Visualizing Chang’an: The Modern Reinterpretation of a Canonical Chinese City

TANG Keyang, Renmin University of China, China


Chang’an, the capital of Sui-Tang empire, is by no means the equivalent of its modern namesake, i.e. Xi’an. Encircled by a giant brick wall, Xi’an was developed on the basis of the Imperial City, a small portion of Sui-Tang Chang’an and had experienced fundamental changes in the last millennium. Often called Chang’an, Xi’an is much smaller in scale, simpler regarding its principle of organization, and perceived as a self-containing man-made object. Its images become popular among mass media and are not strange to tourists. Meanwhile, Chang’an by the definition of archaeologists has been buried, almost permanently and completely, under modern development, remaining invisible to the contemporary sights. Set in the context of contemporary historiographical discussion, this presentation takes a snapshot of what occurs to the reception of Chinese ancient cities, particularly in this case, Chang’an. How is the history of a city like Chang’an being (re)produced with modern photography and cartography? What is said, what is rendered about the city and what is physically preserved and rebuilt? Should the evolution of a historical city be visualized as a single coherent meta-structure, a definite and terminal image, or a series of competing components?