Preservation and Conservation of the Xi’an City Wall

Article by Stephen Robinson

The fortifications of Xi’an, better known as the Xi’an City Wall, are a prominent feature of Xi’an and are often used in the symbolism and iconography of the city. As one of the largest and most complete fortifications of its kind, the Xi’an city wall has endured the constant expansion and renovations of a modern Chinese city. In fact, the Xi’an City Wall has been incorporated into the infrastructure of the city, standing not only as a testament to the historical nature of the city, but also as a functional part of the overall landscape.

The original layout of the Xi’an City Wall was formed over the imperial capital of the Sui-Tang built in 582, which was later rebuilt by military governor Han Jian on the foundation of the original Imperial city. (Wang, et al., 2019) The wall was then further extended and fortified under the direction of the Hongwu Emperor in 1370 C.E. during a renovation of city defenses across the country, giving the City Wall its modern layout and dimensions, though the city wall of this time was composed primarily of tamped earth. (Heritage, 2008) The wall would be further renovated from 1781 to 1784 during the Qing Dynasty by then governor Bi Yuan, when the moat was dredged and further improvements were made to the wall, including the construction of watch towers, draw bridges, and other modifications. (Wang, et al., 2019)

During urban expansion in the later Qing Dynasty, part of the wall were demolished, but by 1935 the historical and cultural significance of the wall was beginning to be recognized, as it was proposed during the 13th Congress of the Xijing Construction Committee (Xijing being the name that referred to Xi’an in official documents of the time (So & Zelin, 2013)) that the wall be preserved due to its cultural value. (Wang, et al., 2019) During the Second Sino-Japanese War, an estimated 1000 air shelters were built into the base of the wall to protect the inhabitants from Japanese bombings. (So & Zelin, 2013)

Starting in 1953, the “1953-1972 Xi’an City Master Plan” designated that the pattern of the city should protect the urban layout of the ancient city. (Wang, et al., 2019). This meant that the roads and entrances to the city should be kept as they were, leading to the almost grid-like patterns of the Xi’an downtown area. Some demolition occurred after the fact in violation of the plan, leading to the 1959 “Notice on the conservation of the City Wall of Xi’an” by the State Council, making the preservation of the Xi’an City Wall a national concern. (Wang, et al., 2019)

Since the 1980s, the City Wall has seen further renovations to improve both appearance and functionality. Development of the Xi’an City Wall Park, a greenbelt that surrounds the City Wall between the wall and the moat, was completed originally in 1999, and was further improved and renovated in recent years. (Wang, et al., 2019) Additionally, access to the City Wall as a tourist site has become increasingly more popular in recent years. In order to preserve the scenic nature of the wall, building height near the wall has been limited to 12m (Wang, et al., 2019), and buildings within the wall further limited in height to preserve the skyline.

The Xi’an city wall also is host to several key events in Xi’an, including the City Wall Marathon, and annual Lantern Festival display. With all of the events and visitors to the site, maintenance. on the wall is near constant to preserve and improve the wall so that generations to come may continue to enjoy this piece of Chinese History.