With over 5,000 years of history
China is reputed to be the single oldest uninterrupted civilisation
in the world. Also known as the Middle Kingdom due to the
Chinese's belief that they resided in the centre of all civilisations,
it covers approximately one-fifteenth of the land area of
the world and contains many natural wonders.
In the city of Xi'an, you will find much of that which is
worth seeing in China. From the ancient artefacts and evidences
of China's rich histories, to the multitude of religious monuments
which indicate their influences on the Chinese.
The Xi'an of today is not just a major tourist destination
and historical city, but also an important industrial and
manufacturing centre. It is also an ideal place to break the
journey between Beijing and Shanghai.
As one of the six ancient capitals of China, Xi'an served
as the imperial capital 12 times in more than 3,000 years
back when it was called Chang'an. During this time famous
dynasties such as Zhou, Qin, Han and Tang all went by and
left their respective marks on the city.
Today, it is a world-famous tourist city with a treasure
house of cultural relics. In the worlds of Chen Chen, a teacher
who lived in Xi'an for more than 20 years, "Xi'an is may not
be as developed as Shanghai or Shenzhen, but it has that unique
'ancient' quality which the others do not have."
Possibly the greatest period of development for the city
was during the Tang Dynasty (618-904). It was during this
time that the city truly became a major religous centre, not
only for Buddhism and Taoism but also for several other religions.
Some of the new religions to enter China at that time-Zoroastrianism,
Nestorianism and Manichaeism-all came to China through Xi'an
Recognised as being at par with the now capital city of Beijing
in terms of its historical significance, Xi'an also features
one of the five famous mountains of China, the Huashan Mountain.
Other major attractions in Xi'an are the City Wall of the
Ming Dynasty and the magnificent Palace of Emperor Qin. However,
as Loh Nyon Jeen who toured Xi'an recently said, "when people
talk about the historic sights of Xi'an, the Terra Cotta Warriors
are always the first to come to mind."
First discovered in the massive tomb complex of the first
Chinese Emperor Qin Shin Huang, the terra cotta statues numbered
more than 8,000 soldiers with horses. Spreading over some
56 square kilometres, its discovery in the 1970s was arguably
the most important archaeological find of the 20th century.
Archaeologists continue to excavate the burial site of Emperor
Qin even today, as the actual tomb has not been found.
It is believed that Emperor Qin wanted his afterlife to be
the same as his life on earth and with the many attempts on
his life during his time as emperor, wanted his soldiers to
protect him even in the afterlife. There were four pits excavated
in all, but the fourth pit was found to be empty leading to
be belief that it was left incomplete as the Emperor had died
The monumental discovery of these ancient statues was, surprisingly,
an accidental affair. From a couple of Chinese peasants digging
a well, the excavation multiplied exponentially in size and
archaeologists from all over the country gather to uncover
this massive piece of history.
The design for the statues originated before the Qin dynasty,
the time when master were buried with live women, slaves and
soldiers. However, through the years, this tradition of burying
live humans with their deceased monarch ceased and the clay
statues used in their stead.
The early days of the humanity have always been a fascinating
topic for one and all. And in Xi'an, an entire Stone Age village
has been excavated and preserved for future generations to
Market as another of Xi'an major attractions, the Banpo museum
is located just five miles east of the city. Dating all the
way back to 4,500BC, the village is believed to be the remains
of the Yangshao culture and is preserved under a huge auditorium
roof. Approximately 800 years of Chinese history is encapsulated
in its 46 huts fire pits, storage cellars, pottery kilns and
174 gravesites. Visitors can get a glimpse of weapons fashioned
from stone and beautiful pottery painted with sharp geometric
shapes that depict fishes and deer. These simple everyday
items show both the lifestyle and the artistic instincts of
the Chinese ancestors.
The most haunting aspect of the village would be the half
a dozen skeletons and the graves of the village located in
a corner of the museum. They emphasise not only the length
of human history, but how strong and resilient human beings
are too, having survived so long in a village such as this
For the more adventurous, there are lesser-know tourist spots
which are just as interesting as the popular ones. First sighted
by an American pilot during World War II, these so-called
Chinese White Pyramids are reported to be about 300 metres
in height and just 100km south-west of Xi'an.
Touted to be one of the biggest rivals to the pyramids of
Gaza of Egypt, at least in terms of mass, the Chinese pyramids
are believed to be at least 4,000 years old. On an interesting
note, they were said to be originally painted black on the
North, blue-grey on the East, red on the South, white on the
West and yellow on the top Centre platform.
However, little is known about the origins of these structures
and the questions of who and why have baffled archaeologists
since discovery. The first indication of Christianity's spread
into China was in AD652. However, 200 years later, foreign
religions were banned and the missionaries only began to come
to China another 700 years later.
The Protestant Church of Xi'an possesses a tower of mixed
influences. The building epitomises the mixture of cultures
with its combined traditional Chinese and northern European
The influences of foreign cultures in evident in the Catholic
Church too. It is said that even today, the mass is still
said in Latin, even though the rituals and the language have
been almost lost in the West.
The Chinese civilisation has come a long way and highly commendable
efforts have been made to preserve whatever that remains of
its long history. Xi'an role in this preservation effort is
what distinguishes it from many of the other cities. (*Kok
Wah Chuen - Frequent traveller)