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Great Mosque

Great Mosque, Xian, Shaanxi Province

Nearby the Drum Tower, in the Muslim residential area, there stands a famous Islamic mosque in China - Xian Great Mosque.

Inscriptions from the stone tablets indicate that the Great Mosque, located at Huajue Lane, five minutes walk from the Drum Tower in the center of Xian city was originally set up in 742 AD during the Tang Dynasty. After restorations in the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, the present complex proudly ranks among the largest mosques in China. Unlike Arabic mosques which have splendid domes, minarets reaching into the clouds, and colorful engraved sketches with dazzling patterns, the mosque is built in a Chinese traditional style with the grounds taken up by platforms, pavilions and halls.

 Must-sees in Great Mosque

The mosque occupies a rectangle 250 meters by 47 meters (820 feet by 155 feet), divided into four courtyards.

The first courtyard has an elaborate wooden arch 9 meters (29.5 feet) high dating from the 17th century standing opposite a huge screen wall decorated with brick carvings. Upturned eaves, layers of brackets and glazed roof tiles made it magnificent. On both sides of the arch is old furniture of the Ming and Qing dynasties on display.

Xian-Great Mosque

Most visitors enter the second courtyard through a stone arch - three connected memorial gateways with a title inscribed in Chinese as "The Court of The Heaven". On both sides are passages for visitors. It was built in the Ming Dynasty. Behind it are two freestanding steles. One bears the calligraphy of a famous Song master, Mi Fu (1051 A.D. - 1107 A.D.), the other that of Dong Qicheng of the Ming.

In the Imperial Hall in the third courtyard is the 'Moon Tablet' with inscription in Arabic. The calendric records on it written by a late imam are of high value of the historical research on Islamism in Shaanxi province.

In the middle of the courtyard is the 'Introspection Minaret', an octagonal pagoda with a triple roof of turquoise tiles. On the southern side is the Official Reception Hall, in which the scripture copy of 'The Koran' of the Ming Dynasty is well preserved. To the east of the hall is a room for Moslems to bathe before they pray.

In front of the entrance of the fourth courtyard is the ornamental hexagon Phoenix Pavilion - a combination of the Chinese traditional archway and pavilion with a board proclaiming 'One Truth of the One God', written during the Ming. On both sides of the pavilion are some side rooms. In the south used to be the place to receive the officials who came to announce the edicts from the emperors. Now inside it, you can find historical and cultural relics of the Ming and the Qing. In the north preserved an old stone sundial and stone tablets with inscriptions about the mosque of the Tang and other dynasties.

The large Prayer Hall with a triple roof of turquoise tiles on a wide platform dates from the Ming. It can hold 1000 believers and on its coffered ceilings are over 600 classical scriptures in colorful decorative patterns of grass and flowers. On 600 pieces of wooden boards 'The Koran' is carved.

The Great Mosque now serves as an important spot for religious activities of over 60,000 Muslims in Xian.

 Historical Background

Islam as a religious order was founded in the early part of the 7th century A.D. and was introduced to China in the mid-600s. At that time, Arabian merchants and travelers came to the northwest of China by way of Persia and Afghanistan, to establish diplomatic, trade, and military contacts with China. At the same time, another route saw a group of sea voyagers find their way through Bangladesh Bay and the Malacca Strait to Guangzhou, Quanzhou, Hangzhou, Yangzhou and other Chinese cities, where many of them settled and married local women who gave birth to babies who became the first generation of Chinese Muslims.

However, massive immigration of Muslims to China did not take place until as late as the early period of the 13th century. As a result of his expedition against the west, Genghis Khan had conquered vast expanses of land stretching from Central Asia to Eastern Europe, including the north part of Iran. Many of the Moslems in these conquered areas were thus forced to enlist and were later settled in China.

Among the enlisted, many were soldiers; some were smiths and officials. They were called the Hui people in the history books of the Yuan Dynasty. The Hui people later followed Kublai Khan down to the south, helping him unify China and establishing the Yuan Dynasty. In the wake of this conquest, Islam spread throughout China and mosques began to appear everywhere. In the Yuan Dynasty, many Moslems held positions both in the military and civilian organizations of the country. Many Moslems took part in the Zhu Yuanzhang's uprising in the early 14th century and made great contributions to the founding of the Ming Dynasty. Therefore, all the emperors of this Dynasty issued mandates to protect Islam, and to set up mosques in praise of the Moslems for their great contributions. In the early 16th century, Islam dominated Xinjiang and spread its influence to Gansu, Ningxia and Qinghai. It controlled the minority nationalities, including the Huis, the Uygurs, the Kazaks, the Kirgizes, the Tajiks, the Tartars, the Ozbeks, the Dong Xiangs, the Salars and the Bonans. The Moslem in Xian is mainly the Huis, being a small portion out of the 17 million in China.

The Mosque at Huajue Xiang (Huajue Lane) is the largest in Xian, and it is also one of the earliest built on a comparatively large scale, and the best-preserved mosque in China.

In 1956, the mosque was decreed to be an important historical and cultural site. After your visit, you will surely have a better understanding of this old mosque and the religious life of the local Moslems in Xian.

Admission Fee: CNY 25 (Mar. to Nov.)
CNY 15 (Dec. to Feb.)