XI’AN, China, May 21, 2023 /PRNewswire/ — As Central Asian leaders arrive in Xi’an, capital of Northwest China’s Shaanxi Province, to attend the China-Central Asia Summit with President Xi Jinping, the city shines ever brighter as the starting point of the ancient Silk Road and at the center of contemporary Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) cooperation.
With the opening of flights between Xi’an and Dushanbe, capital of Tajikistan, on Thursday, Xi’an has direct flights to all five Central Asian countries.
There is no coincidence for the selection of Xi’an as the host city of the China-Central Asia Summit. Opening a world map, the Eurasian Steppe gives rise to one of the world’s most famous and oldest trade routes: The Silk Road.
“For a long time, it was commonly recognized that the Western capital of the world was the city of Rome, Italy, and the Eastern capital of the world was the city of Chang’an, now Xi’an,” Xi’an-based Silk Road historian-writer Gao Jianqun told the Global Times.
The latter city, once the capital of China’s Tang Dynasty (618-907) and the starting point of the Silk Road, had been a meeting place of different cultures, art styles and literature from across the known world thanks to its historic role as a trade hub, where people from the West and people from the East settled and communicated over 1,000 years ago.
Today, the BRI connects Asia with Europe and beyond along the trade routes of the ancient Silk Road, a UNESCO World Heritage.
Xi’an had its prime days during the Han and Tang dynasties. Today the city is grasping the opportunity in a pivotal role in the BRI to recreate its past glorious prosperity and beyond, conducting economic exchanges with BRI countries and hosting a string of cross-national activities.
This past April, the general assembly of the Alliance for Cultural Heritage was held in Xi’an. The assembly released the Xi’an Declaration, a conclusive document that aims to provide solutions for worldwide cultural heritage protection from the perspective of Asian countries. Following that, the city entered the world spotlight again by hosting the China-Central Asia Summit, a major diplomatic event hosted by China in 2023.
“It is once again showing its status as an important node city for external exchanges, both past and present,” said Sun Haoqi, a Xi’an-based cultural expert.
This is not the first “Xi’an Declaration” issued for external exchanges. As early as 2013, in accordance with the Silk Road Economic Belt, Xi’an signed an agreement for joint development with a dozen cities along the traditional Silk Road for exchanges in the fields of culture, tourism, education, science and technology. The agreement became known as the Xi’an Declaration.
Center of cultural exchanges
Care should be taken whenever construction takes place in Xi’an. As an ancient capital of 13 dynasties, this city has numerous cultural relics buried underground, Sun noted.
In the city, there are traces everywhere of its role as a cosmopolitan metropolis where merchants who followed the Silk Road gathered for trade.
In the densely populated main urban area and suburbs of Xi’an, a total area of around 827 square kilometers, archaeological ruins are scattered here and there, including the well-known Epang Palace Ruins and Daming Palace Ruins.
Many ruins are still being excavated. Over the last few decades, a constant stream of new discoveries painted a picture of the diverse ancient society of Xi’an, known in ancient times as Chang’an.
For example, on archaeological site a kilometer away from the Xi’an Ancient City Wall, experts recently discovered a number of cultural relics that show a distinctive Buddhist art style.
“Many of those Buddha statues we found were covered in colorful paint, while some pottery Buddha statues were also decorated with gold paste. These art styles and craftsmanship clearly came from the Tang Dynasty,” Han Jianhua, an archaeologist working at the site, told a local Xi’an news outlet.
Ancient records show that there used to be a Buddhist temple nearby, which has led researchers to theorize that the two sites were connected, Han added.
In addition, relics such as storage rooms and water wells were found at the site, and objects with Western cultural elements were also unearthed, as experts believed that they showed the rich and diverse social life.
Above the ground, majestic places of interest and historical sites show traces of the collision of ideas and cultures over the millennia. Buddhist scriptures currently stored in various temples bear witness to the spread of religion and ideas, as they later spread to the Central Plains and Southeast China with Xi’an as a transit hub.
The Dayan Pagoda, or the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, located in the urban center, is a symbol of Xi’an. It is the most direct example of the cultural blending that took place in this capital city.
“After China’s cultural envoy Zhang Qian went to the Western Regions during the Han Dynasty (206BC-AD220) and established the Silk Road as an official trade channel, the eminent Tang Dynasty monk Xuanzang traveled to India in the year 629 to obtain Buddhist scriptures. He brought back 657 Buddhist scriptures to China,” noted Gao.
The Great Tang Records on the Western Regions that he later composed became an important study material for future generations to learn about the history and geography of China and Central Asia.
In order to protect the Buddhist scriptures and Buddha statues brought from India, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda was built in the west courtyard of the Daci’en Temple, which has now become a must-see attraction for tourists.
The BRI, comprising the Silk Road Economic Belt and 21st Century Maritime Silk Road, has replaced the traditional camel caravans with modern freight trains that have facilitated trade between China and Central Asian countries.
“As the starting point of foreign exchanges, the city of Xi’an connects BRI countries with China’s interior,” said culture expert Yang Yong.
Shaanxi provincial government data shows that in 2022 alone, the province brought 174 cultural and tourism events overseas including dance dramas in Paris, acrobatic performances about Chang’an and exhibitions of the Terracotta Warriors and Terracotta Horses in Japan.
To better put “culture first” into practice, Xi’an has established organizations such as the Shaanxi Silk Road Cultural Exchange Center to help boost communications in art, film, education and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
“We’re a platform to assist this practice,” the center’s correspondent Ji Wenbo told the Global Times.
According to the center, it has cooperated with multiple countries including Bulgaria, Brazil and Turkey in art exchanges since the center’s establishment in 2016.
As the frontier representative of Xi’an and cultural ambassador to Central Asia, “we still need to find ways to highlight Xi’an’s characteristics during these activities,” Xu Chun, current vice-chairman and secretary-general of the Turkish Chamber of Commerce in China, told the Global Times.
Over the past several years, many activities under the BRI have been conducted including a Turkish Art Festival. While art and education have been the main focuses, “we have also brought Shaanxi’s distinctive waist drums and traditional Chinese calligraphy and paintings overseas,” Xu added.
Shining ever brighter
Since the General Assembly of Alliance for Cultural Heritage in Asia was held in Xi’an in April, a splendid show was held at the Yongning Gate of the ancient Xi’an City Wall. Guests from more than 20 countries attended the special occasion.
After the drawbridge of the Yongning Gate slowly dropped, “Golden Armored Warriors” stepped across the bridge and welcomed the distinguished guests from afar with the highest etiquette of the Tang Dynasty.
The state-level show, Tang Dynasty Grand Welcoming Ceremony, has become a name card for Xi’an.
Xi’an continues to revive the grandness of the ancient capital of the Tang Dynasty, presenting its uniqueness in surprising ways for international guests and tourists. Making the most of social media, the city has become a leading attraction in China.
“Reviving the prosperity of the Tang Dynasty is one of the most popular forms of cultural presentation in the city. Sometimes you can spot international tourists wearing traditional Chinese clothes, such as hanfu, while walking around pedestrian streets,” an employee at the Datang Everbright City scenic area, which presents the charm of the Tang Dynasty urban life, told the Global Times.
Here, at the intersection of ancient and modern times, the electronic billboards stand tall to welcome the arrival of international guests from around the continents for business, friendship and co-prosperity.
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SOURCE Global Times