered several hundred thousand in one force and that the high quality weapons used had to come from an assembly line process that included the name of the weapon’s maker inscribed on each weapon (for quality control) so if the weapon failed to do its job properly and was flawed, the person that made the weapon could be punished.


      American history books often tout Henry Ford for inventing the assembly line process but there were assembly lines in use in China centuries before Jesus Christ was born.

      I wonder what would have happened to China in the 19th century and if there had been Opium Wars if the Mongols had not conquered the Sung Dynasty. After the Mongols conquered all of China, they destroyed many of the inventions and innovations of the Tang and Sung Dynasties. Then during the Ming Dynasty when a new emperor decided to close off China from the world and recalled the great fleet to destroy the ships and most of the records of their existence and advanced technology, China regressed and that regression continued into the Qing Dynasty.


    • Xiaohu Liu says:


      Believe it or not, a few month back someone did try to raid the Qin Emperor’s tomb. They blew a giant hole near the side of the tomb, but didn’t get further than that.

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