Reading Chang'an
comparing cultures through city plans

CITY
Set B, Module 3: Reading Chang'an

by Ryan Bradeen, 2002
designed for students of world history, geography and Asian studies at the secondary level and beyond.
Estimated project time: 2 days


Compared to Roman cities, scholars know relatively little about Chang'an. Scientific archeology in China is still quite young, far behind Roman archeology. Additionally, a major modern city sits directly on top of the ruins of ancient Chang'an, making archeology difficult. Therefore we do not have the same detailed knowledge of daily life in Chang'an as David Macaulay did of Roman life when he created Verbonia. We do not know how sewers worked, how sidewalks were built or where people went for their water. Nonetheless, we do know enough to get a general sense of the city. Even this is can provide significant insight into Chinese culture and the attitudes of those who designed this great city.

Objectives

Now that you have visual representations of both Roman and Chinese cities, you can use these to compare the cities in the two cultures and the two cultures themselves. As you recall, planned cities, in many ways, set the basic values and beliefs of the society in stone, literally. Therefore, this activity's objectives are:

  • to analyze city plans for their cultural content;
  • to compare cultures using city plans as primary sources.

Reading the Cities

Use your model of Chang'an created in Building Chang'an, the map of Chang'an as well as David Macaulay's CITY to answer the following questions.

General Overview

  1. Using your own words, describe Chang'an in a short, five sentence paragraph.
  2. Using your own words, describe Verbonia in a short, five sentence paragraph.
  3. As you look at Chang'an, what are the most prominent features of the city? What stands out the most? What did the city-planner most want to impress you?
  4. What features of Verbonia are most prominent? What did the city-planner most want to stand out and impress?
  5. Compare the paragraphs you wrote in #1 and 2. List the descriptors common to both paragraphs.
  6. What are the major differences in the two paragraphs?

Government

  1. In what part of Chang'an was the government located?
  2. Describe the buildings where the Chinese government was housed. What were those buildings called?
  3. Who could enter the government areas of Chang'an? How did one enter the government areas? (Was it guarded?)
  4. Where was the government of Verbonia located?
  5. Describe the buildings where the Roman government was housed. What were those buildings called?
  6. Who could enter the government areas of Verbonia? How did one enter the government areas? (Was it guarded?)
  7. From this analyze, what can you guess about the ideals of governments in the two societies? What was the governments' relationship to the people it ruled? How were the subjects of the government viewed?

Markets

  1. Where were the markets in Chang'an? Where were they relative to the government offices?
  2. How were Chang'an's markets different from each other? What goods did each have? Who were the merchants and customers at each market?
  3. Reread Daily Life in Chang'an about the government's control of trade and of merchants' lifestyles. How did the government control trade?
  4. What does the separation of Chang'an's markets and the government's controls on merchants and trade tell us about the government's attitude toward trade?
  5. Where were the markets in Verbonia? Where were they relative to the government offices?
  6. Based upon the location of the markets, what can we guess about the Roman government's attitude towards trade?

Foreigners

Examine the Chang'an map carefully. Locate the Nestorian, Manichaean and Zoroasterian temples. These were all foreign religions. Reread City Life in the Capital and Daily Life in the Capital for information about foreigners in Chang'an.

  1. Where did the majority of foreigners live in the city?
  2. Did the location make sense for foreigners? Was it a good place to live in the city? Explain.
  3. Based upon the readings, what would you guess was the government's attitude towards non-Chinese?
  4. Based upon the film version of CITY, what was the Roman attitude toward non-Romans?

City Wards

Review City Life in the Capital and Daily Life in the Capital for information about the city wards of Chang'an.

  1. How did the government control the city wards?
  2. If the population of Chang'an (within the city walls) was one million, what was the population of the average city ward?

Cities within the Cities: City Wards and Insulae

We do not know nearly as much about Chang'an city wards as we do about Roman insulae. But we can use our own experience and the model of the Roman insulae to create a decent picture of what each city ward in Chang'an must have contained. Like insulae, the city ward was a mini-city within the capital. Since the gates of city wards were locked every night, the wards had to be able to meet the basic needs of the people living in them for at least eight hours everyday.

Examine CITY for information about the Roman insulae. Compare the insulae to what you know about the Chang'an city ward from the articles and the map.

  • List at least seven types of buildings, shops and facilities that you would expect city wards to have.
  • Create a diagram or map of a Chang'an city ward as you imagine it. Be sure to include all the features in your list.

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