Sunday, January 4, 2009

A Fall Day on the City Wall of Xi'an

When people think about Xi’an, China, they usually think about the terracotta warriors, but a sometimes overlooked fact is that Xi’an has around it an ancient wall just like the Great Wall of China. It looks very much the same. It’s as tall as the one guarding the northern approaches to Beijing and even wider. The construction is the same: a rubble and rammed-earth center fronted and topped by gray stone.

It has the same crenelations and watch towers as the Great Wall. The major difference, of course, is that it is not nearly as long. While the Great Wall stretches for about 4000 miles, the city wall of Xi’an is only 11 miles in length. Its main purpose was to surround and protect the city, just like many walls around ancient cities. But it is the best preserved city wall in China even though it is almost 700 years old. The city fathers have done their best to make it a tourist attraction. It is lit at night and a beautiful park has been created between the base of the wall and the old moat.

The city wall also serves as the site of many civic events. In early November, the city holds a marathon race on the wall. We’re not talking about a real marathon of 26.2 miles. Rather there are different distances one can run, or stroll, or slowly amble: 5K, 10K, or longer. It is a fun time.

Many of the foreign teachers from our university participated, including Elva and me. (You can guess what distance we chose.)

Our bus load of teachers looked like a miniature United Nations. While nearly all the foreign teachers speak English, their native languages are German, French, Russian, Hindi, Spanish, Japanese, Portuguese, Arabic, Thai, and many others. It’s really interesting to hear us all talking at once on the bus.

The race on the city wall is a great civic event. Thousands attend from the local area, and there are dedicated long-distance runners who fly in from other parts of China and other countries to race. Many nationalities are represented.

In addition to the racers, many other civic organizations participate just to add to the festivities of the day. There was a senior citizen drum band with the participants all dressed in ancient Chinese costumes. Another group of retired men demonstrated spinning tops. They spun them on strings stretched between sticks and tossed or balanced the tops. There were musical bands. It really was festive.

We each got a number to pin on our chests and were divided and started out in small groups. The young ones ran off at top speed; we older ones paced our selves—meaning we walked the whole way. It was a beautiful fall day, clear and mild. Flags were flapping in the slight breeze. The sun was warm on our faces as we walked along. About half way to the turn-around point near one of the old watch towers, the real racers passed us on their return trip and cheers went up from spectators.

along the route. Eventually we completed the circuit and returned to the starting point, although the crowd had largely dispersed by then. We felt a little like marathoners who arrive at the finish line after everyone’s gone home. But that’s okay; we had a great time.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your fun. I could almost feel the breeze as I walked along the wall with you. :-)

Erin said...

Hi! I’m the Community Manager of We’re building a website to highlight some of the most interesting places travelers around the world have discovered. We’ve read hundreds of blogs about China, and we think that yours is awesome! We’d love to highlight excerpts from blogs like yours (assuming it’s OK with you of course) and to discuss other ways of tapping into your expertise if you are interested. I’m at
Thanks! :)