Shaanxi History
Chang’an—the First International Metropolis in Chinese History


 The plane sketch of Chang’an City in the Han Dynasty

In the late Qin Dynasty and the early Han Dynasty, Chang’an was merely a township in Xianyang, the capital of Qin. Being the enfeoffment for Cheng Qiao, brother of Emperor Qin Shihuang, who was entitled Chang’an Jun, the very place was called Chang’an, meaning everlasting peacefulness. In 202BC, after defeating Xiang Yu, Liu Bang came to the throne in Dingtao, Shandong Province and set the transitory capital in Luoyang. Later, with the suggestion of Zhang Liang and Lou Jing, Liu moved the capital to Guanzhong Area and built a massive Chang’an City on the original Changle Palace of Qin. From then on, Chang’an became one important city in Chinese history.

As the capital city, from 202BC when it was initiated, Chang’an City was not fully constructed until Emperor Wudi of the Han Dynasty came to the throne, a process lasting about one century. As a large-scale city, it covered an area of 36 square kilometers with the city wall running about 25km. There are 160 lanes and streets, nine business sections, eight 45-meter-wide avenues in the city with the longest Anmen avenue extending 5,500 meters. The city was originally surrounded by high city walls, the remains of which are still four to six meters tall with the highest section rising eight meters above the ground, like a huge dragon crouching on the northwest of the recent Xi’an City. Chang’an City in the Han Dynasty was not only the largest metropolis in ancient China but also the World No. 1 City for it covered an area three times larger than the ancient Roman City. With a population of more than 500,000, it was not only the political, economic and cultural center of the Han Dynasty over 200 years but also the capital for such dynasties as the Eastern Han, the Western Jin Dynasty, the Former Zhao, the Former Qin, the Western Wei, the Northern Zhou Periods, the Sui Dynasty and the Tang Dynasty. Altogether, it served as the capital for 800 years and thus a capital city with the longest history and spanning most dynasties.

Chang’an City took the imperial palaces as the center with the large-sized palace complexes taking more than 2/3 of its

entire coverage, which forms sharp contrast with the ancient Roman City where various huge public buildings were erected to show its huge national power. Among the palaces, the most famous ones are Changle Palace, Weiyang Palace and Mingguang Palace, interconnected by overhead corridors, which provides not only convenience but also a majestic and imposing view. Composed of rows upon rows of imposing buildings and pavilions, the palaces covered several square kilometers on average. The Jianzhang Palace built during Emperor Wudi’s Reign, for instance, had to be built in the west of the city for lack of space. However, it was even bigger and grander than Changle Palace and Weiyang Palace with large bronze phoenix sculptures named Wind-Directing-Bird on top of the palace which could revolve with the wind. Scholars in China and from other countries commonly believed that the phoenix sculptures were actually the earliest anemometer and wind vane which were of both decoration function and meteorological function. In Chinese history, Changle Palace, Weiyang Palace of Han and E’pang Palace in Qin and Daming Palace in Tang became the alias for super palaces.


Remains of Weiyang Palace in Chang’an City of the Han Dynasty

As the arena for regular imperial conferences, the Front Hall of Weiyang Palace was the arena for regular imperial conferences and the most famous construction among all the imperial palace sections. The hall vanished long ago but themassive 20-meter-tall rammed earth stylobate is still there in northwest Xi’an City. It measures 200 meters wide and 350 meters long. In historic records, the Front Hall was a magnificent complex of three connected halls with imposing decorations like inscriptions, carvings, silk ribbons, gold and treasures etc. Located on Longshouyuan, the area with the highest elevation, the paradise-like hall offered a panoramic view of the picturesque Guanzhong Area such as the rolling Qinling Range and the sedate Weishui River. Far north of Weihe River, the imperial tombs of the Han Dynasty are also visible. When climbing up the Front Hall Site, visitors will never fail to touch the grandeur of the Han Empire and the glory of the past emperors.

Outside Chang’an City there was a massive imperial garden called Shanglin Garden. In the garden there were 15 ponds, with one pond called Kunming Pond covering about 300 square li. The pond was so vast that on windy days, waves upon waves would splash against the sandy beach, conjuring up a majestic water view. What is unimaginable is on such an inland area, Emperor Wudi of Han managed to establish the first navy academy in Chinese history, which in the historic record hanshu are described to have 30-meter tall boats with banner billowing with magnificent views.

In the garden various rare animals, flowers and plants were raised including the alfalfabrought from westernminorities by Zhang Qian, which became later the best feed for good steeds from Western Regions. With the massive scale and the majestic views, Shanglin Garden became the model for imperial gardens in following dynasties. That explained why many imperial gardens were also named Shanglin Garden, including the imperial gardens in Japan and Korean Peninsula. Taiye Pond in Jianzhang Palace offered a superior water view and in between the luxuriant water grass there was a 10-meter long stone whale. After excavation, a section of the stone whale was put in the pond in front of the gate at ShaanxiHistory Museum.

  The ivory counting rods of the Han Dynasty

With the resurrection of Confucianism and development of education and culture, Chang’an became the city with the most advanced education and culture at that time. Taixue started by Emperor Wudi of Han was the earliest higher educational institution in Chinese history. It had more than 3,000 students in its prime period and had madegreat contribution to the development of culture and education of the Han Dynasty. When Wang Mang took the throne from the Liu family, he followed the education system of the Western Zhou and established Mingtang and Biyong as the affiliation of Taixue. Recently, their remains are found in the western suburbs of Xi’an City which become the concrete proof of the glorious achievement in education and culture in the Han Dynasty. Chang’an also housed the largest library in the Han Dynasty. Two earth mounds nearby the remains of the Front Hallof Weiyang Palace were recently proven by archeologists to be the remains of the national library in the Han Dynasty—Tianluge and shiquge.


    The earliest vegetable fibre paper in the world—the Baqiao Paper

The scholastic atmospher e in Chang’an City also attracted a great number of scientists and scholars to study and write. Sima Qian from Hancheng, Shaanxi, for instance,wrote in Chang’an his immortal works Shiji. Many other famous writers like Sima Xiangru, Yang Xiong also took Chang’an as the base for their creation of poems and essays. Chang’an was home to many world-leading inventions. In 1BC when many other nationalities were still in obscuration, a scientist in the Western Han Dynasty had already finished his famous mathematic books Jiu Zhang Suan Shu (Explanation on theNice Chapters on the Mathematical Art) and Zhou Bi Suan Jing (Zhou Bi Classic of Mathematics), which proposed the concepts of negative and positive numbers and square root, cubic root and quadratic equations. Among the principles, the solving process of equation sets are 400 years earlier than ancient Indian and 1,300 years earlier than Europe. In terms of astronomy, the astronomic records in shiji and hanshu are extremely noticeable. The earlier recordsabout nova, super nova and the sunspots are found in hanshu and the earliest detailed records about lunar eclipse and solar eclipse arealso found in books of the Han Dynasty. Huntianyi, an armillary sphere, invented by Luo Xiahong during Emperor Wudi’s Reign was so much earlier than similar equipments invented in western countries.In a tomb of the Western Han Dynasty excavated in the eastern suburbs of Xi’an in 1955, a kind of vegetable fiber paper which was later called “Baqiao Paper” was found. Amazingly, it was 200 years earlier than the paper invented by Cai Lun, a figure known as the initiator of paper in Chinese history. Papermaking is the greatest inventionin ancient China and tops the list of “the Four Greatest Inventions” in Chinese history. Cai Lun, although proven not to be the inventor of paper, made great contribution to improving papermaking techniques when he lived in Shaanxi. For his great contribution, Cai Lun was awarded the noble title of Longting Marquis and his enfeoffment wasin Yangxian County, south Shaanxi Province. China also took the leadship in geography and farming. hequshu (a chapter on rivers in shiji), dilizhi (a chapter on geography in hanshu) and shuijing (a book on waters and rivers) by Sang Qin were representative works of geography inthe Han Dynasty. The farming techniques advocated by Zhao Guo and Fan Sheng and the tripod seed plough were all of leading position in the world at that time. All these great works and inventions made Chang’an the nationalcenter for culture, education and science and technology in the Han Dynasty.

With the exponential growth of the Han Dynasty, Chang’an gradually became an important international metropolis. After Zhang Qian’s visits to the western minorities, ambassadors from various Central Asian states were sent to Chang’an, which promoted communication between China and its neighboring countries in business and trade. From then on, the Han Empire communicated with more and more neighboring countries and established friendly neighboring relations with Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan etc. recently, many ceramic figureswith western appearance and objects with exotic style were found occasionally from archeological excavations in Chang’an, which helped prove the frequent communication of the Han Empire with ite neighbors and the important position Chang’an took in the international arena.

Host:Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Heritage Administration   Address: No.193,Yanta Road,Xi'an City,Shaanxi Province
Undertaker:Shaanxi History Museum   Address:No.91,Xiaozhai East Road,Xi'an City,710061