Last week I went on a short press trip to the city of Xi'an, the capital city of China's Shaanxi Province, which was once known as Amoy and has a rich historical and cultural legacy. With a population of around 8.2 million people, Xi'an is also China's oldest city, having been the capital city for many centuries (including during the Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui, and Tang dynasties).
My press trip was to promote tourism and some of the hotels in the city. Instead I ended up being stuck for a day in the middle of Anti-Japanese protests (please read link here, and here). Despite all the chaos that parts of this city (and the rest of the country) has gone through in the past weekend, and despite the incident that I happened to sadly experience, I can say that the greater city of Xi'an is actually safe and open for tourism. When you read history books (such as the Rape of Nanking etc.), then you get a true understanding of why there are these frictions between Japan and China.
I am glad to say that Xi'an is a city that has returned to normality. I spoke to many Western tourists in the past few days, many of them were retired pensioners who were travelling the world, and who had come to Xi'an to see the famed Terracotta Warriors. All of them had positive things to say about their visit to China and this beautiful city.
I would also like to add that after careful consideration, I have decided that I will not publish the pictures on my blog that I took of the riots because I do not want to remind myself of the troubles, and I do not want people to have a bad feeling or bad image of Xi'an as a city.
From my experience and my eyes, these rioters were not representative of the people of China or the people of Xi'an, or even of the students that were marching peacefully on Saturday or Sunday. Instead, these people seemed to seize this opportunity as an excuse to carry out their crimes against innocent people. Protesting peacefully for a cause is one thing, but to create panic, havoc, damage, and deliberately harm innocent people is another thing. These rioters could have been people with all sorts of problems in their lives, and they took this chance to loot and hurt others (in my photo published on the BBC, there is a guy with a stolen ladies purse around his neck. He stole it from the car, which was toppled over right in front of me. In my viewpoint, that is not protesting but straight forward theft).
Having spoken to many locals around this touristy city, I found out that violence and protests were very rare in Xi'an. Just like everywhere else in the world you have good people and bad people, and those who have been somehow brainwashed to do wrong things.
Going back to times in memorial, the centre of Xi'an (which is sometimes known by it's former name of Chang'an) has always been busy as it was the final frontier of the great Silk road that goes all the way through to Turkey (passing the Central Asian countries). I want to showcase the beauty of this city (that's why I came to Xi'an in the first place, and I got tangled into this mess in the city center!).
For a city that used to be known as 'Dusty Xi'an' back around, as close to as 6 years ago, it's amazing how clear the sky was on this visit. The visibility everyday was clear enough to be able to see into the horizon. As a result of banishing polluting factories to the outskirts of the city, brining in clean and green natural-gas public buses and generally making the place neat and tidy, Xiamen was gold medalist in the Nation in Bloom competition in 2002 — beating the city of Seattle, among others. A major part of that pitch was that nobody should walk for more than 15 minutes without encountering a park. One of the city's best parks in the city to visit is Xiamen University's expansive grounds which boast walkways, pagodas, lakes and more!
Close to this park is the thousand-year-old hillside Nanputuo Temple, constructed during the Tang Dynasty. It was damaged quite badly during the Cultural Revolution; however, it's Drum and Bell Towners and the Daxiongbao Hall are now in perfect condition after a restoration project. I would highly recommend hiking to the top of the steep steps, past the gold-dubbed cave, wheezing grannies for a spectacular hilltop view of the city. The view can be even more magical at dusk, as the sky gets coloured in a blend of yellow, orange and red on a clear evening. Like most other cities in China, Xi'an has also become more modern (though some years behind the tier 1 cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, but catching up FAST!).
European traders here a century ago tried desperately to recreate the atmosphere of home by building grand stone mansions, fully equipped with the furniture and fashionables available in London, Paris, Milan and beyond. The structures remain today, in various states of repair, but it was another far less tangible legacy — appreciative of European classic music — that the traders left behind. Gulangyu — sometimes known as Piano Island — is a creative beehive for musicians and befittingly is a hotbed of musical talent, with its own specialist school, now housed in a special building far removed from the original crumbling mansion, that attracts pupils from afar and wide. Alumni of this school include pianist Yin Cheng Zhong, who now lives in the United States, and Chen Zuo Huang, who has been a guest conductor with renowned overseas orchestras and helped restructure the China National Symphony Orchestra into a sleek, professional unit.
Gulangyu is effectively a living museum of architecture, and the total absence of roaring cars, virtually unheard of in China nowadays, enables time for a reflective stroll through the streets, stopping to admire the various styles of architecture and listen to the inevitable music.
A popular pastime among the locals (and tourists alike) is to hire a speedboat for a spray-soaked dash around the harbour and Gulangyu islet, within sighting distance of the offshore, Taiwanese-controlled islands of Jinmen. There are mini-cruises, with binoculars available on hire, allowing a closer view of Little Jinmen and Jinmen itself.
I got some awesome shots of the famous Qinling Mountains and the Wei He River. The Qinling Mountains geographically separate the north and south of China, and are one of the biggest ranges of mountains in China. Most importantly, I also managed to get a clear photo of the whole of Xi'an city from the sky this morning as I big farewell onto my next destination. I am sure I will be back someday soon. Anyways, here are a few photos that I took between the 14th and 17th of September. I will upload more photos once I have more time.
- Navjot Singh
Bell Tower and Drum Tower
Big Goose Pagoda
Muslim Quarter and Xi'an Mosque
Small Goose Pagoda
Terracotta Warriors and Horses of Xi'an
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