Capital: Xi’an Population: 38.3 million Area: 205,000 sq km
The northern part of Shaanxi is one of the oldest settled regions of China, with remains of human habitation dating back to prehistoric times. This was the homeland of the Zhou people, who eventually conquered the Shang and established their rule over much of northern China. It was also the homeland of the Qin, who ruled from their capital of Xianyang near modern-day Xi’an and formed the first dynasty to rule over all of eastern China.
Shaanxi remained the political heart of China until the 9th century. The great Sui and Tang capital of Chang’an (Xi an) was built there and the province was a crossroads on the trading routes from eastern China to central Asia.
With the migration of the imperial court o pastures farther east. Shaanxi s fortunes declined. Rebellions afflicted the territory from 1340 to 1368, a2ain 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. Five million people died in the famine from 1876 to 1878, and another three million in the famines of 1915, 1921 and 1928.
It was probably the dismal condition of the Shaanxi peasants that provided the Communists such willing support in the province in the late 1920s and during the subsequent civil war. From their base at Yan’an the Communist leaders directed the war against the Kuomintang and later against the Japanese, before being forced to evacuate in the wake of a Kuomintang attack in 1947.
Some 38 million people live in Shaanxi, mostly in the central and southern regions. The northern area of the province is a plateau covered with a thick layer of wind-blown loess soil, which masks the original landforms. Deeply eroded, the landscape has deep ravines and almost vertical cliff faces.
The Great Wall in the far north of the province is something of a cultural barrier, beyond which agriculture and human existence were always precarious ventures.
Like so much of China, this region is rich in natural resources, particularly coal and oil. Wei He, a branch of Huang He ( Yellow River ), cuts across the middle of the province. This fertile belt became a center of Chinese civilization.
The south of the province is quite different from the north: it’s a comparatively lush, mountainous area with a mild climate.
Area code 029 • pop 6,620,600
Xi’an once vied with Rome and later Constantinople for the title of greatest city in the world. Over a period of 2000 years Xi’an has seen the rise and fall of numerous Chinese dynasties. The Monuments and archaeological sites in the city and the surrounding plain are a reminder that once upon a time Xian stood at the very centre of the Chinese world.
Today Xi’an is one of China’s major tourist attractions. The big drawcard is the Army of Terracotta Warriors, but there are countless other sights scattered in and around the city. There is also an Islamic element to Xian, found in tucked-away mosques and busy marketplaces, that lends the city a touch of the exotic rarely found in Chinese cities farther east.
Xi’an retains the same rectangular shape that characterised Chang’an, with streets and avenues laid out in a neat grid pattern.
The central block of the modern city is bounded by the city walls. The centre of town is the enormous Bell Tower, and from here run Xi’an’s four major streets: Bei. Nan, Dong and Xi Dajie. The train station stands at the north-eastern edge of the central city block. Jiefang Lu runs south from the station to intersect with Dong Dajie.
Most of the tourist facilities can be found either along or in the vicinity of Jiefane Lu or along Xi Dajie and Dong Dajie. However, many of the city’s sights like the Shaanxi History Museum. Dayan Ta and XiAoyan Ta, and Banpo Neolithic Village are outside the central block.
Farther afield on the plains surrounding Xi’an are sights such as the Xianying City Museum, FAmen Si, the Tomb of Qin Shihuang and the Army of Terracotta Warriors near Lintong.
Pick up a copy of the widely available Xi’an Tourist Map. This bilingual production has exhaustive listings and is regularly updated – even the bus routes are correct.
Tourist Offices The Xi’an Tourist Information Services Centre (tel: 745 5043) is next to Jiefang Fandian, in front of the train station and is open daily from 7.30am to 8pm. It offers friendly and free advice on bus routes, accommodation and also runs daily Eastern and Western tours.
The main branch of the Bank of China is at 223 Jiefang Lu, just up from Dong Wulu. It’s open Monday to Friday from 8.30am to noon and 2pm to 5.30pm and on weekends from 9am to 3pm. There’s also a branch on Dong Dajie where foreigners can change cash and travellers cheques; it has similar hours.
The main post office is opposite the Bell Tower on Bei Dajie. Hours are 8.30am to 8pm daily. China Telecom is next to the Bell Tower Square (Zhonglou Guangchiing), opposite the post office. It has an Internet bar on the 2nd floor with access for Y12 per hour. Several other Internet bars have recently sprouted up along Dong Dajie: most have access for under Y10 per hour. Renmfn Dasha Gongyu has cheap but frustrating access. There is another post and telephone office opposite the train station.
Travel Agencies One popular choice is Golden Bridge Travel (tel: 725 7975, fax 725 8863), on the 2nd floor of the Bell Tower Hotel. The staff are friendly and are willing to dole out information even if you don’t end up using their services. A China International Travel Service (CITS; Zhongguo Guoji Luxingshe) branch is also on the 2nd floor of this hotel.
Kane’s Kate is inside Rennin Dasha Gongyu: the cafe has good food and Ghengis Kane, the proprietor, is friendly and helpful. Up the road Dad’s Home Cooking run Eastern Tours and can also provide some useful information about getting to major sights in the area.
CITS (Tel: 524 1864) has an office on Chang’an Lu, a short walk south of Youyi Xilu. It mainly organises tours, although other services such as rail ticket bookings are available. Or, the ever-helpful China Travel Service (CTS: Zhongguo Luxingshe; Tel: 526 1760) has an office nearby at 63 Chang’an Lu. A larger CTS office (Tel: 324 4352, at 4 Xingqing Lu, is on the 4th floor of the Empress Hotel east of the East Gate (Dong Men).
The Public Security Bureau (PSB; Gonganju; Tel:723 4500, ext 51810), at 138 Xi Dajie, is a five-minute walk west of the Bell Tower. It’s open Monday to Friday from 8am to noon and 2pm to 6pm.