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A portal to an ancient world

Yang Feiyue
Updated: Jul 11,2015 11:15 AM     China Daily

A live re-enactment of the panoply when Emperor Kangxi came to visit in the Prime Minister’s Palace in Jincheng.[Photo/China Daily]

From aged city walls to Ming Dynasty-era buildings, Pingyao and its surrounding scenic areas provide a glimpse into China’s past.

Go to Shanxi if you want to get a good measure of China’s ancient civilization.

While the rest of China aims to present the world a new face, Shanxi wants nothing but to showcase Chinese culture that dates back 5,000 years ago, says Wang Wenbao, deputy director of Shanxi tourism bureau.

Myriads of densely-populated ancient buildings viewed from the top of the Pingyao ancient city wall can easily take one’s breath away. The city sits in Jinzhong city, which is half an hour away from Shanxi’s capital city Taiyuan by high-speed train.

“There are roughly 4,000 well-preserved residences of Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) within the city wall,” says Cao Xin, a local tour guide.

What makes Pingyao special is its intact city wall that runs approximately six kilometers, Cao claims. It takes one two hours to walk the full circle of the wall and enjoy a bird’s-eye view of what’s inside.

[Photo/China Daily]

“Unlike other historical sites under strict protection but suffer the loss of the human touch, the ancient city is very much alive, thanks to its inhabitants,” Cao says.

One can find ancient government offices, banks and temples in the city, and give free rein to their imagination of how Chinese ancestors go around their daily life.

The place that houses ancient torture tools and displays photos showing how criminals were punished boggles the mind. It makes me realize that ancient justice did know how to knock the stuffing out of the convicted and let them suffer till sweet death came.

The World Heritage Committee has rated the city as the best-preserved ancient county in China and an outstanding example of Han nationality cities of Ming and Qing dynasties. The committee held that the city offers a complete picture of cultural, social, economic and religious development in ancient times.

Those who want to shop shouldn’t miss yellow rice wine, local lacquer and Chinese yams, the three treasure of the city, Cao says. She explains that although some products cost more in the scenic spots, they are well worth it.

“The Changshengyuan yellow wine that was loved by Empress Dowager Ci Xi (1835-1908) and Yonglong lacquer are only available for sale here. You can’t buy them elsewhere.”

The city takes on the look of Beijing’s Nanluoguxiang when night falls. The street here is wider and more comfortable for one to walk through.

Red lanterns hanging from the eaves are lit. Bars and restaurants bustle with business.

A ticket to Pingyao costs 120 yuan from March to October and will drop to 90 yuan for the rest of the year, Cao says.

The Wangmangling scenic spot offers the full view of the awe-striking cliffs.[Photo/China Daily]

Rafting experiences

The Taihang Mountain Grand Canyon scenic spot, four hours by car from Pingyao, is well worth a visit for a thrilling rafting experience at Qinglongxia. It is a nice change of pace from the ancient culture tour.

The brook for rafting runs 2,000 kilometers and is divided into three sections, says Zhang Lijun, manager of the scenic spot’s general management center. It definitely puts in the shade those in Beijing, such as the one at the Shidu scenic spot in Fangshan district.

We took the middle section and found ourselves screaming and hanging for dear life onto the boat’s handrails throughout the 20-minute fight against the water.

My lower body was immersed in water the minute I sat in the raft. Water splashed and rained all over on me whenever we passed life-threatening twists and turns, some of them nearly vertical.

There are small holes on the bottom of each raft to maintain balance, so be sure to wear or rent slippers and prepare dry clothes for change. Rafting costs 100 yuan for each person and will take two hours if one chooses to go the full distance, says Zhang.

Aside from rafting, one can enjoy hiking among the blazoned stones in the scenic spot. For those who know Chinese military history, there are old garrison facilities for them to walk down the ancient memory lane.

The entrance ticket to the scenic spot costs 175 yuan and will be halved during November and March, says Zhang.

“Visitors can enjoy free shuttle bus service here, but a large number of them choose to drive,” he says.

Driving around the canyon with towering mountains that appear to close in on you is refreshing and cool.

If you have the time, the Wangmangling scenic spot offers sightseeing experience that is completely different from the Grand Canyon’s. It is located in Jincheng’s Lingchuan county and is roughly an hour’s drive away from the canyon.

You can see many mountain peaks standing right next to one another from afar.

Spiraling up and down along the one-bus-wide mountain road with precipitous cliffs right on the sides can set your nerve on edge. There are a few precarious viewing decks where those who are made of sterner stuff can stand on the edge and take in the full view of the awe-striking cliffs, with highest more than 1,500 meters above sea level.

Our last stop was the Royal Prime Minister’s Palace in Jincheng. It’s a castle-styled architectural complex. The owner Chen Tingjing was Emperor Kangxi’s teacher and in charge of the classic works, Kangxi Dictionary.

The complex houses a building cluster featuring yellow bricks and tilted roofs as well as gardens. There are caves inside the walls for hiding soldiers and crenels for looking out for enemy attacks.

The highlight was a live re-enactment of the panoply when Emperor Kangxi came to visit. Roughly 100 crew members acting as the emperor and his wife and his entourage, as well as Chen and his family, gave a spectacular show of pomp.

In addition to the stops we made on this visit, Shanxi still has a lot to offer to tourists, such as Mount Wutai, Yungang Grottoes and Qiao’s Courtyard. For those who want to take a breather away from Beijing, there are several high-speed trains available every day to Shanxi.

Sun Ruisheng contributed to this story.