Shaanxi is a province in north-western China. With a millennia long history, from which it was the capital of the country over 13 dynasties, for more than 1,000 years, and being the starting point of the Silk Road, Shaanxi has played a great role in China’s development over time.
To understand China, one has to witness her 30-year progress in Shenzhen, 200-year development in Shanghai, 500-year history in Beijing, and 5,000-year civilization in Shaanxi. To learn about China, one must begin from Shaanxi.Shaanxi Province
The capital of the province, Xi’an, is the oldest of the four ancient capitals of China and housed some of the country’s greatest dynasties, such as Zhou, Qing, Han, Sui and Tang. The first one to rule from Shaanxi, the Han Dynasty, which lasted from 206 BC to 220 AD, and the last one, the Tang Dynasty, from 618 to 907, were the most prosperous ones for the province and overall China.
It was during the Han Dynasty, in 138 BC that the expedition of Zhang Qian revealed the potential of trade in the west and thus established the first route of the Silk Road. Author Paul Strathern tells the story of how the Silk Road was founded in Exploration by Land: The Silk and Spice Routes.
As China was struggling to fend off from the Huns, Emperor Wu-di sent Zhang Qian on an expedition to Ferghana to find the “heavenly horses” they had only heard off. At the time, there were only pony sized horses in China and they needed large ones to help them in battle. While Zhang Qian only returned with the confirmation that large horses existed, he discovered something far greater, that it was possible to travel west.
After the Emperor sent an army 60,000 men to acquire the horses, China spread over the entire Tarim Basin and travelling was now even safer. Traders soon started venturing west, where they discovered their silk raised great interest. Slowly but surely, they reached Rome, at a time when the Roman Empire was also on the rise, and Chinese Silk became a valued material and sign of wealth. According to Strathern, silk became so valuable, it was worth its own weight in gold.
The golden age of the Han Dynasty had begun. From around 100 BC China entered a period of great progress and stability that was to last for over a century.Paul Strathern in Exploration by Land: The Silk and Spice Routes
The last dynasty to keep the capital in Chang’an (present-day Xi’an) was the Tang Dynasty. Established by Emperor Gaozu – Li Yuan in 618 and lasting until 907, it is regarded by historians as the high point in Chinese civilization and a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. Moreover, the territorial expansion achieved by the Tang Dynasty was almost as impressive as that of the Hans.
During that time, Chinese culture flourished. It is considered the greatest age for Chinese poetry, two of the country’s greatest poets, Li Bai and Du Fu, belonging to that time. Chinese music also thrived, especially with the popular pipa instrument. Famous painters like Han Gan, Zhang Xuan, and Zhou Fang, belonged to the Tang Dynasty, at the same time, woodblock printing was invented. Moreover, Tang scholars compiled a rich variety of historical literature, as well as encyclopaedias and geographical works.
“Tang’s brilliant culture, politics and economy had great influence on the neighbour countries Silla, Bohai and Japan at that time. As a result, nowadays Chinese people are also named ‘Tang people’, and in the western countries, the residential places that Chinese people live in are given the name ‘Tang Ren Jie’ (China Town)”, reveals the Government of Shaanxi Province.
Shaanxi is undoubtably a cradle of Chinese culture and civilization, but it has also revealed clues into human evolution. Remains of the Lantian Man, a subspecies of Homo erectus, were found in 1963 in the Chenchiawo Village and in 1964 in the Gongwangling Village, both situated in the Lantian County on the Loess Plateau. The first discovery, a mandible, dates to about 710-684 years ago, while the second one, a partial skull, was dated to 1.65–1.59 million years ago, making the Lantian Man the second oldest Homo erectus beyond Africa.