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Chang'an is an ancient capital of more than ten dynasties in Chinese history. Chang'an literally means "Perpetual Peace" in Classical Chinese. During the short-lived Xin Dynasty, the city was renamed "Constant Peace" (常安, pronounced the same way in Mandarin Chinese); yet after its fall in the year 23 AD, the old name was restored. By the time of the Ming Dynasty, the name was again changed to Xi'an, meaning "Western Peace", which has remained its name to the present day.

Chang'an had been settled since the Neolithic times, during which the Yangshao Culture established in Banpo in the city's suburb. Also in the northern vicinity of the modern Xi'an, the tumulus ruler Qin Shi Huang of Qin Dynasty held his imperial court, and constructed his massive mausoleum that is guarded by the famed Terracotta Army.

From its capital at Xianyang, the Qin dynasty ruled a larger area than either of the preceding dynasties. The imperial city of Chang'an during the Han Dynasty was located in 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 750 A.D. 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 the year 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.

Han period

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 comparable with the greatest cities of the contemporaneous Roman Empire.

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 militaristic center of China.

There were 3 construction periods over more than 90 years. The Emperor Gao-zu of Han, Liu Bang, decided to build the palaces before the city walls. In 202 BC, he repaired the Xingle Palace (興樂宮) of the Qin Dynasty and renamed it Changle Palace (長樂宮). Two years later, a new palace called Weiyang Palace (未央宮) was constructed. In 195 BC, his son, Emperor Hui of Han began the construction of the walls of Chang'an and finished them in September of 191 BC. Emperor Hui, Emperor Wu of Han then built several palaces in the city. At that time, Zhang Qian journeyed west into central Asia as a diplomat. Since then, Chang'an city became the Asian gateway to Europe as the point of departure of the famous Silk Road. After the Western Han period, the Eastern Han government settled in Luoyang as the new capital and renamed Chang'an to Xijing (Western Capital). In 190 during late Eastern Han, the court was seized and relocated back to Chang'an by the notorious Prime Minister Dong Zhuo, as it was a strategically superior site against the mounting insurgency formed against him. By this time, many dynasties came to regard Chang'an as the symbolic site of supreme power and governance.

Sui and Tang periods

Both Sui and Tang empires occupied the same location. In 582, Emperor Wen of Sui Dynasty sited a new region southeast of the much ruined Han Dynasty Chang'an to build his new capital, which he called Daxing (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 in the Tang Dynasty (618—907) was, 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. This new 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 . The height of the walls enclosing each ward were on average 9 to in height. The Japanese built their ancient capitals, Heijokyo (today's Nara) and later Heian-Kyo or Kyoto, modelled after Chang'an in a more modest scale yet was never fortified. The modern Kyoto still retains some characteristics of Sui-Tang Chang'an. Similarly, the Korean Silla dynasty modeled their capital of Gyeongju after the Chinese capital. Unfortunately, much of Chang'an was ruthlessly destroyed during the fall of the Tang empire and in the subsequent centuries. It never recovered, but there are still some monuments from the Tang era that are still standing.

Layout of the city

During Tang, the main exterior walls of Chang'an rose high, were by six miles in length, and formed a city in the shape of a large square, with an inner surface area of 30 squared miles. 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 enclusure 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, pear grove, 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 9 distinct gridded sectors (listed below by cardinal direction). The narrowest of these streets were wide, those terminating at the gates of the outer walls being 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 a whopping wide. Streets and roads of these widths allowed for efficient fire breaks in the city of Chang'an. For example, in the year 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 the year 740.

Pools, streams, and canals

Within the West Park there was a running stream, and within the walled enclosure of the West Palace there 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 (located along the eastern wall of the city) both had a small lake to boast, yet 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 city. There were 5 transport and sanitation canals running throughout the city, which had several different 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 different 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 while the lake in the Xingqing Palace connected two different canals running through the city. The canals were also used to transport crucial goods throughout the city, such as charcoal and fire wood in the winter.

Locations and events during the Tang Dynasty

Southwestern Chang'an

Locations and events in the southwest sector of the city included:

South Central Chang'an

Locations and events in the south central sector of the city included:

  • 20 walled and gated wards
  • 3 Buddhist monasteries
  • 7 Daoist abbeys
  • 11 Family shrines
  • 1 Inn
  • An event in the year 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 the year 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 household.
  • A government garden that supplied pear-blossom honey, amongst other natural goods.

Southeastern Chang'an

Locations and events in the southeast sector of the city included:

  • 13 walled and gated wards
  • 9 Buddhist monasteries
  • 3 Daoist abbeys
  • 5 Family shrines
  • 2 Inns
  • 1 Graveyard
  • The Serpentine River Park, which had one of the Buddhist monasteries 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 (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 with feasts.

West Central Chang'an

Locations and events in the west central sector of the city included:

  • 11 walled and gated wards (including the large marketplace ward)
  • 22 Buddhist monasteries
  • 2 Daoist abbeys
  • 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 commercial actions.
  • 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 the year 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 the year 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 different legs.
  • 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.

Central Chang'an

Locations and events in the central sector of the city included:

  • 16 walled and gated wards
  • 17 Buddhist monasteries
  • 6 Daoist abbeys
  • 1 Official temple
  • 3 Family shrines
  • 3 Locations for Provincial Transmission Offices
  • 3 Inns
  • 2 Graveyards
  • 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 the year 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 city.
  • 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 pastry
  • The 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

Locations and events in the east central sector of the city included:

  • 11 walled and gated wards
  • 11 Buddhist monasteries
  • 7 Daoist abbeys
  • 1 Family shrine
  • 1 Foreign place of worship (church, synagogue, mosque, etc.)
  • 4 Locations for Provincial Transmission Offices
  • 3 Inns
  • 1 Graveyard
  • 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 musical instruments.
  • 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 society.
  • The Offices of Wannian County, the eastern half of the city
  • The main office of the City Archives
  • 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 chieftan 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 backyard
  • An event where Emperor Gaozong of Tang (r. 649-683) once held the wedding feast here for the marriage ceremony of his daughter Princess Taiping.
  • The beer brewery of Toad Tumulus Ale.
  • An event in the year 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.
  • A 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 3000 inhabitants of the extended family living on the premises.
  • A Zoroastrian church of worship 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.

Northwestern Chang'an

Locations and events in the northwest sector of the city included:

  • 12 walled and gated city wards
  • 27 Buddhist monasteries
  • 10 Daoist abbeys
  • 1 Official Temple
  • 1 Family shrine
  • 6 Foreign places of worship (Church, synagogue, mosque, etc.)
  • 1 Inn
  • 1 Graveyard
  • The military barracks for the Divine Strategy Army.
  • A shrine for Laozi's father
  • Three Zoroastrian churches of worship
  • Three Persian Nestorian-Christian churches of worship
  • The office of the Inexhaustible Treasury
  • An event in the year 828 where a eunuch commanded fifty wrestlers to arrest 300 commoners over a land dispute, whereupon a riot broke out in the streets.
  • The home of An Jinzang, who cut his belly open with a knife in order to defend Emperor Ruizong of Tang against charges of treason.
  • A mansion of Princess Anle
  • The Inexhaustible Treasury; in the year 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 synonymous 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 monasteries, 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 included:

  • 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 the year 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

Northeastern Chang'an

Locations and events in the northeast sector of the city included:

  • 14 walled and gated wards
  • 13 Buddhist monasteries
  • 4 Daoist abbeys
  • 1 Family shrine
  • 3 Locations for Provincial Transmission Offices
  • 1 Inn
  • 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 monastery here
  • 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 the year 730 where 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 Agriculture.
  • A residence for princes in the ward forming the northeast corner of the city
  • An event in the year 835 where palace troops captured rebel leaders in a tea shop that were planning a palace coup de tat against the chief court eunuchs.
  • 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 grandson.
  • 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 of 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 West Palace

The West Palace to the north included:

  • An archery hall
  • Polo grounds
  • Elaborate Gardens
  • 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

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

The Daming Palace

The 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 bathhouse
  • 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 Troupe
  • A separate entertainment ward

The East Park

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:

  • 111 Buddhist monasteries
  • 41 Daoist abbeys
  • 38 Family shrines
  • 2 Official temples
  • 10 City wards having one or multiple Provincial Transmission Offices
  • 12 Inns
  • 6 Graveyards
  • 7 Official foreign-religion churches

Citywide events

Citywide events of Chang'an include:

  • Festivals of traditional Chinese holidays celebrated throughout the city (and empire) included:
    • New Years; 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 in 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 , 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 miles.
    • 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 desert for the occasion, most likely served in the Serpentine River Park.
    • Cold Food Festival; this solar-based holiday on April 5th (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 BC-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 council, 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 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 of 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 performances.
    • 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 of 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 tons 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 the years 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 the year 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 long and 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 seventh 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 the year 682, a culmination of major droughts, floods, locust plagues, and epidemics, a widespread famine broke out in the dual Chinese capital cities of 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 note.

See also



Further reading

  • Schafer, Edward H. “The Last Years of Ch’ang’an”. Oriens Extremus X (1963):133-179.
  • Sirén, O. “Tch’angngan au temps des Souei et des T’ang”. Revue des Arts Asiatiques 4 (1927):46-104.
  • Steinhardt, Nancy Shatzman (1999). Chinese Imperial City Planning. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  • Xiong, Victor Cunrui (2000). Sui-Tang Chang’an: A Study in the Urban History of Medieval China. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Center for Chinese Studies.

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