China 1982

Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan 2018

China 1982

After the fairly hectic itinerary in Peking, our first day in Sian has been relatively relaxed (which is not a bad thing as we now have three days scheduled here).

Our first visit this morning was to the Bell Tower in the middle of the city.  Built in 1384 during the Ming Dynasty, the 40-metre high structure was used to ring out the time for the population in the era before anyone had clocks or wristwatches.  Beautifully preserved (and renovated), I wasn’t especially impressed by the static historical exhibits, but I was deeply impressed from the top across the very flat city of Sian.

The Bell Tower is located at the junction of roads leading off to each of the north, south, east and west.  Sian is a very old city with a history of more than 3,000 years.  Sian served as China’s capital city intermittently for over 1,100 years, and its present appearance reflects this rich past.  There is even an intact city wall through which one must pass to reach the city centre.  By the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD), Sian had a population of a million people, making it one of the world’s largest city.  After the capital moved away, however, the population declined. 

Today’s population is about 3 million people, although its area is quite compact because of the growing reliance on high rise housing.  In fact, the city is not expanding horizontally at all – all the new development in the city is a redevelopment of old parts of the city.  This is occurring uniformly throughout Sian and usually means vertical expansion.  It means that valuable farming land surrounding the city is not being lost to urban expansion.  The Bell Tower is still surrounded by many old houses and other dwellings (very photogenic!), although sadly many of them are now in the process of being demolished for street widening and to accommodate new blocks of flats.

After the Bell Tower we visited the Sian Museum.  I’m sorry to say that apart from a Han Dynasty seismograph (206BC – 224AD), the dimly lit displays were remarkable only for their lack of interesting content.  There was, however, an intriguing and strongly materialist quote on the wall of the museum “People, only people, are the source of all creation”.  There’s not much room for debate with strident expression such as that.

We had free time this afternoon, so several of us wandered into the city for a few hours to walk around.  I was quite taken by a quote from Chairman Mao that I saw on the wall of a bookshop: “Books are the ever-burning lamps of accumulated wisdom”.  I tried phoning home again after that (unsuccessfully yet again), and after dinner we attended what was labelled as a “song and dance” show which was fabulous.  The performance was by the Shensi provincial Song and dance group No.1 (the province’s top group).  It was extremely enjoyable, although also a curious mix of western music (and dress at times), minority nationalities (such as Mongolians and Tibetans) and revolutionary-style performances done in traditional dress.  On the whole, I thought it was the best evening’s entertainment we have experienced so far in China.

The weather in Sian is rather more humid than Peking – although foggy and wet might be a more accurate description.  In Peking, clothes I washed were dry in a couple of hours; here they just lie around staying damp.  As a result of the change in climate, most people in the group have come down with colds, although I’ve stayed healthy so far.

Day 18

Sian, China


19 April 1982