Xi’an – with five million inhabitants and capital of Shaanxi Province – is one of the more pleasant of Chinese cities, more prosperous than any other city in inland China except Chengdu, with streets full of Japanese cars, stores flooded with temptations, and stylish locals in new discos. It’s far richer than the surrounding area, a fact which becomes clear after a bus ride into surrounding plains. The city is also a primer in Chinese history, as between 1000 BC and 1000 AD it served as imperial capital for eleven dynasties. Find a wealth of important sites and relics hereabouts: Neolithic Banpo, the Terracotta Army of the Qin emperor, the Han and Tang imperial tombs, and in the city itself, the Goose Pagodas of the Tang, the Bell and Drum towers and Ming city walls, as well as two museums holding a treasury of relics from the most glamorous parts of Chinese history. The city is very popular with foreign residents, and many come to study, as the colleges are regarded as some of the best places to learn Chinese.

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