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
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.
To subscribe to “iLook China”, sign up for an E-mail Subscription at the top right-hand side of this page and then follow directions.