Xi’an: Capital of Chinese Civilization

2021-10-11 05:28XieZongming
中國-東盟博覽(旅游版) 2021年9期

Xie Zongming

For China has a lasting civilization, it has been through plenty of ups and downs. Xian, as a city with a long history, has withstood the change of times and preserved numerous historical relics. There is a joke about Xian that goes“construction workers could easily bump into relics once they do anything that involves digging”. Xian was the capital of several prosperous dynasties like Zhou (1046-256 BC), Qin (221-207 BC), Western Han (202 BC-9 AD), and Tang (618-907 AD), all of which were of great influence in ancient China.

The gem of ancient Chinese city defense: Xian city walls

Xian had been called Changan (literally means everlasting peace) for centuries in ancient Chinese history. The city was known as Khumdan to the West, namely to the Byzantium. The cities of ancient China consisted of the outer city and the inner city. The former lived the commoners and carried the main city function, whereas the latter was built for the Royal familys residence. Even though the inner city was already a large one, the outer city covers a much larger area of land, for which it could contain more than a million commoners in the Tang Dynasty, making it the then-largest city in the world. The scale of the city was never exceeded in later dynasties.

The current city walls of Xian were constructed in the Ming Dynasty, a period that was undergoing the craze of reinforcing the city defense. It was also in the Ming Dynasty that the reinforcement of the Great Wall took place based on its previous construction. Xian, being a popular choice for the capital of ancient China, was no exception. The walls were built on the basis of the inner city walls of Tang Dynastys Changan. The lower levels of the walls were made of lime, rammed earth, and glue, whereas the upper levels were made of only rammed earth. Later, the walls were reinforced by black bricks and barbicans were added on four of the gates. There are watchtowers on the walls every few hundred meters and there are 18 gates in total. The finished walls are enormous, 12m high, 15-18m wide at the bottom, and 12-14m wide at the top, with a circumference of 13.74km, making the city almost unbreakable. Now, these walls are a nice place for tourists as their first stop of sightseeing. The top of the walls is as wide as regular streets, which allows people to walk or cycle around.

A glance of history: Beilin Museum

Beilin Museum, also known as Stele Forest, is a museum in Xian that has the largest collection of ancient Chinese steles and stone sculptures. The collection includes steles as early as the Han Dynasty (202 BC-220 AD ) and as late as the Qing Dynasty (1636-1911 AD). The history of the museum itself could date back to the end of the Tang Dynasty when the court of Tang wanted to preserve the precious steles from wars and thus placed the steles together in the Temple of Confucius in the then Changan city. Through dynasties of preservation and enrichment, this place was officially called Beilin by Qing Dynasty.

The Beilin Museum includes the work of some of the most renowned calligraphers, namely Wang Xizhi, Liu Gongquan, Yan Zhenqing, Ouyang Xun, and so on, whose scripts are still considered the standard writing style of Chinese characters that students today are required to imitate. To see the same characters you see in China every day appear in tablets from hundreds of years ago will be too bizarre an experience to forget. The introduction of the steles is now in 3 languages (Chinese, English, and Japanese), making it easier for foreign tourists to enjoy the exhibition. However, it is better to have a guide to tell you about the detailed historic background to make the visit more interesting. Aside from steles, the museum also includes exhibits of stone sculptures, mainly about Buddhism. Walking around the museum allows you to have a glance at Chinese culture and religious beliefs.

Beautiful and fragile love: Huaqing Pool

Huaqing Pool is a hot spring in Xian. It was first developed in Qin Dynasty and named Lishan Hot Spring (Hot Spring of Mount Li). Then it was expanded to a palace in Han Dynasty. What made it famous was the story that happened in Tang Dynasty. The Emperor of Tang expanded this place twice and renamed it Huaqing Palace. Yang Yuhuan, also known as the Consort Yang, was one of the Four Great Beauties of ancient China. The tragic love story between her and the Emperor Xuanzong of Tang was made into a long poem by Bai Juyi, whose name often mentioned along with other great poets like Li Bai and Du Fu. Consort Yang and the Emperor loved each other, but the Rebellion of An Lushan shocked the Empire, forcing them to flee to Sichuan. On the way, a mutiny occurred and the military forced the Emperor to sentence Consort Yang to death since the soldiers believed that their indulgence in love caused the Emperors loss of judgment and resulted in the great rebellion.

In Bai Juyis poet Song of Everlasting Regret, the Huaqing Pool is mentioned as a symbolic place that witnessed their love and their indulgence in happiness, which makes a strong comparison to the sorrow of the death of the consort. In 1982, the ruins of the Huaqing Palace were unearthed along with the bathing pools of the Emperor and the Consort. Later, the place was developed into a garden and museum. Here, you can see the traditional Chinese garden and relics of the pools, along with the beautifully fragile love between the two poor souls.

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