The city of Xi’an has a rich and multi-faceted history, having been a settlement in inland China for more than 3,000 years. Throughout the history of China, Xi’an has been a major meeting point and place of interest, with the city being of of the four great Ancient Capitals of China, along with Beijing, Nanjing, and Luoyang. Originally named Chang’an, the literal translation of its name and characters (西安) literally means “Western Peace.” Currently, it is the capital of the Shaanxi province, and home to over eight million residents.
The Silk Road, the ancient trading routes connecting China with the India, the Middle-East, and the Mediterranean, played a huge part in the culture and history of Xi’an. The northern land route started in Xi’an, extending westward through north-western China and splitting through the mountain passes of modern day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan. The routes reconnected in modern day Iran, branching out westward until reaching the Mediterranean Sea in modern day Syria and Israel. From there, trade ships would bring various goods throughout Europe and Northern Africa.
Xi’an is also the home of the famous Terracotta Army of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. The mausoleum is located in the suburbs of Xi’an, having been found by local farmers in the 1970’s. The tomb and army was buried with the tomb of Emperor Qin between 210 and 209 BCE, as a form of funeral art. The armies were built for the purpose of defending the emperor Qin in the afterlife. Construction of the great mausoleum and the warriors is thought to have begun in 246 BCE, shortly after the then 13-year old Emperor Qin ascended the throne. It is said over 700,000 workers had worked through the emperor’s life to create the sculptures, and the site remains one of the most important cultural and historical sites in China.
Xi’an also is home to two of the most prominent and visually striking buildings in all of China: The Bell Tower and the Drum Tower. Both were erected in the early Ming Dynasty period, between 1380 and 1384 AD. The Bell Tower has a huge bell, which was stricken at dawn to represent the arrival of the day. In contrast, the Drum Tower has drums on its ground floor, which were beaten at dusk to indicate the day’s completion.
There are several legends involved in the creation of the towers, detailed according to the tour guide for Chinese travel: “In Ming Dynasty, several earthquakes struck Guanzhong area, thousands were dead and injured. Then a legend appeared: There was a great river flowing across the center of Xi’an City. A dragon in the river was always active and caused trouble, so an earthquake occurred. An official of Xi’an government believed these words, so he ordered the blacksmiths of the whole city to make a several thousand feet of long iron chain in order to lock the dragon and sink it to river. He then ordered 5,000 craftsmen to repair the Bell Tower day and night in order to use the tower to restrain the dragon. He believed this would suppress the dragon firmly under the river and so it would no longer be active and cause trouble again. After establishing the Bell Tower, earthquakes never occurred in Xi’an again.”
In modern times, one of the most important historical moments happened in 1936, what has become known as the “Xi’an Incident.” During the Chinese Civil War, the incident brought the forces of the Kuomintang and the Communist Party of China to a truce in order to concentrate on fighting against the Japanese Invasion in the beginning stages of World War II.
Xi’an in present day is a large metropolis, home to over eight million residents. It has re-emerged as an important cultural, financial, and industrial center in modern day China. Xi’an continues to be one of the growing metropolises of China, and we celebrate the history of Xi’an here at Xi’an Cuisine and Bar, bringing Philadelphia a unique experience into the wonderful world of Chinese culture.