Shaanxi

 

means West of Shanzhou and it is a north-central province that includes parts of the Loess Plateau on the middle reaches of the Yellow River and part of the Qinling Mountains that stretch across its southern reaches.  The province neighbours the province of Shanxi, which causes some confusion to outsiders.  In Chinese, the names are differentiated by written tone marks, but to make the difference without them, the spellings of ‘Shannxi’ and Shanxi were contrived.

History

Shannxi and its city of Xi’an were cradles of Chinese civilisation. A total of 13 different feudal dynasty capitals were established in this province over a time span of more than 1,100 years from the Zhou to the Tang Dynasty.  This is also where the Silk Road begins, leading to Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

When the Mongols took control in the 13th century, war and famine depopulated the region.  Large populations of Muslim or Hui people fled into the area and their descendents still reside in Shaanxi.  Under the Ming Dynasty, Shannxi became a part of Gansu, but the Qing Dynasty again separated the two.

On January 23, 1556, one of the most devastating earthquakes to ever take place killed an estimated 830,000 people when it struck near Hau Shan in the southeast part of Shaanxi Province.

When the short-lived Jiangxi Soviet ended, Mao Zedong and the Communists began the Long March to the Shaanxi Soviet at Yan’an.

Geography

The northern part of Shaanxi borders Inner Mongolia; it is a desert area with very hot summers and very cold and dry winters.  The Loess Plateau is in the central part of the province.  The south central area has the Qinling Mountains running through it from east to west, and south of the mountains the province has a subtropical climate and generally more rain than elsewhere in Shaanxi. The annual average temperature is roughly between 9 and 16 Celsius.  In January the temperature ranges from –11 Celsius to 3.5 degrees Celsius, while in July the temperatures range from 21 to 28 degrees Celsius.

Other major cities besides Xi’an include Baoji, Hanzhong, Lintong, Tongchuan, Xianyang, Yan’an and Ankang.

Demographics

Ethnic Han Chinese are by far the dominant group in Shaanxi, with small minorities of Hui in the northwest near Ningxia.  The south, where Xi’an is located, is more populous than the north.

Culture

Among the most impressive Chinese artefacts are the terracotta soldiers found in Shaanxi province. Stumbled upon by a group of startled peasant farmers in the 1970’s, they were by the same emperor who united china and constructed the Great Wall. The terracotta warriors (Bingmayong) were destined to be interred within the outer wall of the mausoleum of Emperor Qinshi Huangdi.  Interring several thousand life-size soldiers, each equipped with bronze weapons, was an immense undertaking. More astounding perhaps is the fact that each of the soldiers is unique; no two faces are the same.  Today, these soldiers stand guard at the Mausoleum and Terracotta Army Museum of the First Qin Emperor in Xi’an, which has been classified as a World Heritage Site.

To the north east of the Emperor’s mausoleum lie Huashan: the western peak of the five holy Taoist mountains and one of the five most famous mountains in China. The climb from Huashan village at the foot of the mountain to the North Peak is particularly gruelling, but well worth it for the spectacular views. From here the footpath winds up to the summit of South Peak (2160 metres) and the Laozi Cave. Though the climb may be achieved in the course of a single day, sleeping facilities on the mountain cater to those who wish to welcome the rise of the morning sun at the peak.   Mount Taibaishan, the highest peak of the Qinling Range, is also impressive.

To the east is the captivating historic city of Xi’an with its charming mixture of old and new, Buddhism and Islam. This city that served as the capital of thirteen different Dynasties today houses a large Islamic population and their remarkable Great Mosque. Also worth visiting within the city walls are the Bell and Drum Towers, the Forest of Stone Steles Museum, Shaanxi History Museum and the delightful markets that line the citystreets. Beyond the walls the Eight Immortals Temple and the Small Wild Goose Pagoda are also well worth a visit. Slightly further to the south lies the Big Wild Goose Pagoda which, though interesting, is absolutely packed with tourists.

Qinqiang is the representative folk opera of Shaanxi, and Biang Biang Noodles count as one of the ‘ten strange wonders of Shaanxi’.

Other tourist attractions include the Banpo Neolithic Village near Xi’an, the Daqin Pagoda and Yan’an, the destination of the Long March and the centre of Chinese Communist revolution from 1935 to 1948.


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