Xi’an ([ɕí.án] ( listen); Chinese: 西安; pinyin: Xī’ān), formerly romanized as Sian, and also known as Chang’an ([ʈʂʰǎŋ.án] ; Chinese: 長安; pinyin: Cháng’ān) before the Ming dynasty, is the capital of Shaanxi Province, People’s Republic of China. It is a sub-provincial city located in the center of the Guanzhong Plain in Northwest China. One of the oldest cities in China, Xi’an is the oldest of the Four Great Ancient Capitals, having held the position under several of the most important dynasties in Chinese history, including Western Zhou, Qin, Western Han, Sui, and Tang. Xi’an is the starting point of the Silk Road and home to the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang.
Since the 1990s, as part of the economic revival of inland China especially for the central and northwest regions, the city of Xi’an has re-emerged as an important cultural, industrial and educational centre of the central-northwest region, with facilities for research and development, national security and China’s space exploration program. Xi’an currently holds sub-provincial status, administering 9 districts and 4 counties. As of 2015 Xi’an has a population of 8,705,600 and the Xi’an-Xianyang metropolitan area has a population of 13,569,700. It is the most populous city in Northwest China, as well as one of the three most populous cities in Western China. According to a July 2012 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit, it was recently named as one of the 13 emerging megacities, or megalopolises, in China. The report pinpoints and highlights the demographic and income trends that are shaping these cities’ development.
The two Chinese characters “西安” in the name Xi’an mean “Western Peace”. During the Zhou dynasty, the area was the site of the national capital, which is a twin-city named Fenghao (豐鎬) on the two banks of the Feng River near the confluence with the Wei River, with the part on the west bank of the Feng River called Fengjing (豐京; “Feng capital”) and the portion on the east called Haojing (鎬京; “Hao capital”). It was renamed Chang’an (meaning “perpetual peace”) during the Han dynasty (206 BC–220 AD), although it was sometimes referred to as Xijing (西京; “western capital”) during the Eastern Han dynasty after the capital was relocated to Luoyang in the east . It changed to Daxing (大興; “great prosperity”) in 581 AD during the Sui dynasty, then again became Chang’an from 618 during the Tang dynasty. During the Yuan dynasty (1270–1368), the city was first given the name Fengyuan (奉元), followed by Anxi (安西) then Jingzhao (京兆).
It finally became Xi’an in 1369 at the time of the Ming dynasty. This name remained until 1928, then in 1930 it was renamed Xijing (西京), or “western capital”. The city’s name once again reverted to its Ming-era designation of Xi’an in 1943.
Xi’an currently does not have a widely accepted one-character abbreviation as many other Chinese cities do, possibly due to fact that it was historically called Jing (京) or Du (都), both meaning “the capital”. Several suggested abbreviations include Feng (丰, the city’s first name when it was founded as the new capital of Zhou, meaning abundance, greatness, and bumper harvest), Hao (Chinese: 镐; pinyin: Hào, derived from the name of Zhou dynasty’s capital Haojing), or Tang (Chinese:唐; pinyin: Táng, from the name of the Tang dynasty).
Xi’an has rich and culturally significant history. The Lantian Manwas discovered in 1963 in Lantian County, 50 km (31 mi) southeast of Xi’an, and dates back to at least 500,000 years before the present time. A 6,500-year-old Banpo Neolithic village was discovered in 1953 on the eastern outskirts of the city proper, which contains the remains of several well organized Neolithic settlements carbon dated to 5600–6700 years ago. The site is now home to the Xi’an Banpo Museum, built in 1957 to preserve the archaeological collection.
11th century BC to 19th century AD
Xi’an became a cultural and political centre of China in the 11th century BC with the founding of the Zhou dynasty. The capital of Zhou was established in the twin settlements of Fengjing (丰京) and Haojing, together known as Fenghao, located southwest of contemporary Xi’an. The settlement was also known as Zhōngzhōu to indicate its role as the capital of the vassal states. In 770 BC, the capital was moved to Luoyang due to political unrest. Following the Warring States period, China was unified under the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC) for the first time, with the capital located at Xianyang, just northwest of modern Xi’an. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang ordered the construction of the Terracotta Army and his mausoleum just to the east of Xi’an almost immediately after his ascension to the throne.
In 202 BC, the founding emperor Liu Bang of the Han dynasty established his capital in Chang’an County; his first palace, Changle Palace (長樂宮, perpetual happiness) was built across the river from the ruin of the Qin capital. This is traditionally regarded as the founding date of Chang’an, or Xi’an. Two years later, Liu Bang built Weiyang Palace (未央宮, (perpetual happiness) hasn’t reached its midpoint yet) north of modern Xi’an. Weiyang Palace was the largest palace ever built on Earth, covering 4.8 square kilometres (1,200 acres), which is 6.7 times the
size of the current Forbidden City, or 11 times the size of the Vatican City. The original Xi’an city wall was started in 194 BC and took 4 years to finish. Upon completion, the wall measured 25.7 km (15.97 mi) in length and 12 to 16 m (39.37–52.49 ft) in thickness at the base, enclosing an area of 36 km2(13.90 sq mi). In the year 190, amidst uprisings and rebellions just prior to the Three Kingdoms Period, a powerful warlord named Dong Zhuo moved the court from Luoyang to Chang’an in a bid to avoid a coalition of other powerful warlords against him.
Following several hundred years of unrest, the Sui dynasty united China again in 582. The emperor of Sui ordered a new capital to be built southeast of the Han capital, called Daxing (大興, great prosperity). It consisted of three sections: the Imperial City, the palace section, and the civilian section, with a total area of 84 km2(32 sq mi) within the city walls. At the time, it was the largest city in the world. The city was renamed Chang’an (長安, Perpetual Peace or Eternal Peace) by the Tang Dynasty. In the mid-7th century, after returning from his pilgrimage to India, Buddhist monk Xuanzang (popularly known as Tang Sanzang) established a translation centre for Sanskrit scriptures.
Construction of the Great Wild Goose Pagoda began in 652. This pagoda was 64 m (209.97 ft) in height, and was built to store the translations of Buddhist sutras obtained from India by Xuanzang. In 707, construction of the Small Wild Goose Pagoda began. This pagoda measured 45 m (147.64 ft) tall at the time of completion, and was built to store the translations of Buddhist sutras by Yijing. The massive 1556 Shaanxi earthquake eventually damaged the tower and reduced its height to 43.4 m (142.39 ft).
Chang’an was devastated at the end of the Tang dynasty in 904. Residents were forced to move to the new capital city in Luoyang. Only a small area in the city continued to be occupied thereafter. During the Ming dynasty, a new wall was constructed in 1370 and remains intact to this day. The wall measures 11.9 km (7.4 mi) in circumference, 12 m (39.37 ft) in height, and 15 to 18 m (49.21–59.06 ft) in thickness at the base; a moat was also built outside the walls. The new wall and moat would protect a much smaller city of 12 km2(4.6 sq mi).
20th century and after
In October 1911, during the revolution in which the Qing dynasty was overthrown, the Manchus living in the northeastern zone within the city walls were massacred. In 1936, the Xi’an Incident took place inside the city during the Chinese Civil War. The incident brought the Kuomintang (KMT) and Communist Party of China to a truce in order to concentrate on fighting against the Japanese Invasion. On May 20, 1949, The Communist-controlled People’s Liberation Army captured the city of Xi’an from the Kuomintang force.