April 2012

Antiquity Meets Modernity

By Rebecca Carden

Xi’an is gaining prominence as one of China’s fastest growing second-tier cities, nurturing a modern economy and thriving music scene

Xi’an is perhaps most famed as the site of the terracotta warriors and for its rich cultural heritage as the first capital of China, but the city is also increasingly known as a center of high-tech development and advanced technology.

The diverse capital of Shaanxi province in northwest China has a population of over eight million. Its name in Chinese means ‘west’ and ‘peace.’

As one of the four ancient cities in the world, its historical sites attracted over 31 million tourists in 2007, a number that continues to grow as the tourism industry in China expands. Tourism is particularly popular among domestic travellers as the city is regarded as the “capital of table delicacies’ due to the variety of local snacks on offer. Xi’an is also well known for hosting a rich array of performing arts.

Despite its reputation as a tourism hub, the industrial dynamics of Xi’an have led to the city’s position as a forerunner in science and technology innovation, particularly within the areas of aerospace and manufacturing. Following the launch of the 23 square kilometer National Civil Aerospace Industrial Base in 2008, Xi’an has become home to China’s largest civil aerospace industry. The opening cemented the city’s industrial prominence, adding to the success of the Xi’an Yanliang National Aviation Hi-tech Industry Base, founded in 2005. Often referred to as the “Oriental Seattle” because it is the largest aerospace industry center in Asia, the base is responsible for much of the city’s employment and, to an extent, the economic stability of the city.

Xi’an is home to the only design and research institute of large- and medium-sized aircraft in China. The city is crucial to the development of Chinese aircraft manufacturing as China continues to increase its share of the global aviation industry. The city also has the highest number of technical personnel in the country, explaining the substantial contributions to scientific research and achievements originating from the city, perhaps most notably the creation of the first carrier rocket engine.

Xi’an’s large number of colleges and universities provide the city with the bright young minds needed to sustain its position as a forerunner within the research and aerospace industries, but it is also this substantial student population that is responsible for its growing underground music scene. With more than 80,000 students graduating each year, the music scene has grown increasingly prominent since its origins in the nineties, especially within the rock genre. Along with Beijing, Kunming and Chengdu, the city is considered a focal point for the development of rock music and a breeding ground for new bands. Festivals of all sizes, such as the annual Xi’an Popular Music Festival, are common throughout the year. The popularity of such events was demonstrated in 2007 when the police were forced to shut down concerts over safety concerns due to the high numbers of attendees.

While Xi’an has embraced the emerging rock music scene, the city’s preserved cultural legacy also provides a diverse entertainment setting for residents and tourists alike. Historically, Xi’an boasted a culture dominated by the performing arts as the city has been home to a number of opera troupes. The most popular is a form of local opera, Qinqiang, or Qin Drama, which is being preserved by the Xi’an Yisu Society, an opera troupe established in 1912. The annual Qinqiang Opera festival attracts many tourists who come to enjoy the music and performers. Other troupes include the Xiangyu Opera Troupe, established in Xi’an in 1948. As opera is very popular, there are a number of prominent venues, including the Shaanxi Grand Opera House, the Yisu Community Theater and the Yisu Grand Theater.

Xi’an’s future is promising. The city’s favorable location between Beijing and Chengdu in the centre of China has caught the attention of other major investing companies such as Rolls Royce and IBM, in addition to those seeking to expand within inland China, including Mitsubishi, Toshiba and most notably, Boeing. The development of infrastructure has further contributed to the expansion of foreign companies. Higher living standards have provided a customer base for commercial enterprises Carrefour and Nike, among others. Although the city is still establishing itself as one of the country’s leading second-tier cities, with China’s ambitious plans for aircraft production, Xi’an is set to benefit as a leader in manufacturing and aeronautics.