From July 6 to July 14, my American classmates and I embarked on a journey to central China, to the most historically significant city in all of China, Xi’an (formerly Chang’an) in the Shaanxi Province. From the very first evening, our study tour was jam packed with exciting and interesting sites. While it is not possible to describe every minutia in this blog entry, I will expound upon the most important points by highlighting what I believe were the 5 best stops of the trip.
This was a beautiful waterfall situated along the Yellow River, which is considered the cradle of Chinese civilization. The Yellow River is named for the loess, which is a yellow color. The waterfall is the largest in the area, and it is quite a beautiful site. Getting drenched by the waterfall also served as a welcome respite from the grueling heat of central China.
This is the Stele Forest and contains thousands of historical steles, including the Nestorian Tablet. I was particularly anticipating going to visit this, since I had learned about the Nestorian Tablet in a medieval history course I had previously taken. The Nestorian Tablet serves as the document that records the introduction of and existence of Nestorian Christianity in central China during the Tang Dynasty. The Tang Dynadty is particularly important in China’s history as it marks a time of extreme prosperity for the country, as well as a period of religious and social openness. With this openness came the emergence of new spiritual and philosophical ideas as well as new goods, new people and ethnicities, and even comparatively risqué fashion trends. Much of this dissemination of goods and information was achieved as a result of the success of the Silk Route, a series of winding and interconnecting routes that went through the deserts of Central Asia in order to reach the Middle East for trade.
Apart from the Nestorian Tablet, the Stele Forest also houses many relics including over 3000 steles and a myriad of stone sculptures, both religious sculptures and sculptures that were formerly at emperor’s tombs, including the 6 Steeds of the Zhao Mausoleum (although two are reproductions–the originals are located at the University of Pennsylvania).
Huashan is one of China’s most famous mountains and is considered one of China’s Five Great Mountains for its religious significance. This was the second of the Five Great Mountains that I have climbed, the first being Taishan in Shandong Province. Huashan is situated approximately 120km from the city of Xi’an, but is definitely a must-see for anyone traveling to the Shaanxi Province. The South Peak of the mountain, the one we climbed to, is the highest in elevation at over 7,000 feet. When climbing the mountain, it is advisable to first take the cable car rather than starting at the base. This will save you a lot of time, plus riding the cable car provided excellent scenery. The day we climbed the weather was perfect, and all of us made it to the top of the mountain. For the more daring, there is an option to wear a harness and walk along the edge of the mountain, which, upon dismounting, is something I wish I would have done.
Located in the center of Xi’an City, the Bell Tower is a beautiful site as well as the location of a wonderful square that includes a lot of live performances and a night market for street food and other souvenirs. When I was in Xi’an, my classmates and I went down to this area nearly every night. Across from the bell tower is the drum tower. Both structures are lit up at night, and date from the Ming Dynasty.
The City Wall of Xi’an is the only one intact in all of China. When we visited the City Wall, we rode bicycles. The wall’s perimeter is a distance of 15km, or roughly 9 miles. Visitors can rent either tandem or single bicycles. Being on the city wall allows one to view the city from new angles, and it was a lot of fun to see how much Xi’an has expanded beyond the city walls. The mixture of ancient architecture with modern high rises in the backdrop serves as a reminder of the omnipresence of China’s historical richness and it’s newer developments in recent times.