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Time-Honored History & Civilization

Shaanxi is considered one of the cradles of Chinese civilization. Thirteen feudal dynasties established their capitalsin the province during a span of more than 1,100 years from Zhou Dynasty to Tang Dynasty. The history can be classified into the following periods,such as the prehistoric age, Zhou Dynasty,Qin Dynasty, Western Han Dynasty, Wei, Jin, South and North Dynasties,Sui and Tang Dynasties, and also Song,Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. After the People’s Republic of China was foundedin 1949, Shaanxi thus enters into a new developing age.

The Prehistoric Age

(1,150,000 years ago—21st century B.C)

Shaanxi is an important source ofinformation on the origin of the human race in Asia, during the PrehistoricAge, which ranges from 1,150,000 years ago to the 21st century B.C.

In 1964, the fossil of a human skull andjawbone were discovered in Liantian County. The archaeologists put thesetogether and shaped this female figure around her 30’s. The Liantian Ape-manhad a much smaller brain capability comparing with people living today, only780 milliliters about half the size of people today. And the thickness of theirskull is twice as much as people today. All of these tell us that the intellectof Liantian Ape-man is not well developed. However, the results of the latestresearch grogram prove that Liantian Ape-man lived about 1,150,000 years agoand was the earliest known Homo erectus in North Asia.

After the discovery of the fossil ofLiantian Ape-man, the fossil of a rather complete hominid skull was found inDali County, Shaanxi Province in 1978. The brain capability of the Dali Men waslarger, reached to 1120 milliliters, only 300 less than people today. Dali Menlived about 200,000 years ago, and belonged to a new stage of human evolution,known as Homo Sapiens.

The earliest Neolithic cultural heritagein Shaanxi is known as Laoguantai Culture, which originated about 8,000 yearsago. The Neolithic Culture is different from the Paleolithic Culture in threemajor respects: the use of polished stone implements, the invention of potteryutensils, and the emergence of settled habitation and primitive farming. Theappearance of early pottery utensils provided the human being with the cookingvessels, and helped a lot to improve the living condition at that time. Theunearthed polished stone spades and knives indicate that at that time peoplemade a living not solely by gathering and hunting, but by means ofslash-and-burn.

Yangshao Culture dates about 7,000-5,000years back. In Shaanxi province, the representatives of Yangshao Culture arethe Banpo site and the Jiangzhai site.

China went into the Longshan Cultureperiod about 5,000 years ago. The village ruins typical of Longshan Culture arescattered extensively in Shaanxi Province and chiefly centered in the area ofthe Wei River. Starting from the period of the Longshan Culture, mankind movedinto the age of patriarchal clan community. With social and economicdevelopment, men began to play a dominant role in social activities instead ofwomen. With the invention of a new method of pottery making, the earthenwareever made was uniform in thickness and varied in style. In addition, paintedpottery wares gave way to their grey pottery counterparts. A lot of wine vesselsappeared at that time because of the agriculture development.

The Yellow Emperor was born about 4,700years ago. He was a legendary leader of Huaxia tribesmen in the patriarchalclan community during the Longshan Culture period. Shaanxi was then the centralarea of their activities. Under his leadership, the Huaxia tribesmen unifiedthe Yellow River Valley after fighting 52 battles. Therefore, the YellowEmperor was worshipped as the forefather of the Chinese nation. Every year onthe Pure Brightness Festival, the people of Chinese origin come from differentparts of the world to search for their roots and offer sacrifices to the Yellow Emperor.

Zhou Dynasty

(21st century B.C—770 A.D)

The Zhou Period includes three differentstages: the Zhou Clan, the Zhoufang State, and the Western Zhou Dynasty.  

Several small tribes lived on the banks ofthe Jing and Wei rivers. During the late period of the Long Shan culture, thesetribes formed the Zhou Clan.

To avoid the nomadic tribe’s invasions in16th century B.C., they settled down in the present Fufeng and Qishan countrieswhere they established their capital, official ranking system, and government.This settlement was acknowledged by the Shang Dynasty and was appointed thetitle of “Fang state”.  

In the 11th century B.C., the ShangDynasty died and the Zhou Dynasty came into existence instead. It establishedits capital in Feng and Hao, which were separated by the Feng River. This spotmarked the founding of the ancient city of Xi’an.

Western Zhou Dynasty was the firstnationwide kingdom to establish its capital in Shaanxi. The name of “Shaan”appeared during the early Western Zhou period. At that time, Duke Zhou and DukeZhao ruled the lands east and west of Shaan respectively. Therefore, the landwest of Shaan was called Shaanxi. During the Western Zhou Dynasty, the economyin Shaanxi, especially the agricultural economy, achieved great development. Agreat number of new agricultural tools were invented, which made it easier toplough the soil and remove the weeds. The system of fallow and rotation wasalso introduced, and green manure and compost used, complete irrigation systemsestablished. The Book of Songs described the farming scene this way: manypeople were working on the land, which led to a good harvest. The wholelandscape was thickly dotted with golden grain as high as the city wall. Interms of handcraft, iron forging, ceramic manufacturing, jade and bonepolishing, as well as leather and textile production were all well developed.The manufacturing of bronze ware achieved new development and innovation. Theywere not only elegant and graceful, but also designed and made as product sets.The number of words on the bronze ware also increased. Some of them had as manyas 5,000 words on it, which have very high historical values and represent thegreat calligraphy art of ancient China.

Zhou dynasty was famous for its bronzewares. But later in the Western Zhou Dynasty, bronze wares were no longer usedas a food container. Bronze wares served as a symbol of rank and were thingsused by royal family members. According to Chinese historical records, theemperor owned 9 tripods and 8 gui. Tripods are called “ding” in Chinese, andthey were used as a cooking vessel to boil meat. “gui” are similar to bowls weuse today. Nine ding and eight gui symbolized the position of the emperor.Seven ding and six gui symbolized the position of a duke.

In ancient times, people used Oracle boneto predict the future. During ancient times, the ox and the tortoise wereregarded as divine beasts. Tribes practiced divination by chiseling holes intotortoise shells or animal bones. Then they would light up twisted grass and putit under the chisel holes. The bone would then crack under the heat, and thediviner would interpret the shapes and direction of the cracks. Finally, thediviner would carve the results into another bone. These carvings became thefirst known characters in China. We called it “inscriptions on tortoise shellsor animal bones”.

Qin Dynasty

(770 B.C—206 B.C)

The Qin period covers three historicperiods: The Spring and Autumn, the Warring States, and the Qing Dynasty.

The Qin was an ancient tribal clan thatused to live in Tianshui--Gansu Province. The forefather of the first Qinemperor was called Xianggong. In 770 BC, King Ping of the Zhou Dynasty bestoweda favor upon Qin Xianggong and appointed him an imperial duke. Later, QinXianggong established Yongcheng as his own capital, which is presentlyFengxiang country in Shaanxi Province. In 383 BC, the capital was moved furthereastward to Yue Yang. In 350 BC, the capital was moved to Xianyang. After QinShi Huang unified China in 246 BC, he built six luxurious palaces at thenorthern mountain of Xianyang. These palaces resembled those found in the sixstates he had overthrown. After the country was unified, Qin Shi huang moved120,000 rich households into Xianyang, which brought the population in the cityto nearly 1 million and made it the largest city in the world at that time.

In July, 210 BC, Qin Shi Huang died at thepalace in Shaqiu prefecture. His son, Huhai, became the second emperor laterknown as Qin Er Shi. In 209 BC, Chen Sheng and Wu Guang led an uprising againstthe rule of Qin Er Shi. In September, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu started a rebellionat Peixian County and Wu. In August 207 BC, Zhao Gao killed Qin Er Shi inXianyang and enthroned Huhai’s brother Ziying as the King of Qin. In October207 BC, Liu Bang reached Bashang through Wuguan and Lantian in Shaanxi. Ziyingsurrendered to Liu Bang, and the Qin Dynasty was overthrown.  

Han Dynasty

(202 B.C—220 A.D)

The Han Dynasty is a very importanthistorical stage in China’s history. The Han nationality was officially formedduring this historical period. The Han exerted a far-reaching influence on thedevelopment of the succeeding dynasties in Chinese History.  That is why“Han” is a synonym with Chinese people and civilization in the world today. HanDynasty chose Xi’an as their capital, located just northwest of present dayXi’an. At that time it was called Chang’an, which means permanent peace.

Chang’an, the capital of the Western HanDynasty, was 10 miles to the northwest of today’s Xi’an. Chang’an is the firstlarge-scale city throughout the Chinese history. No other city in the world,other than Rome, is in place to compete with it.

The Western Han Dynasty witnessed thebooming time of Shanxi Province. During Han Dynasty, Chang’an had ninecentralized markets, 6 in the west and three in the east, each surrounded bywalls. A five-storey building, named Qiting, was built in the middle ofmarkets. All these fully demonstrate the fact that trade andl business had alsodeveloped significantly that time.

At the time, development had also beenmade in the field of culture and education. Sima QIan, the famous historian,once uses these collected books as reference in the process of composingHistorical Records, our country’s first masterpiece on history. Liu Xinfinished Qilue, the first book on the theory of bibliography, while followinghis father, Liu Xiang, to sort out books. Schools were quite underdeveloped atthe time. Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty set up Imperial College in Chang’an.Seven years later, at the last year of Emperor Cheng’ s reign, this numberincreased to 3 000 and there emerged many different schools. Yong people aroundthe country were selected and recommended to study in Chang’an

In Han Dynasty, the Silk Road opened. The beginning was here in Xi’an. In allowed Chinese silk tobe traded to western countries. In return, Chinese got good horse breeds,plants, music and dance. Chang’an became the largest center in Asia forinternational exchanges.  

Wei, Jin, South and North Dynasties

(220 A.D—589 A.D)

During this period a lot of wars happened,so a lot of dynasties co-existed at the same time. China experienced a longperiod of social upheaval with frequent wars during these 400 years. Shaanxiprovince experienced almost 10 different leaders, and where we can see a lot ofartifacts with strong military influences.

During the Sixteen States period, a numberof successive minority nationality regimes established authority in Shaanxi.TongWan city, the capital of Daxia, which is located in Jingbian Country,Northern Shaanxi, is one of the best-preserved castles in the desert region ofChina.

At this time in history, a lot of peoplesuffered from the constant fighting, so during this time people had no energyand had no extra time to create art. Porcelain developed a lot during thisperiod. Porcelain became varied in shapes and size, and also became verysmooth.  

Religion-related artistic works were oneof the most popular forms of art during the Wei, Jin, South and North dynastiesera. Buddhism was brought into China during the Han Dynasty and wasenthusiastically promoted and encouraged by various minority regimes. Peoplewho suffered greatly from the wars wished to seek some kind of relief byworshiping Gods and Buddha. Therefore, both Buddhism and Buddhist artsunderwent tremendous changes. The making of Buddhist statues is a major form ofBuddhist art. The statues were made from a number of materials such as gold,silver, bronze, and jade. Buddhist figures do not have Chinese facial figuresin this period, and look more like Indian people.  

Sui and Tang Dynasties

(581 A.D—907 A.D)

In February 581, Yang Jian, Prime Ministerof the Northern Zhou Dynasty (557-581) abolished Zhou dynasty and establishedSui dynasty, and took the supreme position as King Wen of Sui Dynasty.

The Tang Dynasty (June 18, 618 – June 1,907) was an imperial dynasty of China preceded by the Sui Dynasty and followedby the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period. It was founded by the Li family,who seized power during the decline and collapse of the Sui Empire. The dynastywas interrupted briefly by the Second Zhou Dynasty (October 8, 690 – March 3,705) when Empress Wu Zetian seized the throne, becoming the first and onlyChinese empress regnant, ruling in her own right. Tang dynasty became therichest, most powerful, and most advanced country in the world. It covered mostof the territory of present-day China, Vietnam, Mongolia and much of CentralAsia as far as eastern Kazakhstan.

The Tang Dynasty, with its capital atChang'an (present-day Xi'an), the most populous city at the time in the world,is generally regarded as a high point in Chinese civilization—equal to, orsurpassing that of, the earlier Han Dynasty—a golden age of cosmopolitanculture. The capital city of Chang’an was built on the basis of the Sui DaxingCity with further improvements and expansion. Chang’an was divided into threezones, the palace area, the administrative area, and the residential area. Thepalace areas of Chang’an City are called Taijin Palace, the Daming Palace, andthe XingQing palace. The emperor used all those three palaces, and under theTaiJin Palace there was a royal court that housed the officials of thegovernment. The other small squares were residential areas for the commonpeople. There were 11 vertical streets and 14 horizontal streets that divided thecity into 108 square plots. In the middle there were two markets, east andwest. In the West market, people sold things from the Silk Road, while in theEast market people sold items made in China. Even today, the Chinese words for“buy things” literally means buy east and west. The city of Chang’an was threetimes larger than Chang’an in the Han Dynasty, and was seven times larger thanByzantium and six times larger than Baghdad. Chang’an also provided othernearby nations a model for city construction. Japan and Korea built similarcities.  

Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties

(960 A.D—1840 A.D)

Since the Song Dynasty, Shaanxi lost itsposition as the national capital, but it remained a place, of strategicimportance for the feudal dynasties to maintain control of the country’sNorthwest and Southwest on the other hand, it was still the military,political, economic, and cultural center in the Northwestern area. At thatperiod Shaanxi province was no longer the capital city in china. It onlyoccupied a very important position for military purposes.

During Song and Yuan Dynasty, Shanxieconomy, agriculture in particular, had undergone gradual recovery anddevelopment, especially in the field of water conservancy. During the reign ofEmperor Ren of the Song Dynasty (1041-1048), land eligible to irritation hadexpanded from 2 000 hectors at the beginning of the Dynasty to 6 000 hectors,the same level with that of the middle Tang Dynasty. In the middle of the SongDynasty, people in the Shanxi Province reaped great harvest for years on end.In 1051, the third year during the reign of Emperor Ren, Baozheng, then Shanxifiscal commissioner, reported to the throne that after years of great harvest,this autumn the grain yielded great again”.  (A Continuation of Tzu ChihT`ung Chien, Volume 171)          

The Song and Yuan Dynasties also saw rapiddevelopment of Chinese porcelain. A part from the government-run porcelainkilns, private kilns began to emerge to form a system of eight differentporcelain kilns, among which the Yaozhou kiln in Shaanxi province isrepresentative of the celadon vessels in the Northern part of China.

The Ming Dynasty took over Shaanxi in1369AD and changed the name the city to Xi’an. The city wall, Bell tower anddrum tower of Xi’an city were built in Ming Dynasty. And Xi’an the name wasfirst used in Ming Dynasty, because at that time, Xi’an was no longer thecapital city of China.

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