Pingyao (平遥) – Ancient World Heritage City

Some like it young

Some like it old

Others like the new & modern

And still others like the classic & ancient.

To each one of us preference is personal

For each selected choice appreciation is eternal.

 

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Pingyao, an ancient city dating back 2700 years, was inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage site list in 1997. It is one of the 4 most well preserved ancient city / town in China. The others being LiJiang 丽江in Yunnan, Yangshuo 阳朔in Guangxi and Weizhou 微洲in Anhui. Pingyao boast a most complete and well maintained city wall.

In its hey days during the Qing Dynasty of the 1800s, this was also known as the “Wall Street” of China. Banking has its roots here in Pingyao. In fact, Pingyao spawned the famous term “汇通天下literally meaning….Remittance across all borders. Yes, what we are now familiar with of Bank Drafts, Electronic TT and in this cyberspace age of “Internet Banking” to a great extent has its roots in Pingyao…..

The city walls and gates of Pingyao are laid out in the shape of a turtle, the traditional Chinese symbol for longevity, though you’re more able to see the similarly shaped battlements as you explore the ancient banking capital’s interior and old town. Full of temples, traditional architecture and watchtowers, you’ll be enthralled with the town’s medieval history and feel. If you’re as keen as Pingyao’s founders on living a long time, perhaps you can benefit from Chinese tradition; find a store or dispensary that sells herbs and extracts for health and long life. Such shops in Pingyao, like elsewhere in China, are stuffed with extracts of ginseng, ma huang, gingko biloba and all manner of other natural products claiming to benefit longevity and virility. Or perhaps have a local meal chock-a-block with garlic – another magic ingredient with medicinal benefits. (Gecko’s)

Increases in tourism have put pressure on the ancient walled city of Pingyao. During the tourist high-season, the amount of visitors to the city can reach up to 3 times its maximum capacity per day.

Since 2007, non-profit organizationGlobal Heritage Fund (GHF) has been working with the Pingyao County Government to protect the city against various problems such as mass tourism and uncontrolled development. GHF’s stated goal for the project is to better preserve the cultural heritage of Pingyao ancient city in more comprehensive and systematic approaches as part of an integrated planning, conservation and development program. The Pingyao Cultural Heritage Development Program aims to preserve the vernacular architecture, revitalize and stimulate the traditional arts and establish special historic areas. (Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

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Beijing Then and Now (Beijing-Chengde-Tianjin Tour)

(BeijingChengde-Tianjin Tour)

20 – 27 October 2011

By P Chong     1 November 2011

"Bird's Nest" Beijing National Olympic Stadium

I first visited Beijing in May/June 1989 when I led a tour party of 10 there. The most memorable thing about that trip was the infamous Tiananmen Square demonstration which disrupted our sightseeing of the place. Tiananmen which means “Peaceful Heaven Gate” & which demonstration if not cracked down by the then Paramount Ruler, Deng Xiaoping would have spelt a different China we see today. It would be reminiscent of the last days of the weak Qing Dynasty which saw some eight foreign countries or more carving out Chinese motherland for themselves & looting away China’s precious treasures & heritage.

Beijing CBD

Now what a difference 22 years made? I saw then a city of millions of bicycles transformed to a city of millions of vehicles. Everywhere high rise buildings tower the sky, multiple lane thoroughfares, highways, express ways, traffic jams and as one of my Aussie friends said, “I have never seen so many Chinese.” Then in 1989, any significant modern structure was that of modern 5-star hotel, such as Kunlun Hotel where we stayed.

With increasing affluence & growth of capitalism, tourism is a great revenue source from foreign tourists as well as the locals. Wherever we went in our recent October 2011 tour, be it the Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, Shopping Malls or Centrers, Summer Palace . . . there were jostling crowds & seas of heads. In a way, I was kind of disappointed as I was really looking to a more leisurely holiday.

The tour covering Beijing, Chengde & Tianjin, sponsored by the Chinese government, is designed to encourage the overseas Chinese to return to motherland China to see for themselves the phenomenal leap of progress that China has made in the last 3 decades. China may be Communist in name, but capitalism with Chinese characteristics is evident everywhere. The popularity of the tour is evident by some 34 luxurious coaches averaging 45 – 50 passengers.

When Deng Xiaoping coined the words “Xiang Qian Zou” (basically meaning Forward March), he changed the same sounding word “Qian” to mean money. The “Road to Riches” has since taken on with frenzy pace. Never has the world seen such rapid changes & progress anywhere in the last 30 years or so!

Presumably, the Chinese government has the ancillary support of some of the major corporations & manufacturers like the Chinese Tea industry, silk manufacturers, jade & pearl industry . . . in offering such cheap & good valued tours initially at AUD99 per head and then increasing to AUD198 excluding the AUD10 tip per day for the tour guide. The tour period is 7/8 days.

The tour would have been par excellent if more time was accorded to sight-seeing rather than taken to all those named factories where we spent unlimited time listening to sales presentations & demonstrations. As a matter of fact, in a previous similar tour of Shanghai, I found the tour guides were real professionals & skillful in their sales pitch. By the time you got to the jade or silk factory you were already succumbed to buying!

The food provided was good & the 5-star hotel accommodation at Radisson (Blue) Hotel excellent. One night accommodation plus the breakfast is worth every cent paid for. The day began at 6.00AM and so packed with activities that we didn’t get to bed till 10 or 11PM.

Parting is such sweet sorrow. All too soon, the tour came to an end, as with the mountain resort in Chengde & the ultra modern Tianjin with its impressive high rise. Friendships were made & though we parted, memories would linger on from the hundreds of digital snap shots we took.

Xuangongsi – The Hanging Monastery, Heng Shan, Shanxi, China

(Xuangongsi Hanging Temple literally means “Floating Temple”)

A distant view of the complex across the Golden Dragon River (Jinlong He).

Built around 6th century, Xuangongsi of Hunyuan County, Shanxi Province is one of China’s unique and remarkable feats of architectural engineering. Sited about 50 mi (80 km) southeast of Datong, it is built about a third of the way up a vertical cliff in Jinlong Guan (Golden Dragon Gorge or Canyon), part of the long Hengshan (Heng Mountain), one of the four sacred Taoist mountains. The monastery was founded during the Northern Wei period (386-584) in the 6th century, although much was reconstructed from the Tang through the Qing eras, as well as in more recent times.

A More Distant View

The underpinnings of the cliff buildings.

Little of the load is actually carried by the thin support pillars. Much of the cantilevering is supported by the weight of the buildings above it.

The complex consists of forty caves, or rooms, including six main halls, but its characteristic feature is the elaborate wooden façade of pavilions and walkways precariously resting on timbers jutting out horizontally and vertically from the cliff. There are colourful tiles on the roofs. Inside the caves are a number of Buddhist figures in bronze, stone, clay and iron. Although built on a sacred Daoist mountain, it has had many influences on it. The Three Religions Hall (San Jiao Dian) reflects the syncretic element of the Chinese religious and philosophical tradition. It contains the seated images representing the Buddha, Confucius and Laotzu, seemingly in perfect harmony with each other.

The Hanging Monastery is an architectural wonder to have withstood the stormy weather for this period of time. A unique mechanical theory was applied to building the framework. Crossbeams were half-inserted into the rock as the foundation, while the rock in back became its support. Seen from below, the Hanging Monastery appears to be a tumble-down castle in the air. Inside, it provides the same scene as other temples.

Pavilion

Construction experts from many countries including Britain, Germany, and Italy, have come to see the monastery. In their words, the Monastery, which mixes mechanics, aesthetics, and Buddhism, is rare. The monastery and everything it symbolises embodies a great cultural achievement of the Chinese people.

The second attraction of the Hanging Monastery is that it includes Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Inside the Monastery, the sculptures of Sakyamuni, Confucius and Laotzu appear together, which is unusual. There are 40 halls and cabinets, which contain about 80 sculptures made of copper, iron, terracotta, and stone.

Why build a monastery like this? Location is the first reason – building a monastery on the cliff could shield it from floods. In addition, the mountain peak protects it from rain and snow; and the mountain around it also diminishes damage from long-time sunshine. The second reason is that the builders followed a principle in Taoism: peace & tranquility from all forms of human & natural pollution.