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Acts Upon a Stage (Part I)
A look at Chinese divine culture through the history of Chang'an City
Li Xin, PureInsight Net

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China, given that name by westerners from the pronunciation of the Qin Dynasty, which is the first empire in Chinese history, is also called the Divine Land in Chinese culture. Chinese ancestors believed that this land was the first stop when the gods and goddesses came to the mortal world from heavens or paradises to create culture and civilization as human beings, and that human culture is imparted by gods. There are many myths and legends in the Divine Land, so the Chinese culture is also thought of as a semi-divine culture.

Among the Chinese myths, there is a widely known tale that the bodies of human beings were created by a goddess, Nuwa, from soil. According to Buddhism, human souls come from the different paradises of various Buddhas and are reincarnated in the mortal world again and again. So the actual life is the soul but not the human body. The creation of one's actual life is in the space of the universe. Some souls come to the mortal world because they developed selfishness in paradises and gradually their level was lowered until they fell into mortal world ("The Human Beings' Origin"). On the other hand, some of them are great gods who bravely jump into the mortal world to save the beings who have fallen here.

Chinese traditional culture emphasizes that people should follow the edification of gods to be moral persons. Ancient China's science was different from the science we've learned from the West in modern times, because the study directly focused on the human body, life and the universe. Chinese ancestors have, for millennia, taught the principles of "valuing virtue," and many virtuous people have practiced cultivation in Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism or other cultivation methods to assimilate to the characteristics of the universe. Whether modern people believe these myths and legends or not, the theories included in them influenced Chinese people tremendously, and they are widely reflected in the entire Chinese civilization and Chinese people's life.

After reviewing the whole Chinese 5000-year history which began at the epoch of Yellow Emperor1, one can find a very unusual and notable characteristic of cities and towns. Just like a human beings' body, cities are also organisms so they also follow the same fact of life: birth, growth, sickness, and death. Then, human beings are like the souls of cities. Furthermore, if taking cities to be great stages for dramas, the human beings in the cities are actors. Most of the time, the study of cities have focused on scenarios of dramas or the skill of actors, which are also ravishing. However, the meanings hidden in the drama, nevertheless, are often ignored.

Looking at all the Chinese capital cities from the first dynasty, the Xia (BC 2032 to BC 1600), to the last dynasty, the Qing (AD 1644 to AD 1911) or from the longest dynasty, the Zhou (BC 1066 to BC 206), to the nearly shortest dynasty, the Qin (BC 221 to BC 207), one finds that although the dramas shown in their capital cities were varied, there is also a surprising commonality. From a certain viewpoint, one can tell that they all teach people the same lesson: the flourishing and ruin of cities is associated with the moral standard of the people there. This is just like in the Chinese sayings, "although the earth is so spacious, only persons with great virtue live there forever" and "tyranny and incontinent desires without Tao lead to ruin." Chang'an City, the capital city of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618 to AD 907) which was the most rich and powerful dynasty in Chinese history, is a very good example of this rule.

Setting the Stage: A City Built For Another Dynasty

In fact, Chang'an City, capital of the Tang Dynasty, was developed in the Sui Dynasty (AD 581 to AD 618). After the end of the Han Dynasty (BC 202 to AD 220), China had been in a divided situation for more than 300 years. Yang Jian, the founder of the Sui Dynasty, reunited China. The first capital city was the old Chang'an City, the capital of the Han Dynasty. However, after 800 years of warfare, the city was dilapidated and the space was narrow. Yang Jian commanded that a new capital city be developed.

After consulting the Xiangtu, which is the predecessor to the theory of Fengshui for observing the landforms, the relationships of mountains and rivers and local people's customs and local products, and Buwu, which is an ancient augury to ask the deities about the good or ill luck of a site, to decide which site was suitable for establishing the new capital, the position of the new capital city was determined to be southeast of the old capital. The first name of the new city was Daxing, which means generous and flourishing.

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