Introducing Shaanxi (Shǎnxī)
Shaanxi is Chinese history, ancient and modern. Peruse any text on China and the pages for this province are laden with the words ‘centre’, ‘nucleus’ and ‘heart’, not to mention the ubiquitous ‘cradle’. Shaanxi’s influence may even extend to the most fundamental of Western concepts about the Middle Kingdom – the name ‘China’ is possibly derived from the Qin dynasty (pronounced ‘chin’), whose capital was near Xī’ān.
It may not look much like the centre of Chinese civilisation these days, but in its time the Wei River valley occupied a perfect location. The land was fertile enough to feed a large population, nomadic invaders were close enough to necessitate military strength and it was the crossroads of major trade routes and China’s main link with the outside world.
And while emperors and prime ministers were busy plotting the expansion of an empire, another complementary facet of Chinese culture was quietly evolving in the Qinling Mountains to the south. These mountains were the home of many of China’s reclusive sages, those who found government service overly corrupt, or simply unfulfilling. Most famous of all was Laotzu, who – according to one legend – was brought to Lóuguāntái by the border pass guard, Yin Xi, to transmit his wisdom: the end result being the terse and mysterious Tao Te Ching (Dào Dé Jīng).
For travellers, what matters most is that Shaanxi is loaded with extraordinary archaeological sights. Yet keep in mind that history didn’t stop with the ancient world. In 1935 the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) finally found respite in the loess caves of Yán’ān, and, for the next decade this new haven in the hills became the CCP’s broadcast centre for revolutionary thought.
Who lies beneath the sands of Shaanxi time? The Zhou people of the Bronze Age, spreading from their Shaanxi homeland, conquered the Shang and established their dominion over much of northern China. Later the state of Qin, ruling from their capital Xiányáng (near modern-day Xī’ān), became the first dynasty to unify much of China. The following dynasties, including the Han, Sui and Tang, were based in the great capital of Cháng’ān (Xī’ān), which was abandoned for the eastern capital of Luòyáng (in Hénán) whenever invaders threatened.
Shaanxi remained the political heart of China for over a millennia until the 10th century. With the migration of the imperial court to pastures further east, the area’s fortunes declined. Rebellions afflicted the territory from 1340 to 1368, again from 1620 to 1644 and finally in the mid-19th century, when the great Muslim rebellion left tens of thousands of the province’s Muslims dead.
Famines have regularly decimated peasant populations, and it was these dismal conditions that provided the communists such willing support in the province during the country’s civil war.
The cave dwellers of 21st-century China
China's high-tech building industry may have been flexing its ample construction muscles for the past decade in places like Beijing and Shanghai, but a few hundred miles away in Shanxi province, an estimated three million people still live in caves.
China - Shaanxi (Shanxi) (Chapter)
An excavated Neolithic village and numerous royal graves - Shaanxi is where it all started for China. As the heartland of the Qin dynasty, its treasure trove of archaeological sites make it such an essential destination to visit.
Shaanxi (Shǎnxī) destination guides
Long before the country – and other countries – kowtowed to Běijīng, there was Cháng’ān: a thriving city of emperors, courtesans, poets, monks, merchants and soldiers; a place where many of the world’s great religions coexisted and Chinese culture...
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