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Acts Upon a Stage (Part 3)
A Look at Chinese Divine Culture through the History of Chang'an City
Li Xin, PureInsight Net
9/30/2007

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The Master Plan of Chang'an City in the Tang Dynasty

The best was the fifth level, which has the meaning that "there are flying dragons in the sky." However, the noblest area located was not planned for palaces, but for Buddhist and Taoist temples. This is an evidence of a deep reverence for the heavens in Chinese culture. Although Chinese emperors were rulers of the entire nation and were absolute monarchs, they were considered to be "the son of heaven," and only ruled under the mandate of heaven and had to conform to the Heavenly Tao. If they broke this mandate in their lives, then the people and ministers would criticize them, or even overthrow them in the name of "enforcing the Tao for heaven."

According to Confucius' explanation, the meaning of the second best area is to "reunite the world in harmony and compassion without war, (using) plentiful virtue to enlighten (people) ," which is exactly the virtue that emperors should follow. In Chang'an City, it was located on the second level and was planned as the Palace City, a huge courtyard with all the residences and offices of the Emperor.

The third level of the city contained and reflected the meaning of "men of honor are diligent all day long and maintain caution about their actions and works even at night," which is exactly the virtue that ministers should follow. The third level was planned as the Royal City, a huge courtyard that included the office space for all governmental officials.

In the same way, the first level was meant "cannot build" according to the Book of Changes. Thus it was designated to be the Emperor's private garden. The fourth level, with the meaning of "change follow opportunities, spring forward to make progress," was planned for two marketplaces. The sixth level with the meaning of "haughty dragon feels regret" was designated to be a royal park which was open to the public. On each holiday, the residents, no matter their standing, would often come to relax and walk in the park. All the other areas were residential.

As a result, although Chang'an City was not planned according to modern theories of city planning, the land use is quite reasonable. The locations of the great temples and markets were convenient for all the residents. The Royal City was just south of the Palace City, so the officials could deliver files to emperors very quickly without disturbing the life of civilians. Everyone had the right and the opportunity to enjoy the beautiful urban and natural scenery from the high tower in the park.

The core of Chinese culture is "harmony between heaven (or nature) and humankind." All the numbers of the blocks and the numbers on the gates in the city wee decided by astronomy and the lunar calendar. In fact, the whole city was a model of the universe.

Chang'an City Blocks

Not only were the Royal City and the Palace City enclosed by city walls, every primary block was also enclosed by walls. There were small temples, workshops, and retail establishments in each "small city." Thus, though the gates of the "small city" would be closed during night, people's lives were not inconvenienced. Also, inside each of the "small cities," every residential or official building was also divided by walls. This layout is a reflection of the Buddhist view of universe: that small particles/worlds form large particles/worlds, and large particles/worlds form larger particles/worlds, to infinity, which has been recognized to be correct by modern physics. Both the spirit and physical form of Chang'an City simulate the universe. In the words of Meiwei Dayan, a professor at Japan Central University, Chang'an City was the "the capital city of the universe."

In short, the planning of Chang'an City emphasized the meaning of virtue and imitated the natural system. The design helped the Chinese people to remember the virtue they should have and made it easy for them to simulate the characteristics of universe.


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