Archive February 29, 2020

Yungang Grottoes, One of the Three Major Cave Clusters in China

Yungang Grottoes punctuate the north cliff of Wuzhou Mountain, Datong.  Yungang Grottoes graphically tell the story of past glory. Yungang Grottoes are magnificent and colorful, which can be regarded as the top of Chinese stone carving art in the 5th century AD and the treasure house of ancient Chinese carving art. Yungang Grottoes of Datong is deemed as the Three Largest and Most Famous Grottoes Clusters together with Mogao Grottoes of Dunhuang, and Longmen Grottoes of Henan. Located at the southern foot of Wuzhou Mountain, the grotto area was excavated along the mountain, imposingly stretching 1 kilometer with rich contents. Covering over 18,000 square meters engraving area, there are existing 45 main caves, 209 subsidiary caves, more than 1,100 niches, and more than 51,000 stone statues, among which the largest statue measures 17 meters and the smallest only 2 centimeters. One of the largest stone caving art treasury famous both home and abroad, the Yungang Grottoes was inscribed as a key cultural relic under the state protection in 1961, a world heritage site in 2001, and a 5A national Scenic Area in 2007.

Yungang Grottoes is hailed as a Miracle in Chinese Art with its time-honored history, large scale, rich contents and superb carvings. The whole Yungang Grottoes is grand and dignified with prominent themes, and can be divided into three parts, the eastern, central and western, and the niches are densely distributed like a honeycomb. The eastern part takes pagodas as the principal thing; hence its name pagoda caves. Each of all grottoes in central part can be parted with a front room and back room; each grotto houses a Buddha, and basso-relievo covers cave walls and roofs. In western part, small grottoes and niches are in the majority and were built in later Northern Wei Dynasty.

Started in 450, the grottoes is a relic of the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534). Absorbing Indian Gandhara Buddhist art, the sculptures here developed traditional Chinese art melded with social features of the time.

During the reign of Emperor Xiao Wen a monk named Tanyao took charge of the construction of Yungang Grottoes. The largest cave is No.6, which is 20 meters (65.6 foot) high, standing a 15-meter (49.2-foot)-high pagoda-like column decorated with Buddha statues and designs. On the four sides of the tower pillar, and on the east, south and west walls of the cave, 33 embossed panels depict the story of Saykamuni.

Zhangbi Ancient Fortress, the Miniature Castle in Shanxi

Zhangbi Ancient Fortress is a rare ancient castle in China, which integrates military, production, astrology and religious activities. It is located in Jiexiu city, Shanxi province, around 140 kilometers southwest of Taiyuan and 40 kilometers southwest of Pingyao Ancient Town. With an area of only 120,000 square meters, Zhangbi Ancient Fortress is also called a miniature castle. The entire fortress was constructed based on Chinese astrology.

Zhangbi Ancient Fortress, 1,020 meters (3,346 feet) above sea level, is surrounded by gullies on three sides, and a mountain on the fourth side. It has 10-meter (33 feet) tall walls on the outside, making it easy to defend but hard to attack. In addition, the ancient fortress is full of underground tunnels, like cobwebs, extending in all directions and cleverly connected to the buildings above ground. The tunnels, about 2 meters (2 yards) high and 1.5 meters (1.6 yards) wide, have been explored for about 1,500 meters (1,640 yards). There are still 8,500 meters (9,300 yards) to be explored, for a total length of about 10,000 meters (11,000 yards). There are mangers, granaries and slaughter houses as well as dozens of covert entrances hidden above ground or under the foundations of folk dwellings. Villagers could easily reach the tunnels quickly for protection when enemies invaded. The tunnels could accommodate 30,000 people and you can visit the tunnels and experience the wisdom of the ancients here.

Many religious relics of Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism have been found in this area. They are mainly distributed around the northern and southern gates of Zhangbi Ancient Fortress. Kong Wang Memorial Temple is a memorial temple used to worship Kong Wang, the first of the Han people to achieve enlightenment through Buddhism.

In Kong Wang Memorial Temple, there is a statue of Kong Wang Buddha and many murals which tell how Kong Wang became a Buddha. In addition, there are two rare colored glaze steles in front of the temple. Zhen Wu Temple is a Taoist temple mainly used to worship Zhen Wu, a deity of the north who watches over water and soldiers. There is also the Songzi Avalokitesvara Palace where people pray for the good fortune of their children, the Kuixing Building where people offer prayers for good grades in school, the Guanyu Temple where people pray for security and the Caishen Temple where people pray for wealth.

Kaiping Diaolou, the National Cultural Heritage Site in Guangdong

Kaiping Diaolou, located in Kaiping City, Guangdong Province, is a special type of Chinese vernacular architecture. It is a multi-storey tower building integrating defense, residence and Chinese and Western architectural arts. It is characterized by a combination of Chinese and Western dwellings, with various styles such as ancient Greece, ancient Rome and Islam.

Kaiping Diaolou is the most typical representative of the characteristics of Chinese overseas Chinese culture. Overseas Chinese are the disseminators of culture. The integration and collision of Chinese and foreign cultures are the inevitable outcome of its development. The cultural conflicts it brings are bound to touch all aspects and all classes of Chinese traditional society, which is also the common law of the world’s immigrant culture. This kind of cultural conflict and blend is very externalized in Kaiping. It still keeps its own tradition, and the local buildings with the integration of Chinese and Western architectural culture are few in the countryside, mainly in the counties and towns.

The earliest preserved villages were constructed in the 14th century, and the diaolous were initially built in the 16th century. Originally, it was built to protect the residents against intrusion and forays by local bandits. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Diaolou reached its peak, with over 3,000 diaolous scattered around the whole Kaiping area. About 1,830 well-preserved diaolous remain.

Kaiping has long been a major hometown for immigrants, many of whom brought the ideas and architectural styles of the West to the city. The diaolous primarily use the Romanesque, Islamic, Baroque and Rococo architectural styles and decorative forms. They were mainly made of reinforced concrete, which was rare in Asia in the 1920s and 1930s. On the exterior, the buildings are typically western; but inside everything, from the frescos to the utensils, are of traditional Chinese style.

The local Diaolou is made of stone, compressed earth, bricks or concrete. Despite the distinct differences in building materials, architectural styles and decorative forms, all of the diaolous share some common features. The windows and doors are very narrow and small. Diaolous on the top floor, with embrasures in the four cardinal directions, provide excellent views of the surrounding area.

Kaiping Diaolou and Villages is also an example of the incorporation of the natural and cultural landscape. In spite of importing the western architectural style, the buildings still maintain a harmonious relationship with the surrounding rural landscape. The unique scene is spectacular.

Folk Culture Villages, the World’s Largest Miniature Park

Folk Culture Villages is the world’s largest and most comprehensive miniature park, reproducing nearly 100 famous tourist attractions in China and 25 full-scale ethnic villages. There, one can have a thorough lesson on the 5,000 years of Chinese history and appreciate beautiful landscapes from throughout the country in one day.

There are 82 detailed miniatures of famous sites from around the country. Most of them are scaled down at a ratio of 1:15. Over 50,000 vivid tiny clay figures are placed around the sites, as if they have been living there for years. Besides the historical and scenic spots, you can find many folk houses here, where folk celebrations, songs, and dances are performed. There is also a business block near the gate of the theme park, following antique styles with workshops of traditional handicrafts and snacks.

In addition to the largest Han nationality, there are 55 ethnic minorities in China, distributed in many regions of the country. It is almost impossible to admire the architecture, folk activities and snacks of most ethnic minorities on a day trip. Folk Culture Village in the splendid western China will help you realize this dream. Twenty-five unique villages of 22 ethnic minorities were reproduced there in a 1: 1 ratio. There, you can not only see the houses of ethnic minorities, but also participate in their fun festivals.

The village of Bouyei, is a wonderful stone world with simple furniture, such as tables, stoves, and basins all made of stones. Dai people mainly inhabit Yunnan Province, where the climate is suitable for growing bamboo. You may call their village ‘a bamboo garden’ for most parts of their houses, such as girders, tiles, and roofs are made of this green plant. They live in stilt houses supported by wooden stocks. The main living quarters are on the second storey, and the floor is covered with flakes of bamboo. Mongol is generally known as ‘a tribe on horseback’ because of their nomadic living habits. Mongols live in yurts, which are not only cool in summer but also warm in winter, and easy to set up or dismantle.

Strange Slope Scenic Area, a Mystery in Shenyang

Strange Slope Scenic Area is located at the foot of Maoshan mountain in Shenbei New District of Shenyang, facing the wilderness and backing on the mountains. It descends eastwards from its western peak, occupying an area of nine sq kilometers (5.6 sq miles). It is 80 meters (262.5 feet) long and 15 meters (49.2 feet) wide.

In April, 1990, the discovery of the Strange Slope in Shenyang, Liaoning Province drew attention worldwide. Its fame continues to spread as visitors from home and abroad flock to see this rare sight. Its uniqueness lies in its apparent violation of gravity. If a car stops at the foot of the slop, it will run to the top of the slop without any difficulty. The contrary occurs when cars attempt to drift downwards. Experts and scholars have attempted to discern the mystery of it. Commonly scholars attribute this phenomenon to magnetic fields and optical illusions. Owing to the lack of evidence for a solid explanation, Strange Slope is still regarded as a mystery.

Today, the Slope lies at the heart of the Strange Slope Scenic Area, which also features a number of other natural attractions, including those which comprise the area’s well-known ‘Three Mysteries’ and ‘Five Great Mountains’.

Xiangshan is located on a hillside 100 meters (328 feet) away from Strange Slope Scenic Area. Here, when one stomps on the hillside, he/she hears a loud sound resonating from the earth below. Its name, Xiangshan, means a hill which produces a heavy sound. Wongding is another hilltop located close by. Similarly, its name (pronounced ‘wong’) describes the sound which results from a wooden hammer or a stone hitting the ground. Together with the Strange Slope, these sights comprise the ‘Three Mysteries’ of the scenic area.

The area surrounding the Strange Slope Scenic Area is lush and mountainous. Yunmaoshan Mountain is tranquil yet prominent with its lofty peak remaining veiled by clouds year-round. Wolongshan Mountain winds up and down like a crouching dragon with valleys on its foot covered with Chinese scholartrees. Every year during May and June, petals whirl around covering the whole valley with a snowy guise. Guibeishan Mountain, which looks like three tortoises floating in the water, together with other two mountains, Changkongshan Mountain and Dagushan Mountain, make up the famous ‘Five Great Mountains’ of the Scenic Area.

There are many other attractions around Strange Slope Scenic Area such as enchanting lakes and a fresh spring, Xiamei Spring. There is a labyrinth between the Strange Slope and Xiangshan, as well as a path with 518 steep steps. The view from atop the steps is fully worthwhile; here visitors can view a panorama of the scenic area as well as the nearby Wolong Temple.

Mukden Palace, the Shenyang Imperial Palace

The Mukden Palace is located at No. 171, Shenyang Road, Shenhe District in Shenyang City. It is the only existing royal palace in China outside of the Forbidden City in Beijing. It can be divided into three sections-the eastern section, the middle section and the western section. Each section boasts of unique characteristics. Besides the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Mukden Palace, namely the Shenyang Forbidden City, is the only other existing palace complex in China. Within its walls much is revealed about the early Qing Dynasty. It was listed by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site in 2004 as an extension of the Forbidden City and is now the most popular and renowned tourist attraction in Shenyang.

The eastern section of Shenyang Imperial Palace contains the very impressive Hall of Great Affairs (Da Zheng Dian). Here emperors ascended the throne, enacted imperial edicts, and welcomed victorious generals and soldiers. A group of pavilions, known as the Ten Kings Pavilion, stand to its east and west. They formerly served as the place where emperors and leaders from the eight banners (Ba Qi) settled national affairs.

This architectural style of the Mukden Palace is unique. The style of the buildings, which displays an amalgamation of Han, Manchu and Mongolian cultures, all originated from the shape of a nomadic tent. The eastern section of the palace is representative of the whole palace.

The middle section starts from the Da Qing Gate, with Chong Zheng Dian (Jin Luan Dian), the Phoenix Tower and Qingning Palace arranged on a central axis from south to north. Chong Zheng Dian is the place where Abahai held court. It is the most important building in the Mukden Palace. The Phoenix Tower, a three-storied building, was the highest structure in the whole city at that time. Qingning Palace was the bedchamber for Abahai and his concubines.

The western section was constructed by order of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799). Its main structure is the Wen Su Pavilion. In front of this, there are the Opera Stage and Jiayin Hall and behind it is the Yang Xi Room. The Wen Su Pavilion, which contains the Complete Collection of Four Treasures, has a black roof because black was considered to represent water which could be used to extinguish a fire to protect the priceless books contained inside.

Xibaipo Village, the Headquarters of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army

Xibaipo is a village located in the middle of Pingshan County of Shijiazhuang City, Hebei Province. It got the name Xibaipo, literally a slope with cypresses, from verdant cypresses on a hillside behind the village. Covering an area of around 16,440 square meters (4 acres), it once served as the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCCPC), Central Working Committee and Chinese People’s Liberation Army. In Xibaipo Village, the Central Committee and Chairman Mao commanded three major campaigns including Liaoshen, Pingjin and Huaihai Campaigns during the Chinese civil war (1946-1949) against the Kuomingtang, convened the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee and National Land Conference. On March 23th, 1949, the headquarters were moved to Beijing.

After years of development, Xibaipo Village has become a patriotism base as well as a popular tourist site. The main attractions are the Former Site of CCCPC, the Memorial Hall, the Garden of Monuments, the National Security Education Hall, the Sculpture Garden of Former Chinese Leaders, the Anti-corruption Education Hall and the Youth Garden, among which the first three are definitely worth a visit.

Originally, the Former Site of CCCPC was located in the east of the Xibaipo Village. However, Gangnan Reservoir was built near the village in 1958. Therefore, another new village patterned on the original one was built on a hill near the reservoir in 1971, so is the current site. Until now, 196 rooms with a total floor space of around 2,760 square meters (3,300 square yards) have been rebuilt, such as the former residences of former Chinese leaders including Chairman Mao, Zhu De, Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Ren Bishi and Dong Biwu, Command Room of the Central Military Commission, the Site of the Second Plenary Session of the Seventh CCCPC, the air-raid shelter.

The Memorial Hall was built to the southwest of the Former Site of CCCPC in 1977. It was opened to the public in May of 1978, housing more than 2,000 pieces of revolutionary relics. Some precious ones are Chairman Mao’s desk, Liu Shaoqi’s document case, Zhu De’s metal chair and Dong Biwu’s walking stick.

The Garden of Monuments was expanded from the Garden of Stone Inscriptions constructed in 1997. To commemorate the 90th anniversary of the founding of Chinese Communist Party in 2011, the Garden of Stone Inscriptions was enlarged and renamed as the Garden of Monuments. There is a giant black marble slab inscribed with more than 560 pieces of calligraphy works of Chinese former leaders and generals, well-known national calligraphers and social celebrities. The central monument is made of a 8.7-meter (28.5-foot) tall triangular marble slab with the inscriptions of the former Chinese leaders (Chairman Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin).

Zhaozhou Bridge, One of the Most Famous Bridges in China

Zhaozhou Bridge is about 25km (15.53 miles) from the southeast of Shijiazhuang City, and it was designed by renowned constructor Li Chun.

Zhaozhou Bridge is the earliest and best-preserved open-spandrel stone arch bridge now in existence. The name was bestowed by Emperor Zhezong of the Song Dynasty (1085-1100 A.D.), meaning ensuring people safe lives and aiding people. Designated by the State Council as being among China’s foremost protected monuments in 1961, Zhaozhou Bridge was also selected by the ASCE (American Society of Civil Engineers) as the twelfth “milestone of international civil engineering” and a bronze monument was presented by the ASCE.

The first view of the Park that jumps to the eye is the archaic door to the mountain.

Zhaozhou Bridge stands out as a shining pearl set among the interspersed pavilions, the green grass and the majestic pines. The bridge is restored, but you can still see the relics of the old bridge, which are “national treasures”, in the exhibition room. In addition, there are also showrooms with an introduction to the surrounding environment and culture and a model designed for the expansion of Zhaozhou Bridge Park in future. If the whim hits you, you can row a boat on the blue-green water; Meanwhile, you can also have a taste of tea, read the legends of this bridge and get to know the influences of a bridge to the culture of a nation. You can also sit under the pavilions or the trees for comfortable and sweet dreams.

With a total length of 64m (211 feet), a span of 37m (121 feet) and a height of 7m (24 feet), the Zhaozhou Bridge is a single-arch stone bridge that has the longest span and history. The bridge is sophisticated yet elegantly constructed. Taking in the whole view, you will find it a single-arch bridge. However, it is actually a vertical combination of 28 arches. The two smaller spans in the shoulders of the bridge is an innovation in the history of the bridge construction, giving the stone bridge a fairly pretty design. Why is the Zhaozhou Bridge famous? Zhaozhou Bridge has its own architectural features: the greatness of the span and the smoothness of the arc not only cut the use of stone material but also facilitate travel. The two small spans in the two shoulders increase the drainage area to ease the flow of water, cut the use of stone material, lighten the bridge, and enhance the stability. The vertical combination building method makes every arch an independent body so that it would be convenient and economical for construction and restoration.

The sculptures on the bridge, such as the dragons, flowers and etc, are powerful, elegant, vivid and profound, demonstrating the artistic style and the essence of the Sui sculpture. As important as the Eiffel Tower and the Panama Canal, this bridge is honored as ‘the first well-known stone bridge in ancient China.’

Rishengchang Former Bank, One of the Earliest Exchange Shops in China

The Rishengchang Former Bank (Rishengchang literally meaning sunrise prosperity), one of the earliest exchange shops in China, is located on West Street in Pingyao Ancient City, Shanxi Province. The rectangular compound faces north and is 65 meters (71 yards) long and 20 meters (22 yards) wide. In total it occupies over 1,300 square meters (approximately a third of an acre). It was established in 1823 during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). At that time it had over 35 branches in China’s major cities. In December 1995, Shanxi Provincial Government listed it as a Provincial Key Cultural Relic under the Reservation and it is now the Chinese Exchange Shop Museum.

In the Qing Dynasty, China’s currency was silver. If merchants had to carry a large number of coins, there were obvious problems in safety and convenience. The exchange shop provided a convenient option, so the bill of Exchange began to be used and created an early form of bank. Cash deposited in one branch can be paid in the form of notes in another branch, which is a safe way to transfer funds from one merchant to another without time and distance restrictions. Nisheng Changyuan bank has won the reputation of “connecting the world with foreign exchange”, which means that silver and paper money can be circulated all over the country. Before the establishment of modern banking system, Rishengchang bank had a great impact on China’s economy in 108 years from its opening to its final bankruptcy. Due to the great influence of Rishengchang on the development of China’s banking industry, it has become a place of considerable interest to tourists in recent years.

The shop is within a compound with three courtyards. In the front of the compound, five rooms facing the street served as the gate of Rishengchang Former Bank. The board with the name of the shop hangs in central position above the five rooms. Passing through these rooms, you will come to the first courtyard in which four cashier’s offices are situated on either side of the passage that runs along the axis of the compound. In the second courtyard, the three south facing halls were used for the exchange business.

In the second courtyard there are also rooms which housed the staff who worked in the exchange shop, while the second storey served as store rooms. The third courtyard served as accommodation for the senior staff and due to its location away from the noise of the road also provided a resting place for important customers. For security, a net made from metal thread was fixed over the top of the whole compound. Small bells were hung on the net to sound a warning if intruders tried to enter the premises.

Pingyao Ancient Ming-Qing Street, Wall Street of China

Pingyao Ancient City was established in the centre of Shanxi Province, and is well-known for the Local Resident Houses of the famous Jin (short name of Shanxi)  Merchants who indulged in business and then returned many years later when they were quite rich. At this sight, we usually can’t help wondering ‘How has a prospering business like this existed in Pingyao’. Here, on the Ancient Ming-Qing Street, the called ‘Wall Street of China’ and where Liang’s Compound is located, we’ll find an answer.

Ancient Ming-Qing Street was the noisiest centre of business at that time. The street is not very wide, with various kinds of shops orderly arranged along the road. These shops were all built with bricks and stones completely in the style of Ming and Qing architecture, which are all the prototypes of the aged buildings and quite different from the imitation works now. In the granite thresholds of each decent house, two lines of deep trails left by the running-over carriages can still be found, which provides evidence of the former bustle of business and also the pride held for them in the old days.

Pingyao had been the focus of trade and lead the national finance for decades since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). On the main streets of South Avenue, West Avenue and East Avenue, various shops, firms and banks are scattered, along with a wide range of businesses, including a teashop, cloth shop, salt shop, silk shop, general merchandise shop, hockshop, exchange shop among others. West Avenue, where the known nowadays as the ‘Countryside Grandfather’ of sundry Chinese banks, Rishengchang Former Bank is located, was called ‘the First Financial Street of Great Qing (1644-1911)’.

Nowadays, many shops on the Ancient Ming-Qing Street have been rebuilt to be used as museums or restaurant. For example, Baichuantong Exchange Shop now displays furniture, calligraphy, household utensils and other articles of the previous housemasters. Yonglonghao Exchange Shop has been rebuilt as the national lacquer museum and Yunjincheng Chinese Medicine Shop as Pingyao Traditional Famous Food Restaurant.

Walking to the centre of the Ancient Ming-Qing Street, you can see a tall pavilion building. Here almost all the businesses in this city were concentrated back then. This building, also called City Building, along with the City Wall, has become witnesses to the long history of this ancient city in the people’s eyes. A well is hidden in the southeast of the building, the color of its water is said to be closest to gold. Hence the building is also called ‘Golden Well Building’. The spot had entered into the directory of Twelve Sceneries of Pingyao in the Qing Dynasty and this area is also listed as a key spot now under provincial cultural protection.

Entering the Ancient Ming-Qing Street, you can not only feel the atmosphere of the flourishing businesses formerly established but also appreciate the really ancient building designs. Don’t pass by the chance to properly taste some of the delicious food available in Pingyao, such as noodles made as dishes, savory beefs as well as the uniquely fragrant and dainty ‘Wantuo’. With so many interesting and historical attractions to visit and divine concoctions to sample, this area is sure to make a lasting impression on you once you venture here.