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March 11-12: The Center of Ancient China

We begin in Xi'an, as China did in many ways. Originally known as Chang'an, this was one of the country's historic capitals, the eastern terminus of the famed Silk Road, and the seat of China's first imperial dynasty, the Qin. 

The infamous Qin emperor, Shi Huangdi, left an indelible mark on China and this city, despite living more than 2200 years ago. He was the first emperor to unify China and he is credited with the founding of the Great Wall, which we will visit later in the trip. He is most closely associated, though, with his mausoleum.

Despite being the most powerful man in China for the majority of his life, Qin Shi Huangdi lived in fear. His inevitable death haunted him and he devoted his vast resources to quixotic attempts to defy his own mortality. Sadly, none of the magical elixirs had any effect, and with each successive failure the emperor's anxiety grew. Ultimately, he commissioned an unprecedented project, ordering the construction of a mausoleum larger than any city in the world. The mausoleum would house a terracotta army, which would serve Qin Shi Huangdi in the afterlife, protecting him from evil spirits. While the emperor didn't survive, the army did, and it remains one of the highlights of any visit to China.

Xi'an's greatness, of course, did not end with the short-lived Qin Dynasty's fall. It remained a center of Chinese culture and an economic hub for more than a millennium, only gradually fading from significance as Chinese power shifted to the eastern coast. That historic importance is visible in two major landmarks in the city center. First, Xi'an is blessed to preserve its city walls, which date to the Ming Dynasty. While most historic town walls were torn down in the rush to modernization, these impressive fortifications rise to 40 feet above the city center. We'll rent bikes and pedal leisurely along the walls, completing the full 8.5-mile loop while enjoying stunning views. Second, Xi'an's link to the Silk Road is evident in its Great Mosque, the oldest mosque surviving anywhere in China. It's a magnificent structure and the walk to it is equally memorable, following twisting alleyways lined with merchant stands. 

Over our next three stops, our focus will shift to where China is headed. We begin, though, with where China has been.

Accommodation in Xi'an: TBA