Highlights of Chinese Culture and History

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Ancient Capital Changan

Changan, former name of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province today, was a famous ancient city of culture in China. Surrounded by mountains and rivers, in a location favoured by nature, it was successively the capital of eleven dynasties in Chinese history, including Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui and Tang. The Chinese characters "chang" and "an" stand for "eternal, peace" in English, indicating that the emperors and kings wished that their descendants could forever live there in peace.

Some people have compared Xi'an to an open Chinese history book. Here, indeed, can be found an exceedingly rich assembly of cultural relics and a great number of places of historic interest and scenic beauty: the ruins of Banpocun Village, a relic of matriarchal clan society dating back to over six thousand years ago; the mausoleums of many emperors, such as Huang Di, the First Emperor of Qin, Emperor Wu Di of Han (Mausoleum Mao), Emperor Tai Zong of Tang (Mausoleum Zhao), and Emperor Gao Zong of Tang who  shared (Mausoleum Qian) with Empress Wu Zetian. Among the relics is the pit contains terra cotta warriors and horses found near the First Emperor's mausoleum- which is a treasure house of culture and art whose discovery has excited the whole world. Besides, there is a great assemblage of stone tablets, which, rich in content and exquisitely carved, give a pa. noramic view of the highly -developed art of calligraphy and painting of ancient China and provide invaluable data in the study of ancient Chinese culture and history.

The ancient capital Changan, which witnessed its peak days in the Han and Tang Dynasties, was the political, economic and cultural centre of the country. During the Han Dynasty, with the construction of many magnificent palaces, the foundation of a capital city was laid. After the Tang emperors succeeded in unifying the country, the economy tecovered within a short period of time and then developed rapidly, thanks to a stable political situation and the more liberal policies of s)me enlightened rulers. The Tang monarchs, relying on their manpower and material resources, succeeded in building the world-renowned Changan city. Apart from the magnificent architectural complex of gorgeous palaces in the city there could also be found wide and spacious streets, well laid-out lanes and alleys, thrivinig and bustling markets and dense crowds. On top of all this, there were also many Buddhist temples. Outside the city were beautiful rivers and mountains and scenic spots.

A well known relic dating to Tang is the Da Yan Ta Pagoda (the Big Wild Goose Pagoda) towering over the Ci En Si Temple (the Temple of Motherly Love and Kindness). Built by Emperor Gao Zong at twenty-one in memory of his mother Empress Wen De, hence the name, it was the highest construction of the time. Xuan Zhuang, the famous monk in the history of Chinese Buddhism, settled here atter he returned from his pilgrimage to India mid devoted himself to the translation of scriptures from Sanskrit into Chinese and presided over the Buddhist services held in the temple. For the safekeeping of the scriptures he brought back from India, he proposed that the Da Yan Ta Pagoda be built, which was, in fact, a "scripture pagoda."

About thirty kilometers east of Xi'an stands Li Shan Mountain. It is said that a national minority in ancient times, Lirong, had long inhabited the area. Hence the name Li Shan Mountain. As early as two thousand years ago, people had discovered in the mountains a hot spring that had therapeutic value' Legend has it that the First Emperor of Qin once took a pleasure trip to the mountain where he met a fairy with whom the Emperor tried to take liberties. Greatly annoyed, she spat on his face, and, instantly, a bad sore developed. Feeling en3rinous pain and scared beyond measure, the Emperor entreated the fairy to cure him of his sore. It disappeared as quickly as it had come when he washed his face in the hot spring as he was instructed. Emperors and kings of later dynasties all came and built their palaces there. It had become a pleasure resort for them. Emperor Xuan Zong of Tang had the palace there further expanded and renamed it "Hua Qing Gong Palace". Here, all the year round, the Emperor indulged himself in all kinds of extravagant pleasures in the company of his favourite concubine Yang Gui Fei. State affairs were being neglected, and thus began the decline of the Tang Dynasty.

The ancient capital Changan was also the centre of cultural exchange with other countries in the world. The Tang Empire had established diplomatic relations with many countries and in the capital there lived many foreign envoys and merchants. Moreover, quite a few foreign students from Japan and other countries made their way to Changan from overseas to study Chinese culture. At first there were only about twenty of them; later the number increased to thirty or more. A number of Japanese students spent a long period of time in Changan, some for, as much as thirty years. In the course of the cultural exchange between China and other countries, foreign music' and dances were introduced to this country, which could be seen in the frescoes and excavated clay figures, among Tang relics. During the Han and later the Tang Dynasty, many celebrated poets and scholars gathered in Changan and left a large number of excellent poems, delineating its history and describing the landscape.

After the Tang Dynasty, owing to changes in historical conditions involving politics, economy, transportation and military affairs, the famous ancient capital city somehow went gradually downhill. Nevertheless, Changan has remained an important city in China.

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