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Xi'an, the City of the Dead
Xi'an is China's City of the Dead because of its imperial treasures. However, I will guarantee that you can hardly find any other place in China that can serve as a more lively illustration of a history that spans over 5,000 years. Xi'an's historical monuments and sites are even more extensive than Beijing's. While in Xi'an, you will have the luxury of enjoying an awesome collection that stretches from the Banpo Neolithic Village, occupied 6,000 years ago, to the sole surviving city wall of any major city in China, built during the Ming Dynasty, and, of course, to the eighth wonder of the world - the terra cotta army formed to protect Emperor Qinshinghuang's tomb.

Xi'an also serves as a gateway to the Silk Road and the oases of the Gobi Desert. You can follow the historic route many traders took to transfer the precious silk and tea from China to Middle East and to other parts of the world starting right in Xi'an.

Located 550 miles west of Beijing in the north-central province of Shanxi, Xi'an's weather is best in autumn (not as hot and humid as in summer, as cold as in winter, or as dusty as in spring).
Xi'an City Ratings
** The following ratings are based on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best.
History(10) Art(8) Local Culture/Unique Tour(7)
Nature/Scenic(6) Food/Shopping(6) Night Life(3)
Religion(8)    Adventure/Sports(7) Reasonable Cost(6)
Recommended Days of Stay: 5 Xi'an City Map

Quick Facts
Population - 6 million
People - Han, Hui
When to go
Tourist Season - May through June and September through October;
Coldest Month - January with temperature as low as - 14C;
Hottest Months - July with temperature as high as 40C;
Annual Precipitation - 604 millimeters (mainly in July through September)
Getting Around
By Hotel Tour Bus and Cars - Most hotels have tour buses to the places of interest. Make sure you understand whether the fares include the entrance fees for the historic attractions. Hotels also have cars for rent;

By Taxi - Taxis are cheap. However, do settle a price before getting in as not all cab drivers use meters.
Getting In and Out
By Air - Xi'an is 1.75 hours by air from Beijing. It also has air routes with 42 cities around Asia. The airport is about 45 km from the city;

By Train - Xi'an is approximately seven hours by train from Luoyan and four hours from Chongqing.

History


Arthur Waley, the famous English translator of Chinese literature, never wished to visit modern China so that he could keep his vision of ancient China. However, if there is one place I would recommend him to visit, that would be Xi'an, the Old Capital. Standing on top of the Ming Dynasty City Wall and watching sunset off the endless Gobi desert, you would feel like that you are stepping back in history and the time has not advanced for 2,000 years at all.

Xi'an, formerly known as Chang'an, was the site of 11 Chinese dynasties, spanning well over one thousand years. Xi'an enjoyed its most glorious time as the capital of the mighty Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907), the most prosperous and powerful kingdom of its time. In fact, the loess plains around Xi'an on which the River Wei flows close to Xi'an and empties into the Yellow River is considered as the cradle of Chinese civilization. Chinese people call themselves the children of Xuan Yuan and Xi'an is where Xuan Yuan governed his people. So, in a sense, Xi'an is the hometown for all Chinese people.

Xi'an declined because of late Tang debauchery and corruption, the eunuchs ruling the court, and increasingly powerful governors-generals controlling the provinces. In 906, one of the last Tang emperors allowed one of his generals to take complete charge while he enjoyed his ladylove, Yang Guifei. Xi'an rolled downhill from thereon, following the fortunes, also, of the Silk Road.


The Buried Army * * * * *
Xi'an is most famous for Emperor Qinshihuang's Terracotta Army. This is one of the most spectacular and important places to visit in the world. The painted-ceramic army of more than 8,000 soldiers were buried to protect the tomb of Emperor Qin about 2,200 years ago. Consider this an advancement in civilization because they used the terra cotta army instead burying real people. The existence of the Buried Army has always been a puzzle to the historians because there is absolutely no mentioning of the terra cotta soldiers in any history record despite the comprehensiveness of Chinese history books. Maybe the architects wanted to surprise the tomb robbers. The site was stumbled upon when a few peasants trying to dig a well in 1974. You can meet some of them in the museum. They got a new job of signing gifts and souvenirs for the tourists. I consider this a short cut to jump from a blue-collar job to a white-collar job.

There are three pits in the museum. Pit one holds approximately 6,000 soldiers. However, currently there are only about 600 that are visible. The soldiers are hollow from thigh up. They are about 1.80 meters. One has to believe that the height is a wishful thinking instead of the fact. Most historians believe that the average height of men during Qin Dynasty was only about 1.50 meters. If you have time to observe all of them, you will find that the faces have different expressions. Some angry, some happy, some impatient and some indifferent. The officers wear different clothing and armor.

Pit two is located in a different building. It holds 1,400 cavalrymen, archers, charioteers and infantrymen. Here the soldiers are much more lively. Some are yelling; some are kneeling and some are shooting. One can almost get the feeling of being in the middle of a war that happened more than 2,000 years ago.

Pit three is believed to be a command center because it holds only 68 officers.


The City Wall * * * *
When people talk about "the Wall" in China, they usually refer to the Great Wall of China. Little do most people know that the city wall of Xi'an is the oldest of its kind in China. It is forty feet high, 8 miles around, fashioned from rammed earth and brick. The wall was built around 1370s, during the Ming Dynasty. There used to be only four gates open to the public on the four sides of the wall in Ming Dynasty. Today more gates are opened to accommodate the traffic. A small part of the south is still in its original Tang dynasty style.

Xi'an City Wall is the oldest and probably the best preserved city walls in China.


The Qinshihuang Tomb * *
Qinshihuang was the first emperor that united China. It was believed that his tomb was filled with valueless treasures, including a river of mercury. However, the tomb is still under excavation. So there is really not much to see right now. If the buried army that was used to protect the tomb was any indication, the tomb itself will be another archaeological wonder.

Qianling (Tomb of Tang Emperor Kao-tsung) * *
There was only one official empress in Chinese history. Her name was Wu Zetian of the Tang Dynasty. After her death in 705, She was buried together with her husband Emperor Taozong in Qianling.

Empress Wu was a legendary figure. She was a ruthless and outrageous ruler. There are many stories about her ascend to the top. She used to be a concubine of Emperor Taizong, her husband's father. After Emperor Taizong's death, she followed the tradition and became a nun. Not totally satisfied with the tranquillity of a nun's life style, she bribed one of Emperor Gaozong (son of Emperor Taizong)'s trusted aids who led him to her. Emperor Gaozong fell in love with Wu Zetian instantly. He took her in as one of his own concubines despite the fact she used to serve his dad. However, Wu zetian was not happy with the status of a mere concubine. Utilizing her beauty and charm, she persuaded Emperor Gaozong to make her the queen instead. Later on, when her husband became ill and not able to handle the daily operation of the country, she took it over and made herself ruler of China.

Despite being brutal to her enemies, she appreciated talented people. Once her aids got hold of an article calling people to rebel against her. The article was written by a young man who became a prominent poet of his time. While reading the article, instead of getting angry at the sharp language of criticism, she sighed " It's the prime minister's fault that we did not discover and utilize such talent ourselves."

In deed, Empress Wu was one of the more successful rulers of Chinese history. Under her governance, the people were fed and the society progressed peacefully. That's more than what can be said about many other dynasties ruled by emperors.

The Qianling has not been excavated but it is the grandest of all the Tang tombs. The tomb itself lies in a natural hill which is approached by a long sprit way that passes between two artificial mounds, so that the whole appears to consist of three hills.


Da Yan and Xiao Yan Pagodas(Big Wild Goose and Small Wild Goose Pagodas) * * *
These two pagodas are the most famous in China because of their age and history. The Da Yan Pagoda was built to house the sutras brought back by the famous monk Xuan Zang from India in 652 A.D. Sutras are the equivalents of the Bible and Koran for Buddhism. All original Sutras were written in ancient Hindi. Xuan Zang was believed to carry many original Sutras back from India and translated them into Chinese. To some degree, he was the father of Buddhism in China. Xuan Zang's pilgrim trip to India was romanticized and made into an ancient science fiction named The Journey to the West in which his trip to India was protected by a rebelling monkey king. During their trip together to India, they encountered many evil spirits who tried stopping them from getting the Sutras. The novel is about how they dealt with the problems and pressed on their trip to the Holy Land of the West. The Journey to the West is one of the four most famous ancient novels of Chinese literacy, along side with The Dream of the Red Chamber. Ask your local guides about the details of the story. There should also be English version of the novel should you be interested to find out more.

Da Yan Pagoda has a great view from the top. It stands seven stories tall, looking magnificent after almost 1,400 years. For 1,200 years, this pagoda was the tallest building in central China. The emperors from Tang Dynasty stood at the same brick portals overlooking the capital. For 1,000 years, Xi'an was the greatest city in the east, perhaps in the world. During the golden age of Tang, Xi'an was seven times larger than it is today. The fall of Xi'an was not as dramatic as the fall of Rome. However, it entices the same emotion mix of admiration and sadness. So, get on Da Yan Pagoda and imagine a larger, more prosperous, and metropolitan city that stood right here 1,400 years ago. Try to picture watching Silk Road traders walk by the pagoda to their Muslim temple to pray before taking off for another journey; the high officials of Tang Dynasty riding to their offices in eight horse wagons; and maybe, the students of Xuan Zang gathering right below the pagoda to listen to his lectures much like Palato's students.

Da Yan Pagoda is important not only because of its architectural beauty but also its status as a symbol of Tang Dynasty's material prosperity and spiritual freedom. Visit this pagoda and take a piece of China's most glorious history away with you.

Da Yan means big goose and Xiao Yan means small goose. No one knows exactly how the pagodas got the funky names. Xuan Zang's biography states that as a flock of wild geese flew over a monastery in an Indian kingdom, one bird fell to the ground; the monks decided that it was a saint and built a pagoda for its body. Xuan Zang probably named the pagoda Da Yan Pagoda in memory of his trip to India, just like Paris, Texas or Holland, Michigan. Xiao Yan Pagoda probably acquired its name through association because it resembles Da Yan Pagoda and was built later.

One trip to either one of these pagodas is sufficient because they are so similar in nature. Usually the Da Yan Pagoda is more crowded and the Xiao Yan Pagoda is quieter.


Maoling (Main tomb of the fifth Han 139-87 B.C. emperor) * * *
Maoling is a group of tombs. The most famous one belongs to the fifth emperor (139-87 B.C.) of Han Dynasty. Among the discoveries from his tomb was a jade suit with gold threads. It took two thousand years for human beings to come up with matching bras, the diamond dotted wonder bra from Victoria's Secrets.

Yang Guifei (Concubine Yang) Tomb * * *
Empress Wu Zetian was not the only famous woman of Tang Dynasty. For hundreds of years, the love story between Concubine Yang Guifei and the Tang Emperor Tang XuanZong had captivated many poets and painters'. Emperor Tang Xuanzong, an accomplished painter and poet, was one of the most artistic emperors of all time. He was also one of the most romantic. Hopelessly in love with a seductive and full-figured concubine, Yang Guifei, he transferred the daily operation of his country to his aids in order to spend every minute with her.

What kind of woman was Yang Guifei? She was so beautiful that people consider her as one of the four classic beauties of ancient China. From the paintings of her, however, one has to say that she was indeed a bit overweight according to today's standard.

Anyway, some local general took advantage of the emperor's lack of interest in the state affairs and rebelled. His force was soon threatening Xi'an which was then called Chang'an. The emperor's army believed that Yang Guifei was the source of the problem and would not fight the rebellion unless she was killed. Despite all the promises the emperor made to Yang Guifei, he decided to save himself and his kingdom. Yang Guifei was hung and the rebelling force was thereafter defeated.

Yang Guifei's legacy still lives on. For thousands of years, women have taken earth from her tomb to put it on their faces, hoping it will make them equally alluring.


Bell Tower and Drum Tower *
When you are in the center of Xi'an, look around from the walls that surround you, you can see two treasures from Ming Dynasty - Bell and Drum Towers. From pure function's point of view, these two towers are nothing extraodinary. The Bell Tower had a massive bronze bell which was sounded each morning to start off a working day; the Drum Tower housed a large drum whose striking ended a working day. Every ancient city had these two towers. However, none of them is as famous or grand as Xi'an's towers. One can't help being in awe staring at the two fixtures that have been part of the city and the people's lives for almost seven hundred years.

Bell Tower is located in city center. It was built in 1384 during Ming Dynasty. When in the tower, look for the beautiful furniture and the fancy traditional Ming ceiling. The view from the second floor covers the entire city.

The nearby Drum Tower is within walking distance to the west of Bell Tower. It was built in 1384 and is original. During ancient times, the drums in the tower had to be beaten repeatedly before the city gates closed for the night. It served as an alarm clock for the travelers so that they won't be locked out.

Both towers are gorgeous from outside. They are indeed monuments of superb historical values that are worth preserving.


Tomb of the Yellow Emperor Xuan Yuan * * * *
It was believed that Xuan Yuan was the ancestor of all Chinese people. There are many legendary stories about him, including how he led people to deal with the flood of the Yellow River. In ancient times, travelers had to get off their horses and walk pass the tomb until they couldn't see it anymore to pay respect to the First Ancestor of all Chinese People. The tomb was originally built in Han Dynasty. It was moved to its current location in Song Dynasty.

The Tomb was about 3.6 meters high and 50 meters in circumference. At the base of the Tomb, there is a Xuan Yuan Temple. There is introduction about Xuan Yuan's life and his legend in the temple. People come to the temple to pay their respect.

Around the tomb, you will find a large cypress tree forest, about 63,000 of them in total. Xuan Yuan was believed to have planted one of them. If that is true, some of the trees here are about 4,000 years old.

The tomb of the Yellow Emperor Xuan Yuan is in Huangling County which is between Yan'an (see introduction below) and Xi'an, about four hours by road. Huangling means literally the tomb of the yellow emperor.


The Cradle of the Chinese Communist Party and Revolution - Yan'an * * *
If you are interested in the Chinese revolution, Yan'an is a must see. It is the end of the Long March, the long retreat the communist party army took to avoid Chang Kai Shek's KMT. It is almost like one of the god-chosen places for persecuted believers, except that the communists do not believe in god.

Yan'an is about eight hours by road or rail from Xi'an.


Chinese Pyramids * * * * *
Located in the Qin Ling Shan mountains, about 100 km southwest of Xi'an, the so-called Chinese White Pyramids are not mentioned in any tourist books. Some are reported to be about 300 meters high. One of the biggest was said to rival that of Giza of Egypt, at least in mass.

They were first noticed by an American pilot during WW II. These pyramids are believed to be at least 4,000 years old, and likely much older. It is said that its sides were originally painted black on the North, blue-gray (or faded green) on the East, red on the South, white on the West, and yellow on the top Center platform.

The pyramids were also mentioned that Bruce Cathie, author of Earth's Energy Grid. She discovered a correlation between the biggest pyramid in China and Giza dealing with degrees of arc.

Besides the fact that they are extremely old, no one knows much more about these pyramids. Who built them? Why did they build them? These questions will haunt the archaeologists for years to come.

For those of you who are interested in mysteries, here is a chance of a lifetime.


Shaanxi Provincial History Museum * * *
This museum is one of the best in China. It is definitely on a par with museums in Beijing and Shanghai. More impressively, it has some explanations in English which is a rarity in China. The museum is a treasure island for people who are interested in Chinese history. It covers prehistory from 1.5 million years ago to the last dynasty of China, Qing. The collection is large and well-chosen. The museum is well-illuminated and air conditioned.

The superb display puts archaeological items in chronological order. They include: fossilized skulls, early tools, weaponry, cooking vessels, funerary objectives. There is also a Donald Trump style gold bath tap and two shoe soles made from jade. Other more impressive items include more than 300 miniature Ming figures which were only discovered in 1990. The Arabic coins dating from A.D. 661 to 750 are evidence of the international and cosmopolitan nature of Xi'an of the Tang Dyansty.

Besides the rich and breath taking display inside, the museum building itself is quite a treat for architecture buffs. It is a very elegant modern building. The architect is said to be the 6th-generation descendant of the architect of Beijing's summer palace.

Overall, the Provincial History Museum is definitely worth a whole day trip if you are truly interested in Chinese history and want to learn more about a piece of a story that covers 5,000 years. Because of its clear organization and easy explanation, this museum is especially helpful for novices of Chinese history.


Banpo Museum * * * *
Imagine a civilization of well over 6,000 years old, an entire chapter of Chinese history that's missing at tourist stops elsewhere in China, and indeed most of other vacation spots around the world: The Stone Age. Well, imagine no more. The Banpo Museum is only 5 miles east of the city.

The Banpo Museum displays an excavation of a village of what is known as the Yangshao culture (4500-3700 B.C.) The village is preserved under a large auditorium roof. Inside, visitors snake around the edges of the excavation, peering over the rails at the remains of 46 huts, fire pits, storage cellars, pottery kilns and 174 grave sites. The ground has been left here in the middle of the auditorium as it was found.

Hunting, fishing, and farming, these ancestors of the Chinese not only fashioned stone weapons but created striking pottery painted with sharp geometric shapes and the forms of fish and deer. This pottery, much of it displayed in the museum, has a primitive power as potent as that produced by the early dynasties. Human's artistic instinct and desire to beatify lives are well illustrated in these early artifacts/tools.

The Yangshao society is believed to have been matrilineal. The skeletons and graves are most haunting. Half a dozen of the skeletons can be seen in a corner of the museum.

Banpo Museum is a reminder for most of us how long the human history is and how strong and resilient the human beings are, surviving so long in places like this Stone Age Village.

Despite its immense archaeological importance, the site is not of the greatest interest to the non-professional.


Xianyang Museum * *

Art
Xi'an Stele Museum * *
Xi'an Stele Museum is a forest of steles. It has the most comprehensive collection of steles in China, with over 3,000 of them from Han through Qing, used by centuries of scholars. Calligraphers have come to this site to rub the steles and go back to study the rubbings just as the painters would imitate masters' products to improve their own skills.

Calligraphy is a traditional Chinese art. During previous dynasties, students who wanted to work for the government had to pass a standard test. It was not a multiple-choice test. Instead, students were given a topic to write an article on. The essay could be about anything: one's opinion on certain political development, art trend, and trade. The students had to impress the judges with both their thoughts and their handwritings. Not usually, the emperors themselves would head these exams. These standard tests were the only way for many poor students from lower classes to move up in society because passing these exams meant well paid positions and respect from your peers. In addition to read and recite history, philosophy and other topics, the students had to work hard on their handwritings to show the judges how well-educated they were.

As the time went on, Calligraphy became an art form. Artists use it to express themselves as they would do music or paintings. There are many schools and styles of Chinese Calligraphy. Most of them are present among the forest of steles. Over the history of China, this forest of steles has become a holy place for artist pilgrims.


Xi'an Film Studio * *
Xi'an Film Studio achieved international status as the birthplace of work by a generation of post-Cultural Revolution cinamatographers and directors. Among them, Zhang Yimou is the famous. He directed films such as Red Sorghum, Ju Dou, Raise the Red Lantern and Shanghai Triad.

Most recently, the studio reproduced Qin Palace for the Sino-Canadian movie, The First Emperor. The reproduction was simply magnificent. The studio is worth the trip for the tour of the reproduction alone.


Huaxian Farmer Painting Exhibition Hall * *
Huaxian is a farming region southwest of Xi'an. The farmer painters there have a style that is in complete contrast to traditional Chinese paintings. Their paintings are in brilliant colors and they are about the farmers' own daily lives. If you want to take a piece of Xi'an farmers' life with you, the exhibition hall is a convenient place to snatch up a painting or two. However, one should keep in mind that a lot of these paintings are mass-produced. The paintings you buy may not be as original as you think.

Local Culture/Unique Tour
Cultural Arts Festival * * *

Nature/Scenic
Huaqing Hot Spring * * *
The natural springs have attracted Chinese rulers since the Western Zhou. However, the major associations are with the story between Emperor Tang Xuanzong and Yang Guifei and the Xi'an incidence featuring Chiang Kai-shek and the legendary "Young Marshall".

It was said that concubine Yang Guifei was quite fond of the natural springs. She and Emperor Tang Xuanzong spent a lot of time here. Ironically, this was where she was forced to committee suicide as well.

In 1936, the son of the biggest warlords in Manchuria, Zhang Xiuliang, a handsome and charismatic young general, better known as the Young Marshall, Chiang Kai-Shek in Huaqing Hot Springs when he was visiting Xi'an. It was rumored that when Chiang was in such a hurry trying to escape that he was caught he wearing only his shorts and without his fake teeth. Zhang Xiuliang forced Chiang to cooperate with the Communists against the Japanese. The Communists set up a liaison office here which is now the Museum of the Eighth Route Army. Because of his bravery, the Young Marshall initiated the united front against the Japanese invaders. After Chiang Kai-Shek agreed to cooperate with the communists, The Young Marshall released him and personally accompanied him back to Chung Qing, the war capital of China because he still considered Chiang as his leader and mentor despite what happened. He paid dearly for his loyalty. Chiang and his descendants kept him in house arrest for over half a century. The Young Marshall was an eighty-year-old man when he finally was let out of his house.

The Huaqing Hot Springs is a beautiful place. However, like many other scenic places in China, it is often overcrowded by tourists. Sometimes, one really feels like being in a public bath house.


Hua Shan Mountain - The most precipitous of the Five Sacred Mountains * * * * *
Hua Shan is such a sharp mountain that it bends the Yellow River to the sea. For thousands of years, emperors of numerous dynasties came here to perform the spring and autumn rites, praying for the prosperity and peace of their kingdoms as well as their longevity. It is believed that Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of unified China, had reached the summit in his search for the fountain of youth. Daoist hermits retreated to Hua Shan where they became the immortals of Daoism tradition. The entire mountain is dotted with old temples from various dynasties.

The essence of the mountain is wild, distant, fierce and holy. It is also the most dangerous mountain. Just look at the names of the different parts of the mountain: River Gorge of 18 Bends, The Thousand Stairs, The Sky Ladder. People still die on Hua Shan every year, falling off its edges.

No one summarized Hua Shan as well as Hedda Morrison did. During her trip to Hua Shan in 1935, she wrote that the "importance of Hua Shan lay partly in its being a supreme example of the type of landscape so appreciated by Chinese artists." So, if you want to find out what the ancient artists appreciated, come to find out for yourself in Hua Shan.

Huan Shan is about three hours' driving from Xi'an.



Food/ Shopping
Shopping
- Xi'an Art Ceramics Factory
You will have to come to this factory to find better quality Terra cotta Warriors reproductions.

- Xiao Zhai Xi Road Silk Stores
This part is close to the Orient Hotel. Stores along this road have cheap and relatively better quality silk products.

- Jade Carving Factory
You can see a demonstration and its big showroom full of beautiful stones.

- Shu Yuan Men Street
Shu Yuan Men street is close to South Gate. Traditional arts such as writing brushes are made and curios and antiques are sold.

Night Life
- Tang Dynasty Theater Restaurant
This place has an international-quality show of Tang-inspired dances and music.

- Shannxi Grand Opera House
Shanxxi Opera differs from Peking opera in that it is more macho and dynamic. It fits the personalities of Shanxxi people. It would be a very interesting and entertaining experience.

- The Charms of Ancient China
The Charms of Ancient China at the Grand New World is as good as the Tang Dynasty dinner theater's show.

- Clubs at Foreign Hotels and Night Food Market
The bars at the Hyatt and Sheraton are the best and the most western in town. However, if you want to experience real Chinese night life, don't forget to stop by the local night food market and experience the local flavored cuisine.

- Parkson Department Store
Parkson Department store is right across the street from the Hyatt, It has an entertainment center on its 12th floor with a bar, lounge, karaoke, and night club.

Religion
The Great Mosque * * *
For those who are interested in the history of religion, Xi'an has something to offer as well. The Great Mosque of Xi'an dates back to merely a hundred years after Islam was founded which was believed to be around 640 AD. Although the Great Mosque was founded in the Tang Dynasty, its present design is Ming, dating from the same period as the present city wall.

In the first courtyard there's a 360-year-old carved wooden archway. Side halls off the arch display Ming and Qing Dynasty furniture. The second courtyard contains the wide Five-Room Hall, and through it, carved stone fences and gates, also created during the Ming Dynasty. In the third courtyard is the mosque's most famous and beautiful structure, the triple-caved Introspection Tower (Shengxin), the minaret from which Muslims are called to prayer. On either side are halls containing a Ming Dynasty copy of the Koran and a Qing Dynasty map of Mecca. The One God Pavilion, also called the Phoenix Pavilion, is the final passage to the prayer hall.

The prayer hall is eight bays wide, with a glazed blue tile roof supported by large brackets in the Chinese style. There are stone stairs up to the entrance. Inside, the ceiling is carved in flowery Arabic letters, recounting the scriptures. Pages of the Koran are carved into wooden tablets, half of them in Chinese, half in Arabic. The mihrab (prayer niche) faces Mecca. The floor is covered with prayer rugs. A thousand worshippers can fit inside for a single service. Visitors, after removing their shoes, are often permitted to enter the prayer hall, although sometimes, the entrance was barred to non-Muslims.


Famen Temple * * *
This temple is of great importance for Buddhism in China. It houses a finger bone of Prince Gautama, the founder of Buddhism whose statue is in every Buddhist temple in China. It was believed that he lived in the fifth century B.C.

You have to be extremely fortunate to be able to see this relic. However, all tourists can see the 900 treasures that were buried with it: gold-inlaid ceremonial vessels, ancient glass and jade, gilt Buddha, jewelry, gold walking stick, gold chain basket, fake 'bones' of jade. They were gifts from various emperors of Tang Dynasty. Empress Wu Zetian donated gilded embroidery with threads finer than those made today.


Protestant Church and Catholic Church * * *
According to the stone tablet in Xi'an's Forest of Steles, Christianity was first established in China in A.D. 652. At first, the Chinese emperor encouraged its spread. However, two hundred years later, "foreign religions" were banned. Christianity did not reappear in China until Western missionaries started to come to China 700 years later.

The Protestant Church's tower is very interesting. It is part traditional Chinese style and part northern European.

The fascinating fact about the Catholic church is that the mass is still said in Latin. The confessions are conducted without curtains or doors. It definitely remained unchanged since Catholicism came to China a century ago. Its rituals and its Latin language are almost forgotten in the West.


Xingjiao Temple * * * *
This temple holds the remains of the expeditionary scholar-monk Xuan Zang. He brought sutras back from India during his pilgrim trip. In addition to the five-story pagoda housing Xuan Zang's remains and two smaller flanking pagodas housing those of two assistants, there is a new building constructed in 1993 by Japanese to hold a sleeping Buddha.

The Muslim Quarter * * *
The Muslim quarter of Xi'an has at least 100,000 resident believers and an Islamic presence that goes back at least 1,200 years. The Muslims who came from the West put down roots, married and after centuries of assimilation ceased to resemble Arabs, except in their Islamic practices. They became known as a minority people, the Hui. The Hui of Xi'an live largely in their own quarter, wear white turbans, and practice circumcision. They reject divination, theater, and pork. They maintain their own schools, slaughterhouses, cemeteries, and mosques. Their neighborhoods are now the oldest, their streets the narrowest and most fragrant with cooking in Xi'an. Their houses are low and conjoined. Some still have packed earth floors and sidewalk water pumps. Vendors tend coal-heated pots in the street, selling lamb on skewers, fried breads, and fresh yogurt. Definitely try the yogurt. It could very well be the best yogurt you will ever have.

 

 

 
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