It's said that China has three most internationally recognized cities-Beijing, the political center; Shanghai, the financial hub; and Xi'an, the showcase of brilliant history and culture.
In China, there is no other city so closely connected with the country's history as Xi'an, capital of northwestern Shaanxi Province.
Remains of ancient sites and structures can be found everywhere within the borders of today's Xi'an. Among them, the Terracotta Army found in the Mausoleum of Qinshihuang, founding emperor of the Qin Dynasty who united China for the time in history, is now recognized as "the Eighth Wonder of the World" and was listed as a World Cultural Heritage site by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1987.
Historical records show that Xi'an in the Tang Dynasty (known as Chang'an then) covered a total area of 841 square km, nine times its current size. It is the first metropolis in the world having a population in excess of 1 million.
Known as the "cradle of the Chinese nation," Xi'an was the habitat of Lantian Man, ape-man dating back 800,000 years ago. Banpo Man and Jiangzhai Man, two specimens of the Neolithic Age, flourished in the region more than 6,000 years ago. Since the Western Zhou Dynasty (1100 B.C.-771 B.C.), Xi'an had served as national capital of 13 ancient dynasties, including Qin (221 B.C.-206 B.C.), Western Han (206 B.C.-25 A.D.) and Tang (618-907), for more than 1,000 years. It was also the eastern terminus of the famous Silk Road, the oldest trade route linking Asia and Europe that was opened in the Western Han Dynasty.
As a result, Xi'an has become a must-go site for tourists from home and abroad, as well as a major destination for visiting foreign leaders. According to incomplete statistics, about 500 foreign heads of state and government have set foot on Xi'an's soil since the 1970s. Their journeys further boost the popularity of this symbol city of the Chinese culture around the world and enhance links between China and the outside world.
At present, Xi'an has risen to be the largest industrial city in northwest China, in addition to an important educational and R&D center. Especially after the country launched its western development program in the late 1990s, the local economic growth continuously gains momentum. Over the past decade, Xi'an's gross domestic product has been maintaining an annual increase at 13 percent. However, along the booming economy also comes a severe challenge: How to balance the preservation and development?
China has had many lessons in the preservation of its ancient treasures. Since the 1950s, the city wall and a large number of hutongs and siheyuans have been demolished for the convenience of building trunk roads and skyscrapers. A few years ago, however, when the city attempted to restore its various ancient landmarks, only a few fragments of the old city remained, a great regret to local residents.
The development of a city, even a country, must take advantage of its distinctive features. To Xi'an, one of the world's "four ancient capitals" along with Rome, Cairo and Athens, rich historical remains are things that can best distinguish it from other Chinese cities. These valuable assets are certainly to become the powerhouse of a more prosperous new Xi'an.