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  Chinese Way>Life

Original multiculturalism: Xuexi alley in Xi’an

2013-11-07 18:45:10

(China Today) By Fu Zhibin & Li Yuan


In the heyday of the majestic Tang Dynasty (618-907), Xuexi Alley, in Lianhu District of Xi’an, Shaanxi province was home to merchants and tradesmen from home and abroad. Across the country, it was dubbed “Foreign Trade Street,” or sometimes “Diplomacy Avenue.”

Xuexi Alley was also regarded as the starting point of the Silk Road, the transcontinental cobweb of trade routes that linked the ancient world from China to Rome. Nowadays, the alley survives as an interlinking network of hundreds of streets and alleys. Many of the alleyways count among the oldest in all of Xi’an. Sauntering through the area affords visitors a glimpse into life under the Tang, regarded by many as representing the peak of China’s dynastic historical achievements.

Community First, Ethnicity Second

Seventy-one-year-old Bai Xiulan resides on Xuexi Alley. She has worked for the community there for four decades. In 2001 when the administration of Xuexixiang Community was established, Bai was elected its director. Needless to say, Bai is probably the best person one could find to introduce newcomers to the community.

“The [Xuexi] community has 10,700 residents in 3,600 households,” Bai said. “About 80 percent are members of the Hui ethnic group, so locals call the area Huifang, or Hui Block.”

Xi’an was the capital of China for six dynasties, and Lianhu District was the seat of the Tang Dynasty rulers. At that time, the political scene was stable and the leading class was open-minded. Many foreign traders came to Xi’an, then called Chang’an, through the Silk Road, including those from Central and West Asia. Many of them later settled here. According to historical records, in total there were about 4,000 households with occupants from Central and West Asia during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong (712-756 on reign) in Chang’an.

Such a large foreign population posed a challenge for the country’s diplomatic, trade and business policies as well as for social administration. Language-learning and cultural communication became necessary tasks. The Ministry of Rites, in charge of education and foreign affairs, set up a special organization to teach the necessary disciplines. A number of communities dedicated to cultural and linguistic learning sprung up in the immediate vicinity of the ministry. The street on which the ministry was located subsequently got a new name – Xuexi Alley, which literally means Alley of Study.

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