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  • Chinese/Japanese: 咸陽 (Xiányáng / Kan'you)

Xiányáng was the Imperial capital of the Qin Dynasty. Founded during the Warring States period and expanded by Qin Shihuangdi, the city was conceived as a microcosm of the empire. It was located on the north side of the Wei River, a short distance away from where the Han, Sui and Tang Dynasty capital of Chang'an would later be built.

Like the capitals of the various Warring States of the era, the city was divided into political and commercial sectors, separated by high walls. The former consisted chiefly of an extensive complex of around 270 Imperial structures, including replicas of the palaces of each of the states or kingdoms defeated by the Qin. All were interlinked with tunnels, allowing the Emperor to move about in secret; cultural and political ideology dictated that a man of his incredible political power and cosmic significance go unseen by the common people. These Imperial buildings also included many structures which emphasized verticality, creating an impressive sense of power, and in order to convey a sense of the Imperial institution looking down upon the city, and the Empire. These included towers, pillar gates, and structures placed atop artificially elevated stepped earthen platforms, known as tāi, which helped give the illusion of multi-story structures, in an age when the Qin did not possess the technology to build true multi-story structures. The city's population included over one hundred thousand people forcibly relocated there from the various states defeated by the Qin, placing potentially problematic people under the watchful eyes of the Emperor, rather than out in the provinces, as a preventative measure against possible uprisings.

The central Imperial palace, which scholars call Xianyang Palace No. 1, was located to the south of the replica palaces. Originally built during the Warring States period, it was later appropriated by Qin Shihuangdi. The palace, built atop foundations 60 meters from east to west, 45 meters from north to south, and six meters high, was flanked by two wings and surrounded by bays which gave the impression of a massive three-story structure. A system of underground pipes allowed for drainage.

Qin Shihuangdi's full plans for the city were never completed, as it fell to Han Dynasty forces in 206 BCE.

Though archaeological excavations have uncovered much about the ancient capital, much has also been lost as the Wei River shifted further and further north over the centuries.


  • Ching, Francis D.K. et al. A Global History of Architecture. Second Edition. John Wiley & Sons (2011), 148-149, 183.