Xi’an was China’s ancient capital when the Qin Emperor first unified China in 221 BC. He built a mausoleum with an army of warriors sculpted out of terracotta to keep him company in the afterlife. Today, the Terracotta Army is a must-see (easily accessible by tour bus about an hour outside the city) — and Xi’an, with its long history, modern conveniences, and highly respected universities, is an excellent location for study abroad.
Geography & Demographics
Xi’an today is the capital of Shaanxi Province. It competes with Chengdu (capital of Sichuan Province) farther south as a gateway to the West of China, and with Nanjing (capital of Jiangsu Province) as another historic capital of China in several periods. All these provincial capitals have established universities. Those in Xi’an include NorthWest University, Shaanxi Normal University, and Xi’an Jiaotong University, all of which have storied educational traditions. Programs for foreign students can be found either directly or specially enhanced by third-party providers. In addition, U.S.-based universities often arrange their own faculty-led study-abroad programs in Xi’an for the summer, or (less commonly) the winter sessions.
The Xi’an urban area has 8.5 million residents and one of the few complete city walls left in a major Chinese city — in fact, it is possible to cycle right around the top of the wall. The city has a growing Muslim population and a famous active Big Mosque and Muslim market. The inner city is busy and relatively compact, with many bus routes and the first stage of the new metro system in operation. Modern Xi’an has a newly refurbished international airport and, apart from agriculture and tourism as its major industries, its location at the start of the Silk Road in China has helped it to develop as a hi-tech and aeronautic center.
Food & Culture
As it is a provincial capital, Xi’an has lower costs of living than do the Eastern municipalities of Beijing and Shanghai. This is reflected in restaurant prices, taxi fares, and hotel costs. The pace of life will seem a little slower than in the China megacities, and there is a limited late-night life. Food in and around university campuses is inexpensive and local students often dine from perfectly acceptable street food carts and stalls. There are street markets, supermarkets, and famous cuisine such as the Xi’an-style hotpot and “dumpling banquets” — some of the latter are aimed at tourists with a bigger budget.
Things to Do
Although entrance to several major museums is free, it is recommended to see more than just Xi’an. Students can travel farther West into the heavily agricultural-based Gansu Province, explore the Hexi Corridor, head South to Chengdu and the famous Panda Reserve in Sichuan Province, or East to Beijing to compare historic capitals. Overnight sleeper trains provide good value. It is always advisable to check if such travel opportunities are included in your Xi’an study-abroad program.
Studying In Xi’an
The city’s long history — including as the capital in the Tang Dynasty (a period of high culture in 618-907 AD) — makes study of Mandarin, Chinese History, Chinese Culture, Philosophy, and Religion great subjects for interacting with the city’s resources (don’t miss the Tang Dynasty Dance Show). The magnificent Shaanxi Museum, as well as the amazing Terracotta Warriors Museum, can play important roles in a study-abroad program in Xi’an and it is also a good base for looking at China’s Western region policies and challenges, and the increasing economic and political links with Eurasia.