When you visit the Shaanxi History Museum in Xi’an, you’re taken on a journey through thousands of years of ancient Chinese history and culture. Regarded as “the pearl of ancient dynasties and house of Chinese treasures”, this museum is like no other on earth. In a city that’s practically one giant museum, you shouldn’t leave a visit to this museum off your Xi’an itinerary.
In this post, you’ll discover the best way to visit the Shaanxi History Museum and I’ll guide you through the giant exhibition halls, so you’ll know what to focus on when you arrive.
Why Should You Visit the Shaanxi History Museum?
A massive modern state museum, the Shaanxi History Museum is one of the largest in China. Built in June 1991, the museum houses an incredible, well-displayed collection of 370,000 items of breath-taking ancient murals, paintings, pottery and coins, plus stunning bronze, gold, and silver objects.
The collection is more than 10 times bigger than the Louvre Museum in Paris (the world’s largest museum) which has 35,000 works of art on display.
The number of visitors though is significantly fewer than the Louvre museums – the Shaanxi History Museum received 2.7 million visitors in the year 2018 compared to the Louvre which received 10 million in the same year. This makes the Shaanxi History Museum much less crowded and more enjoyable to visit.
To do this museum justice, you would need to spend days here. With this guide, you can see the highlights in a couple of hours as you’ll know what you’re looking for.
Highlights of the museum include:
- The Kneeling Archer,
- The Tang Dynasty Mural of People Playing Polo
- The Fossils of Lantian Man which predate Peking Man
Tips for Visiting the Shaanxi History Museum
- Make sure you wear comfortable shoes!! You won’t be disappointed when you visit the Shaanxi History Museum, but you will have tired feet!
- Take water with you, as you’ll find limited places to get refreshments once you’re inside the museum
Here are a few more tips for your visit:
- Don’t try to see it all at once. The museum is huge and it’s impossible to take everything in, particularly if you visit during hot, humid summer months. If you have the time, it would be much more pleasant to plan multiple trips
- There is always a queue at the ticket collection point and the museum entrance. It’s worst at weekends and during Chinese national holidays, so it’s worth planning to arrive early during these times
- Explanations for the exhibits are clearly provided in English, however, if you want to understand everything you see, you can hire an audio guide from the museum’s reception area
- If you want to understand more about the artistic and historical backgrounds of the artefacts, consider hiring a private guide
When can you visit the Shaanxi History Museum?
The Shaanxi History Museum is open every day but Monday, with slightly longer opening hours during the high season (March to November). During Chinese public holidays in July to August, the museum is open on Mondays (but you should expect it to be incredibly busy and crowded.
- Low Season runs from November 15th to March 14th, from 09:00 to 17:30 (tickets are available before 16:00)
- High Season is March 15th to November 14th from 08:30 to 18:00 (tickets are available until 16:30)
If you’re visiting as part of a group tour, your guide will organise your tickets for you. If you’re traveling independently, you’ll need to queue at the ticket office.
You can ONLY buy a ticket for yourself. If you’re traveling as a couple/group, you’ll both need to join the queue.
Alternatively, groups of more than two people can book tickets 24 hours in advance between 09:00 and 17:00 by calling the reservations line: 029-85269547. As with most places in China, you’ll need to present your passport when you buy your ticket.
Entrance Fee: CNY 30 for the Exhibition Halls and the Treasures of the Great Tang Dynasty. If you want to see the spectacular Exhibition Hall for Mural Paintings of the Tang Dynasty, which is known as the Uffizi Gallery of China, the additional ticket costs CNY300
The museum welcomes visitors with accessibilty needs. The main exhibition halls are located on the ground floor and easy to navigate for wheelchair users, as is the entrance to the museum. There is also a lift to the upper exhibition halls.
How do you get to the Shaanxi History Museum?
The best way to get to the museum is either by walking or by taking one of the specially designated tourist buses. Take Tourist Bus number 8 (610) from the East square of Xi’an railway station and get off at Cuihua Road Station (find printable instructions here) for just CNY7. This fare does increase a little during peak periods.
Alternatively, Xi’an has a cheap and efficient metro system that’s easy to navigate
How long should you spend at the Shaanxi History Museum?
It’s impossible to see the whole museum in one visit. The floors are hard, there’s a lot of stairs and you’ll walk a long way! Plus, there are very few places to sit and rest. Unless you have lots of time to spare, I’d recommend you focus on the main highlights which will take you a couple of hours to see.
What should you see at the Shaanxi History Museum?
I’ll briefly cover the highlights of each area to help you plan your visit to the museum, picking what interests you most.
The Shaanxi History Museum comprises three vast exhibition halls, plus the Exhibition of the Great Tang Dynasty, the Exhibition Hall for Mural Paintings of the Tang Dynasty and the Exhibition Hall of Tang Murals and Stone Coffins.
Exhibition Hall #1
Located on the first floor of the Shaanxi History Museum, Exhibition Hall #1 charts the history of the Chinese people from Prehistoric Times (1,150,000 years ago) to the current day. The hall is divided into three large units.
In the first area, one of the major highlights is the reproduction of the skull of Lantian man. There’s also an interesting tableau depicting the life of the prehistoric Lantian people. The must-see pottery relics are a red V-bottom bottle used to draw water and a basin with patterns of fish and faces. You’ll also discover fascinating, delicate bone necklaces and hair clasps made of pottery or bone.
The next area showcases the foundation, culture and economy of the Western Zhou Dynasty (The Bronze Age). Enjoy the many bronze relics related to cooking and sacrificing plus musical instruments like chimes.
Don’t miss the bronze cooking vessel with animal patterns on its body or the highly decorative spoon with a bronze sheep’s head at the end of the handle, and a tiger and goat on the handle. The tiger is poised to attack while the goat struggles to flee.
Make sure you see the beautiful sacrificial vessel called “niu zun”. It’s made in the shape of an ox with a tiger standing on the ox’s back. The ox’s tail, body and mouth form the handle, wine container and spout. It’s considered a Chinese national treasure.
The last unit covers the history of the Qin Dynasty. Look out for a stone drum, decorated with Chinese characters. These are the earliest known characters carved in stone in Chinese history. You’ll also discover many weapons and delicate pottery figurines here. Make sure to see the kneeling warrior (selected from the Terracotta Warriors Museum) and the intricate and beautiful copper carriage with four horses drawing it.
Exhibition Hall #2
If you only have a few hours to visit the museum, miss out Exhibition Hall #2. Head straight up the stairs to the second floor to Exhibition Hall #3
Exhibition Hall #3
The two units in this hall showcase the history of the Tang (618 – 907), Song (960-1279), Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
Relics of the Tang Dynasty
Xi’an was China’s capital during the prosperous Tang Dynasty, experiencing huge growth in the economy and in cultural development. You’ll see this in the model of the Palace of the Tang Dynasty and in the tri-colour, pottery quadrangle of nine houses, two pavilions and a rockery which depicts the house building ideals during the Tang Dynasty. You’ll also see a plethora of tri-colour glazed horses displayed, showing the rapid development of stock farming during the Tang Dynasty.
The real treat here is the magnificent collection of handicrafts, including gold, silver and jade articles, silks, tri-colour glazed potteries, and copper mirrors. You’ll soon appreciate why Tang Dynasty gold and silver articles are so famous for their exquisite designs and techniques.
The last part of the Tang Dynasty area covers the famous Silk Road trade route and includes my favourite exhibit in the whole museum – the tri-coloured glazed pottery Bactrian camel. The camel carries eight musicians on a blanket on its back; seven men playing musical instruments and a girl singing. You won’t be surprised to hear that it’s regarded as another national treasure.
Relics of Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties
You’ll find a fine collection of Buddhist statues in the museum, as the Song Dynasty heralded the rapid spread of Buddhism. Other religions also prospered at this time, with new buildings erected for worship such as the Great Mosque in Xi’an.
Exhibition Hall for Treasures of the Great Tang Dynasty
In October 1970, two great urns packed with more than a thousand treasures were discovered in Hejia Village, Shaanxi Province. 300 of these relics are displayed in an underground Hall in the Shaanxi History Museum, grouped into three categories – gold and silver articles, jade articles and coins. If you have time in your schedule, it’s well worth a visit, particularly to see the jade artifacts.
What’s Unique about the Shaanxi History Museum?
The Shaanxi History Museum is enormous. It provides insight into the incredible history of China and holds a vast amount of treasures. It’s one of the top things to see in Xi’an and I recommend you make time to visit.
The Best Bit About the Museum?
This a Chinese museum filled with Chinese artefacts not plunder from other countries. That’s the best reason to visit.
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