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Pingyao, China: Holding out in the rush to the future

Of the myriad idiocies committed in the name of China's Cultural Revolution, one of the most egregious was the systematic annihilation of "old culture". Anything nice with a bit of history to it was engulfed in the Red Guards' rage, including books, calligraphy, statues and temples, and the ancient walls surrounding cities.

In the middle of the 20th century there were hundreds of walled cities in China. Now there are just a handful (though, true to the cyclical theory of history, old walls are being reconstructed – in Datong, for instance). The most famous is Xian (starting point for Silk Road tour), "home of the Terracotta Warriors", in Shaanxi Province.

For many visitors to China, walking or cycling along the top of Xian's Ming Dynasty walls is a highlight of their trip. Were they to detour east to the neighbouring (almost identically named) Shanxi Province, they would enjoy arguably the most impressive of China's walled cities – where not just the walls but the buildings and streets they protect have changed little from the time they were built.

This is a rare thing in China and the reason that Pingyao (famous travel destination can be included in affordable China travel packages) – located about 60 miles south of the state capital, Taiyuan – has developed a reputation as a place that must be seen by discerning travellers, both domestic and foreign.

On my first morning in Pingyao I walk along West Street, one of the main thoroughfares, where I encounter a charming old boy kitted out in a silk tunic of the late Qing Dynasty, the 19th century – precisely the era in which Pingyao had its heyday. Fang Shou Zhou, a nonagenarian who was born in the city, says he was once a student of the abacus and that he still works in the financial sector.

With a twinkling smile he resumes his walk to work. It is not until an hour or so later that I realise what he means.

By this time I am looking around Pingyao's most visited museum, the former Ri Sheng Chang Bank. When it opened in 1823, this bank became the first in China and it established Pingyao as the financial capital of the empire. In a corner of the bank courtyard the appropriately costumed Mr Fang had set himself up for photo-opportunities, stubbing out his cigarette before posing for the cameras.

China's financial centre of gravity moved on to Hong Kong and Shanghai, and by the Sixties Pingyao had become an impoverished backwater – a fate that saved it from destruction at the hands and hammers of the Red Guards. In between encounters with Mr Fang I have had the top of the city walls pretty much to myself and as I walk clockwise from the north to the east gates I gaze across an ocean of preserved architecture.

Old Chinese cities and buildings are laid out according to the principles of feng shui, which draw on the arcane philosophies of Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism. The walls of Pingyao – built in 1370 and reinforced more than a score times since – represent that auspicious creature the turtle, the north gate being the tail.

Within the walls, which are about four miles around, there are four main streets, eight smaller ones and 72 alleyways, all of these being significant numbers in Confucianism.

Some 40,000 people live within the walls, some in old farmhouses with flat roofs for drying maize and millet, many in Qing-era courtyard houses with roofs that are a distinctive wavelike shape, constructed of semi-tubular tiles.

The sea of stone is broken up by islands of greenery: Chinese pagoda trees, date palms, willows, apricot and apple trees, and poplars whose leaves flicker in the pleasant morning breeze.

"Thirty years ago outside the city walls it was all farmers' fields," my guide, Mr Yao, explains, directing my gaze outwards, where the factories and teeming traffic of modern China reach right to the ramparts.

"Just 13 years ago the roads inside the walls were mud and villagers had rarely seen non-Chinese people."

Now much of old Pingyao is smartly paved and English is taught in kindergarten. Indeed, as we descend from the walls at the Qinhan Gate, a trio of little girls cycles past trilling "Hello!" at the foreigner.

As China modernises with such gusto and disregard for the past, Pingyao is poised at a crucial moment in its history.

A man I met in Taiyuan (an optional destination for popular China tour package) told me: "The earlier you visit Pingyao the better, because you will still see real life there. But it is changing."

I now see what he means. The old courtyard houses in and around the meeting point of the four main streets may be hung with lanterns and fronted with wooden latticework, but they are given over to hotels, bars and souvenir shops.

Each day between 10,000 and 20,000 tourists pour in, some 90 per cent of them Chinese, and most stay at least one night. Taking advantage of the ban on motorised traffic, they cruise the main tourist drags, posing for photographs and shopping for lacquer ware and fake antiques.

Give it five or 10 years, my acquaintance in Taiyuan said, and such commercialisation will have bled to the base of the walls themselves, displacing residents and turning Pingyao into a theme park. For now, as soon as you turn your back on the nexus of central streets, the city frays back to real life.

Out on the edges and along the back alleyways, the paving stones have yet to be replaced and are rutted with cart tracks. Sellers of individual wares – bean curd, eggs, cabbages – wobble along on ancient bicycle-carts, advertising their produce through tinny loudspeakers attached to the handlebars. One, in a conical hat, has brought his pet monkey along for the ride.

On street corners men with their vests rolled up to reveal well-sunned bellies play chess and mah jong, and a night soil collector – straight out of Pepys, this – transports sealed wooden containers on the back of his horse-drawn cart.

Out in the shadow of Pingyao's ancient walls the city has changed scarcely a jot since the young Mr Fang was learning his abacus. But, half a century after the Cultural Revolution, the barbarians are at the gates.

More others in China via China travel guide.

09:03 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)


Where is Tianya Haijiao?

Tianya Haijiao, also be interpreted as The Edge of the Sky and The End of the Sea, means the remotest corner of the earth, is undoubtedly Sanya's most famous scenic spot for affordable China travel packages and the highlight for almost every visitors. Not only for the spectacular beaches and expansive ocean view, but its outstanding title and rich history, for its title is a set phrase in Chinese that brings profound poetic allusions with.

In the past, the phrase was suggesting an unattainable place. From Song to Qing Dynasty, Officials out-of-favour with emperor were banished here due to the remoteness of the cape from Beijing.

Located about 20 km west of Sanya City (most-visited as one of top 10 China tours), the cape is a perfect harmonization of nature's palette, with bleached white sands, turquoise seas, deep blue skies and lush green hills. Rising over the beach is an ancient rock formation inscribed with Chinese characters meaning "The Edge of the Sky" written by Chengzhe, the chief magistrate of Yazhou Prefecture in the Qing Dynasty. Another inscription nearby reads "The End of the Sea".

There is a romantic Romeo and Juliet story about these two stones. In ancient times, two young lovers eloped when their parents disapproved of their marriage. Unfortunately, when they arrived in Hainan, agents, sent by their parents, were also there. Facing the sea, they had no escape. They were so sad that they just held each other as they jumped into the sea which help Hainan to develop China tourism.

Suddenly, there was a thunderstorm. They were hit by lightning and changed into two stones, with the agents turned into many smaller stones around. Now people regard these two stones as symbols of eternal and faithful love. Because of this beautiful and romantic story many young lovers choose this place for their wedding ceremony.

Besides the stones, modern facilities can be found such as a Shopping Center, the Li Ethnic Group Village and a Celebrity Sculpture. An international wedding festival is celebrated in Tianya Haijiao every year. Around the Mid Autumn Day, there is a Lantern Festival, which adds to the special atmosphere.

Tianya Haijiao is a heaven for people who are head over heals in love, and also an ideal place for people who are deeply in love with the sea. You will definitely have fond memories after visiting this scenic spot for your popular China tour package.

09:11 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)


To travel the norhternmost China - Mohe

Mohe, it is said its water is as dark as ink and so it is called by the name (Mo, in Chinese, means ink). Mohe has a reputation of an emerald on the golden cockscomb (Chinese map likes a cock). Mohe is a town which is located in the northernmost border area of China and less visited for China tour deals. Because of its coldness and remoteness, Mohe has a nickname of “Chinese Arctic Town”. Mohe neighbors Heilongjiang River eastwards and neighbors DA HING GAN LING. Westwards. And there are mountains southwestwards and rivers around the mountains. So Mohe is a picture,which is surrounded by beautiful mountains and rivers. Mohe is located in the north latitude 53.5 degrees, which is a high latitude belt. And there are beautiful natural scenic spots like “bright night” and“northern lights”. In the north above Mohe there are often“northern lights”, which are charming and magnificent. When the“northern lights” begins to appear in the north, it is a luminous ring which is changing from a small one to a big one and its colors are changing differently and when it is the most magnificent the“northern lights” will move slowly towards the east and is changing from a big one to a small one and then is disappearing gradually. In a word , the scenic spot of the“northern lights” is a miracle in the world. The village of Luoguhe is located in the west 82 kilometers from Mohe, where Heilongjiang River is originated, which is the longest river in China. Along it, the cradle of Heilongjiang River, which is the mother river of Northeast China, can be found. And there are relics of the old gold road, from which tourists can understand the hardness of those gold diggers at that time. Because of its peculiar geographical locality and its natural resources like forests, the great boundary river and others, Mohe is including the charms of four seasons annually. When summer begins lots of travelers come here to visit scenic spots of the“northern lights” and the polar day for your China best tours.

Around Heilongjiang River (other famous river in China Yellow River and Yangtze River on which you can have Yantze River tour),the great boundary river between China and Russia, is originated from Mohe. And its water is clear, stretching unevenly. Along its banks the scenery is charming and exotic. A large stone tablet, on which there are four Chinese characters which means one end of China, is established along the river Many travelers like to take photos here. Going about 3 kilometers eastwards along the bank a tourist will find a building. Beside the building, there is the northernmost sentry post in China. Opposite the northernmost ?sentry post, on the north of Heilongjiang River, there is a small Russian lumbering village. Walking 4 kilometers along the above large stone tablet a tourist will find a house and it is said the house is located in the northernmost China. The primitive forest around Mohe is thriving and flouring where it is cool and fragrant. Expedition and camping are active there. In the meantime, because of its long history, there many relics happened in the time of Qing Dynasty (AD 1368- AD 1911)and the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (AD 1937-AD 1945). Among the relics, the old “Gold Road” and Rouge River are very famous. And the natural wild resources are very bountiful in Mohe. There are 400 kinds or so rare animals like sika deer, wild boars, brown bears, snow hares, pheasants, sables, roes, reindeer, red deer and others. The cold water fish in Heilongjiang River is well-known in the world. Mohe is also good places for hunting and fishing. The plants in Mohe are famous too, which are characterized by their natural nature, pureness, nobility and non pollution And many of the plants are materials for brewing wines and other drinks. Furthermore, edible mushroom, edible fungus, hedgehog hydnum and edible tender leaves of brakes are all over the area and there are more than three hundred kinds of valuable traditional Chinese medicines.

Obtain more others in China, you can check out travel China guide.

10:02 Publié dans Voyage | Lien permanent | Commentaires (0)