XI’AN: THE HONOURABLE CITY
The rule of the Tang Dynasty with its capital Chang'an - today’s Xi'an - was a time shrouded by peace and prosperity. It was one of the most sophisticated empires China has ever known, and the capital was one of the most populated and regarded a high point in Chinese civilisation. At the height of the Tang rule during the 7th century, Chang'an hence became a tipping point for scholars, artists and poets establishing a golden age for the exchange of knowledge and culture. And with a population of one million, the city was known as the central market of the world. It was an Asian pinnacle for the departure of the most priceless goods along the Silk Road to the west, and inestimable schools of thoughts travelling back east. Hence, Chang'an was developed both as an international trade hub, and a centre for advanced education and research. To accommodate the large influx of people arriving in search of knowledge and prosperity, the metropolis was planned around a rectangular grid with a thirty square mile (80 km2) area. Like most other ancient capitals, access to the different sections of the city was guarded by gates. The eastern economic terminus of the Silk Road called the Nine Markets, was the most walled and controlled area because it was where the bulk of trade flowed in and out of the metropolis. And to ease the movement of goods throughout the entire country, a network of waterways ran along the length and breadth of the city. Outside the gates, the city was surrounded by orchards, and fields for playing popular sports like horse polo and the ancient Chinese football cuju.
Chang'an, by all standards was a cosmopolitan city - a modern consumer hub whose existence is predicated on the large volume of traffic speeding up and down the Silk highway. Hence, the acceleration of economic progress during the Tang Dynasty is attributed to a 5000 km long watercourse called the Grand Canal. Water from the Baifu Spring, the northernmost source of fresh water, flowed east before emptying into the Grand Canal. It reaches Chang'an in the west before ending in the Zhejiang province in the south. The brilliance of this ancient engineering dates back to the 5th century BC - although most of its sections were connected during the 6th century’s Sui Dynasty - and links the Yellow River with the Yangtze River. Before developing the Grand Canal, China’s main rivers ran from west to east. To speed economic stimulus and safeguard the stability of the whole country, it was thus necessary to integrate the north and south, and channel wealth to the less privileged rural regions. The man-made waterway did not just diversify the country’s economy, but it also encouraged scientific and cultural exchange. As a rule, the reign of the Tang Dynasty underlined people as the foundation for the nation’s progress. So, a revision was made to the laws set by the earlier Sui Dynasty, making the wellbeing of people a concrete priority in the political agenda, which lead to economic boom. By the mid 8th century, therefore, a history of investing in people was responsible for China becoming the world’s largest country with a population of 70 million people, and a breeding ground for new talent and advanced technological innovations. Subsequently, hidden in the depth of China’s past lies the secret to many of the great discoveries, which had a significant impact on world advancement. And throughout the ancient east made-in-China became synonymous with luxury brands, and intricate craftsmanship.