There are endless reasons to get excited about a trip to Shaanxi. From a historical standpoint, this is where a united China was born. In 221 BCE, the tyrant emperor Qin Shihuang united the country for the first time and placed the capital of his Qin Dynasty in Chang’an (present day Xi’an). In all, 13 dynasties held their capitals in Xi’an, and today the city boasts an impressive collection of ancient monuments and and priceless artifacts from its epic history.
Xi’an was also the beginning (or the end, depending on which direction you were heading) of the legendary Silk Road. Traders from as far away as Europe and the Middle East made their way to Xi’an to exchange goods and ideas, turning the city into an ancient international metropolis. From this bustling trading center, an array of noodle styles spread to the West, and today the city still boasts enough varieties of noodles to rival the best Italian kitchen (Chinese noodles are considered the original influence for Italian pasta). This local cuisine is also spiced up by 1,400 years of Muslim influence, which arrived via the Silk Road from the distant realms of the empire.
Outside Xi’an, a collection of 2,000-year-old imperial tombs and the renowned Terracotta Warriors dot the countryside, while the holy Taoist mountain of Mt Huashan and ancient Buddhist temples offer a one-of-a-kind glimpse into an old China that is quickly disappearing. All this combined with Xi’an’s an up-and-coming nightlife scene and its role as a well-connected transportation hub have made this provincial capital one of the country’s rising stars of travel.
The Shaanxi people trace their heritage back to the Zhou people, an ancient culture that populated the central plains region around 3000 – 2000 BCE. About 3,000 years ago, they conquered the neighboring Shang culture, and for hundreds of years dominated the northwestern region of China.
The area soon laid claim to one of early China’s most monumental events when Qin Shihuang conquered the neighboring states and unified the country for the first time under his Qin Dynasty. Qin put his capital in modern-day Xianyang, an outlying city that is part of the Xi’an area. Xi’an was known as Chang’an for many subsequent dynasties, including some of China’s most influential and prosperous (the Han, Sui and Tang to name a few) until the Ming Dynasty gave the city the name by which it is known today. The nearby secondary capital of Luoyang (present day Henan Province) served as a second political hub, particularly during the Tang Dynasty, where the imperial court could flee if Xi’an was threatened.
It was during the 10th century CE that Shaanxi’s dominant and thriving lifestyle began to wane, as the capital was shifted eastward and imperial influence, attention and funds went with it. Adding to the growing woes of the Shaanxi people were great famines and rebellions, and in the year 1556 the deadliest earthquake in world history struck the region, killing some 830,000 people.
Since the decline of Shaanxi’s imperial heyday, the province has been known as one of China’s most poverty stricken areas, a statistic that inspired the CCP to make it one of their strongholds during the Chinese Civil War in order to keep up their face as the liberators of the proletariat.
The local dialect of Shaanxihua is technically considered part of the Central Plains Mandarin group (Zhōngyuánguānhuà;中原官话), but try telling that to the foreign Mandarin speaker who rolls into Xi’an hoping to talk it up with the locals... While many native Mandarin speakers say the Xi’anese accent is not hard to understand, it’s really the morphological (word) and tonal changes of the dialect that throw people off. Consider: while standard Mandarin says “I” as “wǒ,” the local Shaanxihua word is “ngè.” What’s more, the Mandarin word for child is “háizi,” but the Shaanxi word is “wā,” which actually sounds like “sock” when speaking Mandarin.