Xi’an: Day 1

From Guilin, I flew north to Xi’an.

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Xi’an lies in the dusty but fertile Wei River valley, one of the cradles of Chinese civilization. This spot near the Wei River, the largest tributary of the Yellow River, was frequently the location of China’s capital.

An attempt at an abridged history:

The capital of the Western Zhou dynasty (1046-771 BC) was near present day Xi’an. When, in 771 BC, the King of Zhou replaced his queen with a concubine, the queen’s family sacked the city and put her son on the throne at a new capital, beyond the mountains to the east. Central power weakened and eventually Zhou dissolved into warring states.

The state of Qin made its capital near the site of the old Western Zhou capital. In 221 BC, the King of Qin conquered the other states and declared himself the First Emperor. His rule accomplished amazing things, but was also brutally repressive. After he died, the empire became a mess within months, with rebellions all over, and the Qin dynasty didn’t last long.

In 206 BC the Han dynasty was established. The Han capital, Chang’an, was near the ruined Qin capital. The Han dynasty was a golden age in Chinese history – today, China’s ethnic majority call themselves Han Chinese – and Chang’an flourished both as the capital of the empire and as the eastern end of the Silk Road.

As dynasties came and went, the capital moved many times, but it often returned to Chang’an. At its zenith as the capital of the Tang dynasty (618-907) – China’s second golden age – Chang’an was possibly the largest city in the world. However, it was sacked near the end of the Tang dynasty and never regained its former glory.

In the 14th century, Chang’an was given new, much smaller city walls and renamed Xi’an.

The walls still stand today. This is the south gate, as seen from the old bell tower.

Unlike the Li River pictures from the last post, by the way, this haze is from pollution.


I spent an evening and two days in Xi’an. For dinner on the first night, I had a Xi’an specialty, “yangrou paomo,” which is mutton soup poured over torn-up flatbread.

You prepare the bread yourself (I’m halfway done in this picture).

. . . and then the server takes your bowl and adds the soup. This restaurant used metal rings to mark which bowl belonged to which table.

Yangrou paomo’s traditional accompaniment is pickled garlic. I’ve heard people say that it’s meant to counter the oiliness of the mutton, but I think the dubious looking drink on the left did a better job. The restaurant called the seed-filled concoction “yellow tea.” I think it was what is more often called “eight-treasure tea,” a northern Chinese drink whose recipe has many variations.


Alright, that’s all for now. I’ll continue with Xi’an in another post.


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5 Responses to “Xi’an: Day 1”

  1. Chery Kinnick Says:


    I trust that you are long back from your trip and were not in China when the earthquake hit? Were you traveling close to there?

  2. kevinjames Says:

    Yes, thankfully I missed the earthquake by weeks. I didn’t travel in Sichuan Province, but I gather that Xi’an experienced some minor damage and the quake was felt as far away as the coast.

  3. Chery Kinnick Says:

    What a tragedy for China, and for relatives and friends across the world. Glad you are safe!

  4. Barthe Says:

    I read in Mc Mafia (an interesting book) that the Chinese leaders are engineers. Do you know anything about that?

    The pollution looked as bad in your pictures as I had heard it was.
    Is there as much farmland and forests in China as there is in the US? Or is it packed everywhere with people? I have always thought China’s one child policy was sensible.

  5. kevinjames Says:

    I don’t know much about China’s leaders, I must say.

    There are a lot of people in China, certainly. Without going into the deserts or the Himalayas, I’d imagine you’d never be out of sight of human habitation. But that’s not to say that there aren’t farms and forests, they just have towns in them.

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