Capital of the Past: Urban and Cultural Transformations of Chang'an, 900-1400

Talk by Xin Wen, Princeton University

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Thursday, February 25, 2021
4:00 PM - 5:30 PM
Live via Zoom

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Capital of the Past: Urban and Cultural Transformations of Chang’an, 900 - 1400

In this talk, I examine the history of Chang’an, the capital the Tang (618–907) dynasty, after the fall of the Tang. My story begins with the forced evacuation of the imperial court from Chang’an in 904, and ends with the construction of the new Ming-era city and the renaming of the city as “Xi’an” in the late 14th century. Using local gazetteers, travelogues, and later inscriptions on Tang stone monuments in the “Forest of Stele” (beilin) collection that was first assembled in 1087, I trace two major urban transformations of the city: as the new Chang’an downsized to about 1/16 of the Tang city, it also relinquished its erstwhile political role and assumed the new identity as a militarized border town. At the same time, however, visitors and residents continued to recollect and reinscribe Chang’an’s imperial past. In this version of its imperial history often invoked in these five centuries, Chang’an was neither a symbol of Tang imperial power, nor one of Eurasian cosmopolitanism, as it is often seen now. Instead, the part of the history of Chang’an most celebrated was its place as the center of a literary culture for examination candidates in the mid- and late Tang; and because these examination candidates were largely active in the southeastern part of the Tang city, this area, which was in the southeastern suburbs after the 904 downsizing, became the center of attraction for visitors. By tracing the parallel yet contradictory urban and cultural transformations, this project charts a northern path for the understanding of urban history in Middle Period China.


Xin Wen is an Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies and History at Princeton University. He graduated from Harvard University in 2017 with a Ph.D. in Inner Asian and Altaic Studies. He is a historian of medieval China and Inner Asia, and is currently finishing a book manuscript that is a social history of long-distance diplomatic travel on the Silk Road written on the basis of Dunhuang documents. His research interests in medieval China also include manuscript culture, urban history, and digital humanities.





Sponsor(s): Center for Chinese Studies