On April 28, 1908, Gustaf Mannerheim’s small horse caravan entered the western gate of the fortress wall surrounding Xi’an. The city, located in Central China, is one of four ancient capitals. It was once known as Chang’an and had been the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. Yet it wasn’t the city’s great antiquity that made an impression upon Mannerheim. “I had the feeling that I had come to one of the hothouses in which the newly awakened China was being nurtured,” he wrote about Xi’an in his diary.
I felt that same euphoria. The city was pulsating with life. I spent a week touring universities, high-tech and export processing zones, industrial parks and suburban developments in this city of 8 million. For part of the time, I tagged along with an American trade delegation from Fremont, California, which is located in Silicon Valley. I soon learned that Xi’an municipal officials and economic development leaders are trying to market the city as the “Silicon Valley of China.”