Xi ‘an, dynasties and CPEC

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Naveed Aman Khan

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 space exploration.  Xi’an currently holds sub provincial status, administering nine districts and four counties. As of 2018 Xi’an has a population of 12,005,600, and the Xi’an-Xianyang metropolitan area a population of 12.9 million. It is the most populous city in northwest China as well as one of the three most populous cities in western China. In 2012, it was named as one of the thirteen emerging mega cities or megalopolises in China.

“Xi’an” is the national pinyin Romanization of the Mandarin pronunciation of its name which means “Western Peace”. The apostrophe should be included to distinguish its pronunciation from the single syllable Xian. The name was adopted in 1369 under the early Ming dynasty. Jesuit missionaries recorded its name as “Si-ngan” or “Si-ngan-fou from its status as the seat of a prefecture. This form still appears in the Latin name of the Catholic diocese of Xi’an, archdioceses Singanensis. The name was later Romanized as “Hsi-an” by Wade & Giles and as “Sianfu” or “Sian” by the Qing imperial post office, both of which were common until the general adoption of pinyin.

The area of present day Xi’an has been the site of several important former Chinese cities. The capital of the Western Zhou were the twin cities  of Feng and Hao, known collectively as Fenghao, located on opposite banks of the Feng River at its confluence with the southern bank of the Wei in the western suburbs of present day Xi’an. The Qin capital Xianyang was erected north of the Wei during the Warring States Period and was succeeded by the Western Han capital of Chang’an, meaning “Perpetual Peace”, which was located south of the Wei and covered the central area of present-day Xi’an. During the Eastern Han, Chang’an was also known as Xijin or the “Western Capital”, relative to its position to the main capital at Luoyang. Under the Zu Sui, its name became  Daxing, “Greatly Prosperous” in AD 581. Under the Tang , the name reverted to Chang’an in 618. Under the Mongolian Yuan dynasty   13th & 14th centuries), it held a succession of names: Fengyuan, Anxi, “Peaceful West”, and Jingzhao .The Ming name “Xi’an” was changed back to Xijing (“Western Capital”, as above) between 1930 and 1943.

Xi’an currently does not have a widely accepted one-character abbreviation as many other Chinese cities do. Its license plates  are simply marked with A, based on the name of its province.

Xi’an has a rich and culturally significant history. The Lantian Man was discovered in 1963 in Kantian County, 50 km  southeast of Xi’an, and dates back to at least 500,000 years before the present time. A 6,500-year-old Neolithic village Banpo , 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.

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  and Haojing, together known as Fenghao, located southwest of contemporary Xi’an. The settlement was also known as Zhongzhou 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 , “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. Two years later, Liu Bang built Weiyang Palace , “Future Central Palace”) 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 and 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  in length and 12 to 16 m  in thickness at the base, enclosing an area of 36 km2. 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 Suit dynasty united China again in 582. The emperor of Sui ordered a new capital to be built southeast of the Han capital, called Daxing. It consisted of three sections: the Imperial City, the palace section, and the civilian section, with a total area of 84 km2 within the city walls. At the time, it was the largest city in the world. The city was renamed Chang’an by the Tang dynasty. In the mid-7th century, after returning from his pilgrimage to India, the Buddhist  monk Xuanzang 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. Xi’an and dynasties and CPEC is the name of civilization, development and prosperity. This Silk Route city is assurance of prosperity, pleasure and pride of the great Chinese nation and its beneficiaries way forward because of vision of President Xi Jinping.

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