Shanxi, roughly pronounced "Shahn-shee," is a province located in the north-central area of China, and is thought of as one of the cradles of Chinese civilization, indeed, is home to one of the world's earliest civilizations. Located among the central flow of the Yellow River, this province boasts 60 Paleolithic, Neolithic and paleoanthropologic sites. This visual record of history also contains some twenty imperial palaces, twelve hundred old monasteries and temples, and more than twenty-six hundred other buildings dating back into antiquity.
Another claim to fame is that Xi'an [ xian ] is the eastern terminus to the legendary Silk Road, which stretched to Africa, Arabia, and Europe. But perhaps the most direct link to Xi'an's [ xian ] fabulous past lies just to the northwest of modern Xi'an [ xian ], where excavations have revealed the wonders of the terracotta warriors and masoleum of the first emperor of unified China.
Treasures from Xi'an, China [ xian china ]
Envision, if you will, the grand design and impressive scope of an imperial court and city...and now imagine its glory and pomp moved below ground. This complex was completed with both an inner city wall and an outer city wall, each ranging from eight to ten meters high.
Qin Shi Huang was China's first emperor. One year after he assumed power, the new emperor initiated a mausoleum project which would take years to complete. The design of this complex was assigned to Prime Minister Li Si, and Grand General Zhang Han supervised construction. At the height of building activity, 800,000 men were on site--almost eight times as many workers as those who created the Pyramid of Khufu.
A city so impressive would not be without other defenses, also. Imagine a terracotta army of 7,000 warriors, horses, and chariots. These terracotta warriors are lifelike in size, and vary in facial expression, height, and clothing. Archaeologists studying these terracotta warriors have learned that military rank can be determined by specific clothing differences, and can get a clear picture of how Qin warriors dressed. This terracotta army, arrayed in battle formation, is set to guard the emperor in the afterlife.
Inside the burial chamber proper were beautiful treasures, which were guarded by machine-driven crossbows. These mechanisms were designed to deter tomb robbers. Mercury was used in the burial chamber to signify lakes, rivers, and oceans.
The chamber's vault was studded with luminary pearls, meant to symbolize the sun, moon, and stars. And fish oil was used as lamp fuel to represent everlasting illumination.
Archaeological work continues on this and other sites around Xi'an.
Xi'an also boasts more than 800 Han Dynasty mausoleums and tombs, multiple Tang Dynasty pagodas, and a stele forest--large stone tablets from different dynasties--on display in a Confucian temple dating back to the 11th century.
Gate city wall Xi'an China
The Silk Road
Trade in silk was developed during the Han Dynasty, which spanned 202 BC to AD 220. Initially a matter of domestic trade within the empire, caravans from the empire's heart would take silk to the western edges of the region, where these caravans would sometimes be set upon by small Central Asian tribes intent on plundering this valuable cargo. This forced the Han Dynasty to extend military defenses further into Central Asia to better protect this trade.
Chan Ch'ien, a traveler who made contact with the Central Asian tribes, proposed alliances with these former enemies and, from this solution, the Silk Road was created.
The span of the trading route grew longer when the Chinese began to give silk as diplomatic gifts to Roman-Asian governments. The route eventually expanded to reach seven thousand miles in length, winding through such territory as China, Central Asia, Northern India, and the Parthian and Roman Empires. Imagine: the Silk Road connected the Yellow River Valley to the Mediterranean Sea, and extended as far as those countries we now know as Syria, Iraq, and Iran.
Other Noteworthy Cities in Shanxi
Other cities with historical flavor in Shanxi province include Yulin and Shenmu, both garrison towns of the Great Wall of China during the Ming Dynasty. Construction on the Great Wall of China began over 2,300 years ago, and this work was finished during the Ming Dynasty. The Ming created the castle in Yulin in 1474, and the castle in Shenmu in 1607.
Yan'an, the destination of the Long March, has been dubbed "the cradle of the revolution," since key events related to the Chinese Communist revolution occurred here from 1935 to 1948.
And if you're hungry in Xi'an, China [ xian china ], be sure to order the noodle specialty of the province: biang biang noodles.