Chang'an ([ʈʂʰǎŋ.án] ( listen); simplified Chinese:
长安; traditional Chinese: 長安) was an ancient capital of more
than ten dynasties in Chinese history, today known as Xi'an. Chang'an
means "Perpetual Peace" in
Classical Chinese since it was a capital
that was repeatedly used by new Chinese rulers. During the short-lived
Xin dynasty, the city was renamed "Constant Peace" (Chinese: 常安;
pinyin: Cháng'ān); yet after its fall in AD 23, the old name was
restored. By the time of the Ming dynasty, a new walled city named
Xi'an, meaning "Western Peace", was built at the Sui and Tang Dynasty
city's site, which has remained its name to the present day.
Chang'an had been settled since
Neolithic times, during which the
Yangshao Culture was established in
Banpo in the city's suburb. Also
in the northern vicinity of the modern Xi'an,
Qin Shi Huang
Qin Shi Huang of the Qin
dynasty held his imperial court, and constructed his massive mausoleum
guarded by the famed
From its capital at Xianyang, the
Qin dynasty ruled a larger area than
either of the preceding dynasties. The imperial city of Chang'an
Han dynasty was located northwest of today's Xi'an. During
the Tang dynasty, the area to be known as
Chang'an included the area
inside the Ming
Xi'an fortification, plus some small areas to its east
and west, and a major part of its southern suburbs. The Tang Chang'an
hence, was 8 times the size of the Ming Xi'an, which was reconstructed
upon the premise of the former imperial quarter of the Sui and Tang
city. During its heyday,
Chang'an was one of the largest and most
populous cities in the world. Around AD 750,
Chang'an was called a
"million people's city" in Chinese records, while modern estimates put
it at around 800,000–1,000,000 within city walls. According to
the census in 742 recorded in the New Book of Tang, 362,921 families
with 1,960,188 persons were counted in
Jingzhao Fu (京兆府), the
metropolitan area including small cities in the vicinity.
1 Strategic and economic importance of ancient Chang'an
2 Han period
2.2.1 First Phase
2.2.2 Second Phase
2.2.3 Third Phase
3 Sui and Tang periods
3.1 Layout of the city
3.2 Pools, streams, and canals
3.3 Locations and events during the Tang dynasty
3.3.1 Southwestern Chang'an
3.3.2 South Central Chang'an
3.3.3 Southeastern Chang'an
3.3.4 West Central Chang'an
3.3.5 Central Chang'an
3.3.6 East Central Chang'an
3.3.7 Northwestern Chang'an
3.3.8 North Central Chang'an
3.3.9 Northeastern Chang'an
3.3.10 West Palace
3.3.11 West Park
3.3.12 Daming Palace
3.3.13 East Park
3.3.15 Citywide events
4 See also
6 Further reading
7 External links
Strategic and economic importance of ancient Chang'an
The strategic and economic importance of ancient
Chang'an was mainly
due to its central position. The roads leading to Gansu, Sichuan,
Shanxi all converged here. The mountainous country
Wei River basin led to the existence of only two
practicable roads through to the south, and two through mountainous
Gansu to the west, forming the beginning of the ancient
Chinese itineraries gave the following distances:
Chengdu (Sichuan), 2318 Tang era li (766 miles or
Lanzhou (Gansu), 1180 Tang era li (390 miles or
Chang'an to Hami (Xinjiang), 4518 Tang era li (1493 miles or
Chang'an to Yining (Xinjiang), 8087 Tang era li (2673 miles or
Chang'an to Yarkand (Xinjiang), 9329 Tang era li (3083 miles or
Chang'an to Beijing, 1645 Tang era li (544 miles or 875 km).
A terracotta horse head from the Han dynasty.
The site of the Han capital was located 3 km northwest of modern
Xi'an. As the capital of the Western Han, it was the political,
economic and cultural center of China. It was also the eastern
terminus of the
Silk Road, and a cosmopolitan metropolis. It was a
consumer city, a city whose existence was not primarily predicated
upon manufacturing and trade, but rather boasted such a large
population because of its role as the political and military center of
China. By 2 AD, the population was 246,200 in 80,000
households. This population consisted mostly of the scholar gentry
class whose education was being sponsored by their wealthy
aristocratic families. In addition to these civil servants was a
larger underclass to serve them.
Liu Bang decided to build his capital at the center
of the sun, which according to Chinese geography was in modern
Luoyang. This location was the site of the holy city Chengzhou, home
of the last Zhou emperors. The magical significance of this location
was believed to ensure a long-lasting dynasty like the Zhou, whom the
Han sought to emulate. However, in practice the strategic military
value of a capital located in the Wei Valley became the deciding
factor for locating the new capital. To this end, it is recorded
c 200 BC he forcibly relocated thousands of clans in the
military aristocracy to this region. The purpose was twofold.
First, it kept all potential rivals close to the new Emperor, and
second, it allowed him to redirect their energy toward defending the
capital from invasion by the nearby Xiongnu. His adviser Liu Jing
described this plan as weakening the root while strengthening the
After the necessary political structure was set up, the area of the
capital was divided into three prefectures and construction began. At
its founding in 195 BC, the population of Changan was 146,000.
During the reign of Emperor Wu of Han, the diplomat
Zhang Qian was
dispatched westward into Central Asia. Since then,
became the Asian gateway to Europe as the point of departure of the
Silk Road. After the Western Han period, the Eastern Han
government settled on
Luoyang as the new capital.
therefore also sometimes referred to as the Western Capital or Xijing
(西京) in some Han Dynasty texts. In 190 AD during late Eastern
Han, the court was seized and relocated back to Changan by the
notorious Prime Minister Dong Zhuo, as it was a strategically superior
site against the mounting insurgency formed against him, although
after Dong's death the capital was moved back to
Luoyang (and later to
Xuchang). By this time, many dynasties came to regard Changan as the
symbolic site of supreme power and governance.
On 4 October 23 AD,
Chang'an was captured and sacked during a peasant
rebellion. The emperor,
Wang Mang was killed and decapitated by the
rebels two days later.
Map showing the history of city walls of
Xi'an from Zhou dynasty to
The 25.7 km long city wall was initially 3.5 m wide at the
base tapering upward 8 m for a top width of 2 m. Beyond
this wall, a 6.13 m wide moat with a depth of 4.62 m was
spanned by 13.86 m long stone bridges. The wall was later
expanded to 12–16 m at base and 12 m high. The moat was
expanded to 8 m wide and 3 m deep. The expansion of the wall
was likely a solution to flooding from the Wei River. The entire city
was sited below the 400 m contour line which the Tang Dynasty
used to mark the edge of the floodplain.
Twelve gates with three gateways each per the ritual formulas of Zhou
dynasty urban planning pierced the wall. These gates were distributed
three per a side and from them eight 45 m wide main avenues
extended into the city. These avenues were also divided into three
lanes aligned with the three gateways of each gate. The lanes were
separated by median strips planted with Pine, Elm, and Scholar trees.
Bachengmen Avenue was an exception with a width of 82 m and no
medians. Four of the gates opened directly into the palaces.
The overall form of the city was an irregular rectangle. The ideal
square of the city had been twisted into the form of the Big Dipper
for astrological reasons, and also to follow the bank of the Wei
River. The eight avenues divided the city into nine districts. These
nine main districts were subdivided into 160 walled 1×1 li
wards. About 50-100 families lived in each ward. Historically,
Chang'an grew in four phases: the first from 200-195 BC when the
palaces were built; the second 195-180 BC when the outer city
walls were built; the third between 141-87 BC with a peak at
100 BC; and the fourth from 1 BC-24 AD when it was
The Xuanpingmen gate was the main gate between the city and suburbs.
The district north of the
Weiyang Palace was the most exclusive. The
main market, called the Nine Markets, was the eastern economic
terminus of the
Silk Road. Access to the market was from the Northeast
and Northwest gates, which were the most heavily used by the common
people. The former connect with a bridge over the
Wei River to the
northern suburbs and the latter connected with the rest of China to
the east. An intricate network of underground passages connected the
imperial harem with other palaces and the city. These passages were
controlled by underground gatehouses and their existence was unknown.
In 200 BC after marking the boundaries of the three prefectures,
which comprised the metropolitan region of Xianyang, Liu Bang
Xiao He to design and build the new capital. He chose to
site the city on ruins of the
Qin Dynasty Apex Temple (formerly, Xin
Palace). This old Qin palace was meant to be the earthly mirror of
Polaris, the apex star, where the heavenly emperor resided. This site,
thus represented the center of the earth lying under the center of
heaven with an axis mundi running upward from the imperial throne to
its heavenly counterpart. The ruins were greatly expanded to 7×7 li
in size and renamed Changle Palace (长乐宫; 長樂宮; Chánglè
Gōng). Two years later, a new palace called Weiyang Palace
(未央宮; Wèiyāng Gōng) was constructed 5×7 li. Prime
Xiao He convinced
Liu Bang that both the excessive size and
multiplicity of palaces was necessary to secure his rule by creating a
spectacle of power.
In 195 BC, his son,
Emperor Hui of Han
Emperor Hui of Han began the construction of the
Chang'an and finished them in September 191 BC. The grid
north of the palaces was built at this time with a 2° difference in
alignment to the grid of the palaces. The city remained quite
static after this expansion.
Wu-ti began a third phase of construction which peaked on 100 BC
with the construction of many new palaces. He also added the nine
temples complex south of the city, and built the park. In 120 BC,
Shanglin Park, which had been used for agriculture by the common
Liu Bang was sealed off, was turned into an imperial park
again. In the center of the park was a recreation of the three fairy
islands in Kunming Lake.
Changle Palace (长乐宫; 長樂宮; Chánglè Gōng) Also called the
East Palace. It was built atop the ruins of
Qin Dynasty Apex Temple
(Xin Gōng). After
Liu Bang it was used as the residence of the
Empress Regent. The 10,000 m wall surrounded a square 6 km2
complex. Important halls of the palace included: Linhua Hall, Changxin
Hall, Changqiu Hall, Yongshou Hall, Shenxian Hall, Yongchang Hall, and
the Bell Room.
Weiyang Palace (未央宮; Wèiyāng Gōng) Also known as the West
Palace. The official center of government from Emperor Huidi onwards.
The palace was a walled rectangle 2250×2150 m enclosing a
5 km2 building complex of 40 halls. There were four gates in the
wall facing a cardinal direction. The east gate was used only by
nobility and the north one only by commoners. The palace was sited
along the highest portion of the ridgeline on which
built. In, fact the Front Hall at the center of the palace was built
atop the exact highest point of the ridge. The foundation terrace of
this massive building is 350×200×15 m. Other important halls
are: Xuanshi Hall, Wenshi Hall, Qingliang Hall, Qilin Hall, Jinhua
Hall, and Chengming Hall. Used by seven dynasties this palace has
become the most famous in Chinese history.
Gui Palace (桂宫 Gui gōng）Built as an extension of the harem
built in 100 BC
North Palace (北宮 Běi Gōng) A ceremonial center built in
Mingguang Palace （明光宫）Built as a guesthouse in 100 BC
Epang Palace (阿房宮; ē-páng gōng)
Jianzhang Palace (建章宫） Built in 104 BC in Shanglin Park.
It was a rectangle 20×30 li with a tower 46 m high. The name
means palace of establishing eternal rules.
Sui and Tang periods
Chang'an in Tang Dynasty
Both Sui and Tang empires occupied the same location. In 582, Emperor
Wen of the
Sui dynasty sited a new region southeast of the much ruined
Chang'an to build his new capital, which he called Daxing
(大興, “Great Prosperity”). Daxing was renamed
Chang'an in year
618 when the Duke of Tang, Li Yuan, proclaimed himself the Emperor
Gaozu of Tang empire.
Chang'an during the
Tang dynasty (618–907)
was, along with
Constantinople (Istanbul) and Baghdad, one of the
largest cities in the world. It was a cosmopolitan urban center with
considerable foreign populations from other parts of Asia and beyond.
Chang'an was laid out on a north-south axis in a grid
pattern, dividing the enclosure into 108 wards and featuring two large
marketplaces, in the east and west respectively. Chang'an's layout
influenced city planning of several other Asian capitals for many
years to come. Chang'an's walled and gated wards were much larger than
conventional city blocks seen in modern cities, as the smallest ward
had a surface area of 68 acres and the largest ward had a surface area
of 233 acres (0.94 km2). The height of the walls enclosing
each ward were on average 9 to 10 ft (3.0 m) in height.
The Japanese built their ancient capitals,
Heijō-kyō (today's Nara)
Heian-kyō or Kyoto, modelled after
Chang'an in a more
modest scale yet was never fortified. The modern
retains some characteristics of Sui-Tang Chang'an. Similarly, the
Silla dynasty modeled their capital of
Gyeongju after the
Chinese capital. Sanggyeong, one of the five capitals of the state of
Balhae, was also laid out like Chang'an.
Chang'an was destroyed during its repeated sacking during the
An Lushan Rebellion
An Lushan Rebellion and several subsequent events.
occupied by the forces of
An Lushan and Shi Siming, in 756; then taken
back by the Tang government and allied troops, in 757. In 763,
Chang'an was briefly occupied by the Tibetan Empire. And, in 765,
Chang'an was besieged by the alliance of the
Tibetan Empire and the
Uyghur Khaganate. Several laws enforcing segregation of foreigners
from Han Chinese were passed during the Tang dynasty. In 779, the Tang
dynasty issued an edict which forced Uighurs in the capital, Chang'an,
to wear their ethnic dress, stopped them from marrying Chinese
females, and banned them from pretending to be Chinese. Between
783 and 784, it was again occupied by the rebels during the Jingyuan
Rebellion (涇原兵變). In 881,
Chang'an was occupied by Huang Chao.
Chang'an was taken back by Tang dynasty, however, the Tang
forces, although welcomed by the inhabitants, looted
being driven back by the forces of
Huang Chao shortly afterward. In
Huang Chao conducted a systematic slaughter of the inhabitants
after retaking the city.
Chang'an was finally retaken by the Tang
government in 883. However, in 904,
Zhu Quanzhong ordered the city's
buildings demolished and the construction materials moved to Luoyang,
which became the new capital. The residents together with the emperor
Zhaozong were also forced to move to Luoyang.
Chang'an never recovered
after the apex of the Tang dynasty, but there are still some monuments
from the Tang era that are still standing.
Zhu Quanzhong moved the capital to Luoyang, Youguojun
(佑國軍) was established in Chang'an, with Han Jian being the
Jiedushi (佑國軍節度使). Han Jian rebuilt
the basis of the old Imperial City. Much of
Chang'an was abandoned and
the rebuilt Chang'an, called "Xincheng (lit. new city)" by the
contemporary people, was less than 1/16 of the old
Layout of the city
The Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, built in 652 AD, located in the southeast
sector of Chang'an.
During Tang, the main exterior walls of
Chang'an rose 18 ft
(5.5 m) high, were 5 miles (8.0 km) by six miles in length,
and formed a city in a rectangular shape, with an inner surface area
of 30 square miles (78 km2). The areas to the north that
jutted out like appendages from the main wall were the West Park, the
smaller East Park, and the Daming Palace, while the southeasternmost
extremity of the main wall was built around the Serpentine River Park
that jutted out as well. The West Park walled off and connected to the
West Palace (guarded behind the main exterior wall) by three gates in
the north, the walled-off enclosure of the
Daming Palace connected by
three gates in the northeast, the walled-off East Park led in by one
gate in the northeast, and the Serpentine River Park in the southeast
was simply walled off by the main exterior wall, and open without
gated enclosures facing the southeasternmost city blocks. There was a
Forbidden Park to the northwest outside of the city, where there was a
cherry orchard, a Pear Garden, a vineyard, and fields for playing
popular sports such as horse polo and cuju (ancient Chinese
football). On the northwest section of the main outer wall there
were three gates leading out to the Forbidden Park, three gates along
the western section of the main outer wall, three gates along the
southern section of the main outer wall, and three gates along the
eastern section of the main outer wall. Although the city had many
different streets and roads passing between the wards, city blocks,
and buildings, there were distinct major roads (lined up with the nine
gates of the western, southern, and eastern walls of the city) that
were much wider avenues than the others. There were six of these
major roads that divided the city into nine distinct gridded sectors
(listed below by cardinal direction). The narrowest of these streets
were 82 ft (25 m) wide, those terminating at the gates of
the outer walls being 328 ft (100 m) wide, and the largest
of all, the Imperial Way that stretched from the central southern gate
all the way to the Administrative
City and West Palace in the north,
was 492 ft (150 m) wide. Streets and roads of these
widths allowed for efficient fire breaks in the city of Chang'an. For
example, in 843, a large fire consumed 4,000 homes, warehouses, and
other buildings in the East Market, yet the rest of the city was at a
safe distance from the blaze (which was largely quarantined in East
Central Chang'an). The citizens of
Chang'an were also pleased with
the government once the imperial court ordered the planting of fruit
trees along all of the avenues of the city in 740.
Pools, streams, and canals
The Small Wild Goose Pagoda, built in 709 AD, damaged by an earthquake
in 1556 but still standing, in the central sector of Chang'an.
Within the West Park was a running stream and within the walled
enclosure of the West Palace were two running streams, one connecting
three ponds and another connecting two ponds. The small East Park had
a pond the size of those in the West Palace. The
Daming Palace and the
Xingqing Palace (along the eastern wall of the city) had small lakes
to boast. The Serpentine River Park had a large lake within its bounds
that was bigger than the latter two lakes combined, connected at the
southern end by a river that ran under the main walls and out of the
There were five transport and sanitation canals running throughout the
city, which had several water sources, and delivered water to city
parks, gardens of the rich, and the grounds of the imperial
palaces. The sources of water came from a stream running through
the Forbidden Park and under the northern city wall, two running
streams from outside the city in the south, a stream that fed into the
pond of the walled East Park, which in turn fed into a canal that led
to the inner city. These canal waterways in turn streamed water into
the ponds of the West Palace; the lake in the Xingqing Palace
connected two canals running through the city. The canals were also
used to transport crucial goods throughout the city, such as charcoal
and firewood in the winter.
Locations and events during the Tang dynasty
Locations and events in the southwest sector of the city
15 walled and gated wards
14 Family shrines
A mansion where the owner carefully exhumed and reburied the remains
of a long-dead military general because the grave was too close to the
A large wooden
Chinese pagoda tower that once stood at a monastery in
this sector of the city, which held the supposed 'Buddha's teeth'
brought by a pilgrim monk who traveled from India. After it was built
in 611 by Emperor Yang of Sui, the tower stood at a height of
330 ft (100 m) tall (90 ft. taller than the
brick-constructed Giant Wild Goose Pagoda) and 120 paces in
circumference; unfortunately it no longer stands.
South Central Chang'an
A Tang era gilt hexagonal silver plate with a Fei Lian beast pattern,
found from a 1970 excavation in Xi'an.
Locations and events in the south central sector of the city
20 walled and gated wards
11 Family shrines
An event in 815 where assassins murdered Chancellor Wu as he was
leaving the eastern gate of the northeasternmost ward in south central
Chang'an; the event took place just before dawn.
An event in 849 where an imperial prince was impeached from his
position by officials at court for erecting a building that obstructed
a street in the northwesternmost ward in south central Chang'an.
The infamous rebel An Lushan's garden
A garden with a pavilion where graduate students of the Advanced
Scholar's Exam could hold 'peony parties'.
A walled ward with an empty field; in the 7th century it was
originally a place where slaves, horses, cattle, and donkeys could be
sold, but the entire ward was eventually transformed into a military
training ground for crossbowmen to practice.
A special garden that provided food for the imperial crown prince's
A government garden that supplied pear-blossom honey, amongst other
Locations and events in the southeast sector of the city
13 walled and gated wards
5 Family shrines
The Serpentine River Park, which had one of the
and one of the family shrines of the southeastern sector of the city
within its grounds.
A medicinal garden for the heir apparent was located in a northern
walled ward of this southeast sector of the city. A pastry shop stood
by the north gate of the same ward, along with the site of an ancient
shrine where citizens came every third day of the third moon and ninth
day of the ninth month.
A ward to the north of this southeast city sector had half of its area
designated as a graveyard.
A purportedly haunted house
A large monastery with ten courtyards and 1897 bays; this monastery
was home to the
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda
Giant Wild Goose Pagoda (built in 652), which still
stands today at a height of 64 m tall. Graduate students of the
Advanced Scholars Exam would come here to this monastery in order to
inscribe their names. This same city ward also had a large bathhouse,
an entertainment plaza, an additional monastery which had its own
pond, and a mansion that had its own bathhouse.
A ward with another garden pavilion for graduate students to hold
their 'peony parties'.
An inn that was attached to the rapid relay post office.
An apricot grove where graduate students could celebrate their success
West Central Chang'an
A Tang era gilt-silver ear cup with flower design, found from a 1970
excavation in Xi'an.
Locations and events in the west central sector of the city
11 walled and gated wards (including the large marketplace ward)
2 Family shrines
3 Large water ponds
The West Market (西市); its surface area covered the size of two
regular city wards, and was divided into 9 different city blocks. It
sported a Persian bazaar that catered to tastes and styles popular
then in medieval Iran. It had numerous wineshops, taverns, and vendors
of beverages (tea being the most popular), gruel, pastries, and cooked
cereals. There was a safety deposit firm located here as well, along
with government offices in the central city block that monitored
The offices for
Chang'an County, the western half of the city.
The mansion of a Turkic prince.
The main office of
Chang'an City's mayor.
A bureau for managing the households of princes.
An event in 613 where a family threw their gold into the well of their
mansion because they feared the city government would confiscate it.
A firm that rented hearses and other equipment for funerals, along
with hiring exorcists.
An event in 813 where a sow in a pig sty gave birth to a deformed
piglet that had one head, three ears, two connected bodies, and eight
An event every day where the West Market (and East Market) would open
at noon, announced by the 300 strikes on a loud drum, while the
markets would close one hour and three quarters before dusk, the
curfew signaled by the sound of 300 beats to a loud gong. After
the official markets were closed for the night, small night markets in
residential areas would then thrive with plenty of customers, despite
government efforts in the year 841 to shut them down.
Locations and events in the central sector of the city
16 walled and gated wards
1 Official temple
3 Family shrines
3 Locations for Provincial Transmission Offices
A court for imperial musicians
A minister's mansion that had a 'pavilion of automatic rain', that is,
air conditioning by the old Han Dynasty invention of technician Ding
Huan's (fl. 180 AD) rotary fan.
An event where a scholar was once injured on the head here by a cuju
football, and out of pity for his plight, the emperor gave him a
personal gift of twenty-five pints of drinking ale.
An event in 720 where the walls of one ward partially collapsed during
a heavy storm.
A mansion belonging to
Princess Taiping (died 713).
An event where a dwarf lady magician was said to provide the illusion
of changing herself into a bamboo stalk and a skull.
The main Capital Schools, which were the Sons of State Academy, the
Grand Learning Academy, and Four Gates Academy.
An assortment of other colleges for law, mathematics, and calligraphy.
A ward that had the largest number of entertainment plazas in the
A mansion home that was valued at 3 million Tang-era copper coins in
the 9th century.
Another mansion that had a pavilion of plastered walls covered with an
aromatic herb from Central Asia
The Small Wild Goose Pagoda, which still stands today.
A shop that sold fancy pastries
Pavilion of Buddha's Tooth, located in a monastery where graduate
students of the Advanced Scholars Exam could enjoy their 'cherry
feasts' in honor of their academic success.
A government-run mint for casting copper-coin currency
A small field for playing horse polo
East Central Chang'an
A gilt-silver jar with a pattern of dancing horses, found from a 1970
excavation in Xi'an.
Locations and events in the east central sector of the city
11 walled and gated wards
1 Family shrine
1 Foreign place of worship (church, synagogue, mosque, etc.)
4 Locations for Provincial Transmission Offices
1 Large water pond
The East Market (東市); like the West Market, this walled and gated
marketplace had nine city blocks and a central block reserved for
government offices that regulated trade and monitored the transactions
of goods and services. There was a street with the name "Ironmongers'
Lane", plenty of pastry shops, taverns, and a seller of foreign
The North Hamlet (the Gay Quarters); the homosexual community of
Chang'an was concentrated here in a ward to the northwesternmost area
of the city sector.
Homosexuality in China was often called 'pleasures
of the bitten peach', the 'cut sleeve', or the 'southern custom'.
Along with the concentration of Chang'an's gay community here, the
North Hamlet was also heavily concentrated with many of the city's
entertaining courtesans, as well as its notorious brothel houses for
prostitution. Aside from the prostitutes, the Chinese courtesans
were more or less similar to the Japanese geisha, and unlike the bar
and tavern maids they had excellent table manners, polite mode of
speech and behavior, and were reserved for entertaining the elite of
The Offices of Wannian County, the eastern half of the city
The main office of the
The government bureau of the Directorate for Astronomy
An event in 775 where an Uyghur Turk stabbed a man to death in broad
daylight in the East Market before being arrested in the marketplace
shortly after. However, his Uyghur chieftain named Chixin (赤心) or
Red Heart broke into the county prison and freed the murderous
culprit, wounding several wardens in the process.
A mansion of a princess with a large polo playing field in the
An event where
Emperor Gaozong of Tang
Emperor Gaozong of Tang (r. 649-683) once held the
wedding feast here for the marriage ceremony of his daughter Princess
The beer brewery of Toad Tumulus Ale.
An event in 788 where a gang of four thieves killed their arresting
officer and fled the city.
An event where the assassins of Chancellor Wu hid in the bamboo groves
of a mansion in this sector of the city after the murder.
Buddhist monastery with an entertainment plaza
A home of a 'face reader' (physiognomist) where daily flocks of people
came to have their fortunes told.
A mansion bestowed by the emperor to
An Lushan (who became the most
infamous rebel during the Tang era) in 750 that was converted into a
Buddhist abbey after his demise. There was also a garden in a separate
ward designated for An Lushan.
A mansion of a high-ranking general in the mid-8th century that was
recorded to have 3,000 inhabitants of the extended family living on
Zoroastrian Fire-Temples from Iran
An event where the imperial court demoted an official because it was
discovered that he had assembled a large number of female entertainers
here in a dwelling that was not his home.
An event in the 9th century where three maidservants committed suicide
by leaping into a well and drowning once they heard the rebel Huang
Chao was ransacking their mistress's mansion.
Locations and events in the northwest sector of the city
12 walled and gated city wards
1 Official Temple
1 Family shrine
6 Foreign places of worship (Church, synagogue, mosque, etc.)
The military barracks for the Divine Strategy Army.
A shrine for Laozi's father
Three Persian Nestorian-Christian churches of worship
The office of the Inexhaustible Treasury
An event in 828 where a eunuch commanded fifty wrestlers to arrest 300
commoners over a land dispute, whereupon a riot broke out in the
The home of An Jinzang, who cut his belly open with a knife in order
Emperor Ruizong of Tang
Emperor Ruizong of Tang against charges of treason.
A mansion of
The Inexhaustible Treasury; in 713, Emperor Xuanzong liquidated the
highly lucrative Inexhaustible Treasury, which was run by a prominent
Buddhist monastery in Chang'an. This monastery collected vast amounts
of money, silk, and treasures through multitudes of anonymous rich
people's repentances, leaving the donations on the premises without
providing their name. Although the monastery was generous in
donations, Emperor Xuanzong issued a decree abolishing their treasury
on grounds that their banking practices were fraudulent, collected
their riches, and distributed the wealth to various other Buddhist
Daoist abbeys, and to repair statues, halls, and bridges
in the city.
North Central Chang'an
Locations and events in the north central sector of the city
Large gated walls connected to the West Palace and the main outer
walls of the city
24 walled and gated wards
14 Different armed guard units in 6 different wards
The August Enceintes; this large walled compound of 24 wards was the
Administrative City, where the various offices and main bureaus of the
central government were located (in front of the southern walls of the
lavish West Palace).
The headquarters for the Service for Supreme Justice (Supreme court).
The Imperial factories
An event in 713 where a large carnival was held along the main avenue
lined against the southern wall of the West Palace
The Imperial stables and hay fields for horses
The government halls for civil and military examinations
The Imperial ancestral shrine
Locations and events in the northeast sector of the city
14 walled and gated wards
1 Family shrine
3 Locations for Provincial Transmission Offices
The Xingqing Palace; once a
Buddhist monastery, it was converted to an
Imperial palace in the early 8th century. Within the walled and gated
grounds there was a large lake, two streams, an aloeswood pavilion,
and an archery hall.
A large carriage park where officials visiting the
Daming Palace could
safely leave their horse-drawn vehicles for the day.
An entertainment ward in this sector that was considered to have the
finest singers in the city, and another with the finest dancers.
An event where Empress Wu once donated one of her dressing rooms to a
An event where a eunuch who converted his mansion into a monastery
held a feast where he demanded each guest to celebrate by striking the
cloister's bell and donating 100,000 strings of cash.
An event in 730 where
Emperor Xuanzong of Tang
Emperor Xuanzong of Tang had four palace halls
dismantled and reassembled as halls and gates for a
Daoist abbey, the
grounds of which was formally a large garden for the Bureau of
A residence for princes in the ward forming the northeast corner of
An event in 835 where palace troops captured rebel leaders in a tea
shop that were planning a palace coup d'état against the chief court
An event in the early 9th century where the emperor spent 2 million
strings of cash to purchase the former mansion of a venerated minister
so that the dwelling could be returned to the minister's pious
A mansion of
Princess Tongchang that had a water well lined with a
railing made of pure gold and silver.
A court for imperial musicians
A large playing ground as a horse polo field
An event in 756 where the occupying rebel
An Lushan ordered Sun
Xiaozhe to have eighty three princesses, their husbands, and parties
Yang Guozhong and
Gao Lishi murdered at Zongren Fang in reprisal
for his already executed son An Qingzong.
A workshop for a maker of musical instruments
An event where a renowned but drunken artist painted an entire mural
in one night at the north gate of a
Buddhist monastery in the
southwesternmost ward of this city sector.
A spot in the south central ward of this city sector where girls often
played cuju football under a tree beside the road.
A street where the emperor would organize public entertainments to
celebrate his birthday
The bronze jingyun bell cast in the year 711 AD, measuring 247 cm high
and weighing 6,500 kg, now located at the Bell Tower of Xi'an
The West Palace to the north included:
An archery hall
Five large water ponds and three different streams
A cuju football field
A drum tower
A bell tower
The residence of the Crown Prince, dubbed the 'East Palace'
The Flank Court, where women were incarcerated for the crimes of their
husbands and other menfolk of the family they remained loyal to.
The school for palace ladies
The Seat of the Eunuch Agency
The West Park grounds included:
A river stream
Three gates leading into the West Palace
Ice pits for refrigerating foods during the spring and summer
Daming Palace grounds included:
Double walled gates at the north end leading out of the city, and one
walled gate at the south end leading into the city
A large lake
An archery hall
A storehouse for musical instruments
A drum tower
A bell tower
A cuju football field
A cockfighting arena
Academy of music for the actors and performers in the Pear Garden
A separate entertainment ward
The East Park grounds included:
A large pond
Two streams (one leading into the park from under the wall, one
feeding water into a city canal)
A cuju football field
For different buildings and locations in the entire city, the total
numbers for each were:
38 Family shrines
2 Official temples
City wards having one or multiple Provincial Transmission Offices
7 Official foreign-religion churches
Citywide events of
Festivals of traditional Chinese holidays celebrated throughout the
city (and empire) included:
New Year; the grandest of all festivals, and a seven-day holiday
period for government officials. Civil officials, military officers,
and foreign emissaries gathered first in the early hours of the
morning to attend a levee, an occasion where omens, disasters, and
blessings of the previous year would be reviewed, along with tribute
of regional prefectures and foreign countries presented. It was also
an opportunity for provincial governors to present their recommended
candidates for the imperial examination. Although festival ceremonies
Chang'an were lavish, rural people in the countryside celebrated
privately at home with their families in age old traditions, such as
drinking a special wine, Killing Ghosts and Reviving Souls wine, that
was believed to cure illnesses in the following year.
Lantern Festival; a three-day festival held on the 14th, 15th, and
16th days of the first full moon. This was the only holiday where the
government lifted its nightly curfew all across the city so that
people could freely exit their wards and stroll about the main city
streets to celebrate. Citizens attempted to outdo one another each
year in the amount of lamps and the size of lamps they could erect in
a grand display. By far the most prominent was the one in the year 713
erected at a gate in
Chang'an by the recently abdicated Emperor
Ruizong of Tang. His lantern wheel had a recorded height of
200 ft (61 m), the frame of which was draped in brocades and
silk gauze, adorned with gold and jade jewelry, and when it had its
total of some 50,000 oil cups lit the radiance of it could be seen for
Lustration; this one-day festival took place on the third day of the
third moon (dubbed the "double-three"), and traditionally was meant to
dispel evil and wash away defilement in a river with scented aromatic
orchis plants. By the Tang era it had become a time of baudy
celebration, feasting, wine drinking, and writing poetry. The Tang
court annually served up a special batch of deep fried pastries as
dessert for the occasion, most likely served in the Serpentine River
Cold Food Festival; this solar-based holiday on April 5 (concurrent
with the Qingming Festival) was named so because no fires were allowed
to be lit for three days, hence no warmed or hot food. It was a time
to respect one's ancestors by maintaining their tombs and offering
sacrifices, while a picnic would be held later in the day. It was also
a time for fun in outdoor activities, with amusement on swing sets,
playing cuju football, horse polo, and tug of war. In the year 710,
Emperor Zhongzong of Tang had his chief ministers, sons-in-law, and
military officers engage in a game of tug of war, and purportedly
laughed when the oldest ministers fell over. The imperial throne also
presented porridge to officials, and even dyed chicken and duck eggs,
similar to the practice on
Easter in the Western world.
Fifth Day of the Fifth Moon; this one-day holiday dubbed the Dragon
Boat Festival was held in honor of an ancient Chinese statesman Qu
Yuan (c. 340-278 BC) from the State of Chu. Ashamed that he could not
save the dire affairs of his state or his king by offering good
Qu Yuan leaped into a river and committed suicide; it was
said that soon after many went out on the river in boats in a
desperate attempt to rescue him if still alive. This act turned into a
festive tradition of boarding a dragon boat to race against other
oarsmen, and also to call out Qu's name, still in search of him. The
type of food commonly eaten during the Tang period for this festival
was either glutinous millet or rice wrapped in leaves and boiled.
Seventh Night of the Seventh Moon; this was a one-day festival that
was held in honor of the celestial love affair with deities associated
with the star
Altair (the male cow-herd deity) in the constellation
Aquila and the star
Vega (the female weaver maid deity) in the
constellation Lyra. For this holiday, women prayed for the enhancement
of their skills at sewing and weaving. In the early 8th century Tang
servitors had erected a 100 ft (30 m) tall hall by knotting
brocades to a bamboo frame and laid out fruits, ale, and roasts as
offerings to the two stellar lovers. It was during this holiday that
the emperor's concubines threaded polychrome thread into needles with
nine eyes, while facing the moon themselves (in a ritual called
"praying for skill [in sewing and weaving]").
Fifteenth Day of the Seventh Moon; this holiday was called All Saints'
Feast, developing from the legend Mulian Rescues His Mother. in which
the bodhisattva savior Mulian who had discovered his mother paying for
her sinful ways while in purgatory filled with hungry ghosts.
According to the tale, she starved there because any food that she put
into her mouth would turn into charcoal. Then it was said that she
told the Buddha to make an offering with his clergy on the fifteenth
day of the seventh month, a virtuous act that would free seven
generations of people from being hungry ghosts in Hell as well as
people reborn as lower animals. After Mulian was able to save his own
mother by offerings, Mulian convinced the Buddha to make the day into
a permanent holiday. This holiday was an opportunity of Buddhist
monasteries to flaunt their collected wealth and attract donors,
especially by methods of drawing crowds with dramatic spectacles and
Fifteenth Day of the Eighth Moon; this festival (today simply called
the Moon Festival or Mid-Autumn Festival), took place in mid autumn,
and was designated as a three-day vacation for government officials.
Unlike the previous holiday's association with Buddhism, this holiday
was associated with Taoism, specifically Taoist alchemy. There was a
tale about a hare on the moon who worked hard grinding ingredients for
an elixir by using a mortar and pestle. In folklore, a magician
escorted Emperor Illustrious August to the palace of the moon goddess
across a silver bridge that was conjured up by him tossing his staff
into the air. In the tale, on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon,
the emperor viewed the performance of "Air of the Rainbow Robe and
Feathered Skirt" by immortal maids. He memorized the music, and on his
return to earth taught it to his performers. For people in Chang'an
(and elsewhere), this holiday was a means for many to simply feast and
drink for the night.
Ninth Day of the Ninth Moon; this was a three-day holiday associated
with the promotion of longevity (with chrysanthemum as the main
symbol). It was a holiday where many sought to have picnics out in the
country, especially in higher elevated areas such as mountain sides.
Without the ability to travel away to far off mountains, inhabitants
Chang'an simply held their feasts at the tops of pagodas or in the
Serpentine River Park. Stems and leaves of chrysanthemum were added to
fermented grains and were brewed for a year straight. On the same
festival the following year, it was believed that drinking this ale
would prolong one's life.
The Last Day of the Twelfth Moon; on this holiday ale and fruit were
provided as offerings to the god of the stove, after having Buddhist
or Taoist priests recite scripture at one's own home (if one had the
wealth and means). Offerings were made to the stove god because it was
his responsibility to make annual reports to heaven on the good deeds
or sins committed by the family in question. A family would do
everything to charm the god, including hanging a newly painted
portrait of the god on a piece of paper above their stove on New
Years, which hung in the same position for an entire year. It was a
common practice to rub in some alcoholic beverage across the picture
of the deities mouth, so that he would become drunk and far too
inebriated to make any sort of reasonably bad or negative report about
the family to heaven.
Grand Carnivals; carnivals during the Tang period were lively events,
with great quantities of eating, drinking, street parades, and
sideshow acts in tents. Carnivals had no fixed dates or customs, but
were merely celebrations bestowed by the emperor in the case of his
generosity or special circumstances such as great military victories,
abundant harvests after a long drought or famine, sacrifices to gods,
or the granting of grand amnesties. This type of carnival as a
nationwide tradition was established long before the Tang by Qin
Shihuang in the 3rd century BC, upon his unification of China in
221. Between 628 and 758, the imperial throne bestowed a total of
sixty nine different carnivals, seventeen of which were held under
Empress Wu. These carnivals generally lasted 3 days, and sometimes
five, seven, or nine days (using odd numbers due so that the number of
days could correspond with beliefs in the cosmos). The carnival
grounds were usually staged in the wide avenues of the city, and
smaller parties in attendance in the open plazas of Buddhist
monasteries. However, in 713, a carnival was held in the large avenue
running east to west between the West Palace walls and the government
compounds of the administrative city, an open space that was 0.75
miles (1.21 km) long and 1,447 ft (441 m) wide, and was
more secure since the guard units of the city were placed nearby and
could handle crowd control of trouble arose. Carnivals of the Tang
Dynasty featured large passing wagons with high poles were acrobats
would climb and perform stunts for crowds. Large floats during the
Tang, on great four-wheeled wagons, rose as high as five stories,
called 'mountain carts' or 'drought boats'. These superstructure
vehicles were draped in silken flags and cloths, with bamboo and other
wooden type frames, foreign musicians dressed in rich fabrics sitting
on the top playing music, and the whole cart drawn by oxen that were
covered in tiger skins and outfitted to look like rhinoceroses and
elephants. An official in charge of the
Music Bureau in the early 7th
century set to the task of composing the official music that was to be
played in the grand carnival of the year. On some occasions the
emperor granted prizes to those carnival performers he deemed to
outshine the rest with their talents.
In 682, a culmination of major droughts, floods, locust plagues, and
epidemics, a widespread famine broke out in the dual Chinese capital
Chang'an and Luoyang. The scarcity of food drove the price
of grain to unprecedented heights of inflation, while a once
prosperous era under emperors Taizong and Gaozong ended on a sad
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Chang'an by the University of Washington
Capital of China
206 BCE-25 CE
Coordinates: 34°16′N 108°54′E / 34.267°N 108.900°E /