Hánchéng (韩城) is best known for being the hometown of Sima Qian (145–90 BC), China’s legendary historian and author of the Shiji (Records of the Grand Historian). Sima Qian chronicled different aspects of life in the Han dynasty and set about arranging the country’s already distant past in its proper (Confucian) order. He was eventually castrated and imprisoned by Emperor Wudi, after having defended an unsuccessful general.
For its historical textures and ambience, Hánchéng is a great side trip from Xī’ān. Built upon a hill, the new town (新城; xīnchéng) located at the top is dusty and unremarkable and is where you’ll find hotels, banks and transport. But the more atmospheric old town (古城; gǔchéng) at the bottom of the hill boasts a handful of historic sights. The unique Ming-dynasty village of Dǎngjiācūn is 9km further east.