Xi'an (shēˈänˈ) [key] or Sian shēˈänˈ, sēˈ–, city (1994 est. pop. 2,114,900), capital of Shaanxi prov., China, in the Wei River valley. Situated on the Longhai RR, China's principal east-west line, it is an important commercial and tourism center in a wheat- and cotton-growing area. It has textile and steel mills, food-processing establishments, and plants making chemicals, cement, electrical machinery, and fertilizer.
Xianyang, one of several cities that have occupied this site, was (255–206 B.C.) the capital of the Ch'in dynasty. Excavations begun in 1974 some 20 mi (32 km) northeast of Xi'an at the tomb of Shih Huang-ti (emperor, 221–c.209 B.C.) uncovered an army of 6,000 life-size figures in battle formation. The 1990s brought the discovery nearby of some 800 royal tombs from the Han era, some containing hundreds of miniature clay soldiers, and the remains of sacrificial temples. The present city, then called Chang'an, was (202 B.C.–A.D. 25) the first capital of the Han dynasty and later the western capital of the T'ang dynasty (618–907), when it was a center of Buddhist, Muslim, and Nestorian Christian missionary activity. In the "Xi'an Incident" (1936), Chiang Kai-shek was kidnapped by Chang Hsüeh-liang and imprisoned until he agreed to form a united front against the Japanese. The site of the incident is now a lush hot-spring resort with memorial pavilions.
The city has numerous T'ang dynasty pagodas and is noted for its history museum, housed in an 11th-century Confucian temple containing large stone tablets from the T'ang dynasty; one (781) commemorates the establishment of a Nestorian church. The city wall, dating from the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), is still visible in places. In Xi'an are botanical gardens and Northwest Polytechnical Univ., Xi'an Jiaotong Univ., and many other institutions of higher learning. The city has a major airport. The name sometimes appears as Hsi-an or Sian.