Xi’an: Living Within Its History

What if I tell you that there is a museum that is an entire city? 

 You probably won’t believe me, but I tell you, there is.

 There is. 

 It’s Xi’an. Home to several ancient Chinese dynasties, Xi’an contains countless historical references or objects. Two museums in Xi’an exhibit specific national treasures, but there are also artifacts incorporated into the city itself. Many of them are part of one’s daily life in Xi’an.

How lucky are those people? 

In the center of Xi’ an, there is a city wall built in the Ming Dynasty in 1370. It is misleading to refer to it as “a piece of history” because it is so well maintained that you cannot distinguish it from modern architecture. Cars drive through the same gates ancient people used to pass through. Pedestrians take strolls and ride bikes on top of the wall where ancient soldiers used to patrol. The city is crowded with homes, shops, and restaurants, combining the contemporary elements of everyday life with that of ancient times. 

When you ride along the top of the wall, you can see the part of Xi’an that is protected by it. People built some houses explicitly to replicate the old-fashioned flats of 700 years ago. Some places just haven’t changed for 300 years. They were passed down from generation to generation. 

The government also effectively regulated the building style in the inner city. For example, you cannot build a structure that is over a certain height. This way, the part of Xi’an within the city wall looks similar to the city as it was 700 years ago.

The city wall comprises two buildings shown in the picture. Both built at the same time. One is called the Bell Tower, and the other is called the Drum Tower. Seven hundred years ago, people used to ring the bell every morning and stroke the drum every night. The bell and drum were meant to encourage people to study hard and warn them to beware of their actions. Emperors built these two towers to make citizens think about their actions. 

From their location, we can see the two buildings’ importance. Both of them lie on the central line of the city, a line they believed was sacred even 700 years ago. Although we rarely hear the beautiful sounds of the bell and drum today, we can clearly see the bells and drums as we pass by the buildings, impressing upon us the importance of our actions and their consequences.

Another example is the Great Wild Goose Pagoda. It is a part of the Ci’en Temple. 

The famous monk Hsuan Tsang said he buried his treasured scriptures underneath it. Hsuan Tsang traveled by foot from Xi’an to India more than 1,000 years ago to learn sacred teachings from Buddha in India. Tsang returned with many original scriptures and brought all his knowledge back to China. Sadly, there are only a few of those original scriptures left in the world. 

This tower, however, is a symbol of Hsuan Tsang’s story. When people see it, they can think of Hsuan Tsang’s long and harsh journey west. He not only brought Buddhism to China, but he also brought back a spirit of bravery and perseverance.

Whether you are visiting or living in Xi’an, you cannot escape the power of its past. There is no way to separate oneself from its ancient influence. Experiencing Xi’an is to see and understand one’s connection to the past even in your current, contemporary life.