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2.110556 - CHINESE MUSICAL JOURNEY (A) - SHANXI: A Cultural Tour with Traditional Chinese Music (NTSC)
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Shanxi – A Cultural Tour with Traditional Chinese Music

 

1. Pingyao Ancient City

Pingyao Ancient City in Shanxi Province is probably the best-preserved ancient walled city in China. The city has a charm of its own, beyond the decorative red lanterns set against the grey brick walls.

It is no surprise that Pingyao Ancient City is popular with tourist groups at weekends and holidays, particularly when the weather is fine. Beyond the main tourist district, however, it still remains very much a real city: the local people still hang washing out in courtyards, charge down alleyways on bicycles or sun themselves in doorways, unchanged in spite of everything.

Pingyao was a thriving merchant city during the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D.–1644 A.D.) and the centre of a large network of trade that extended from the south of China to Mongolia. Local merchants had become so successful by the Ming Dynasty that they created the country’s first banks and cheques, in order to facilitate the transfer of enormous amounts of silver from one place to another. The city fell into poverty in the 20th century, and, without the money to modernise, Pingyao’s streets have since gone unchanged.

Among the best sights in town are the City Walls, which date from the early Ming Dynasty, with the stamped bricks beneath your feet. The sloping walls are 12 metres high, more than 6 kilometres in extent and punctuated by 72 watchtowers and 3,000 crenellationss, representing 72 Persons of Virtue and 3,000 Confucians.

The Rishengchang Financial House Museum is the first of many draft banks, or piaohao, which operated from the city. It started off as a small dye shop in the late 18th century; as it expanded, a system of cheques and deposits for remoter offices was introduced, which eventually grew into a financial agency for other businesses, individuals and the Qing government, with 57 branches around China. The museum has nearly 100 rooms, including offices, living quarters and a kitchen, as well as several old cheques.

Music: Sisters Spring Outing / Mother and Child / Not a Soul in Sight for Miles

 

2. Qu Family Courtyard

One of the most famous courtyard houses in Qi County in Shanxi Province is the Qu Family Courtyard House. Built during the reign of the Emperor Qianlong (1736 A.D.–1795 A.D.) in the Qing dynasty, this 240-room compound has a history dating back over 300 years. Covering an area of over 5,300 square metres, this courtyard house only holds one-fifth of the Qu family’s estates. The family was an outstanding representative of the merchants in Shanxi Province and their total estates used to include almost the whole eastern half of Qi County.

Qu Family Courtyard House has a rare 5-tier layout of its courtyards. As one proceeds through the compound each door is higher and each courtyard wider than the previous one. This shows the ambitions of the Qu Family for their descendants that they might be richer and have higher positions in government.

In the past merchants would like to have on their roof some small carved beasts crouching with their mouths closed. It implied that merchants should be low-key and down-to-earth so that the wealth they accumulated would not get lost in idle chatter. But at the Qu Family Courtyard House, you will find the beasts’ mouths are open. This is because the members of the Qu Family were both merchants and officials who received salaries from the government of that time. The beasts with open mouths imply that they were fed by the government. Slogans on the walls include “Actions speak louder than words”, because the Qus wanted their descendants to bear in mind that “Misfortunes come from the tongue”.

The biggest theatre in a domestic residence is found in the Qu Family Courtyard House, which again displays the enormous wealth of the Qus. It is said that during the Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese invaders found 400,000 liang silver ingots worth approximately 10 million US dollars today when excavating an air-raid shelter at the Changyuchuan Tea Garden, one of the Qus’ major assets.

Today the Changyuchuan Tea Garden has become the Tea Museum of Shanxi Merchants, and Qu Family Courtyard House the Shanxi Merchants’ Culture Museum, demonstrating the history of Shanxi mercantile development as well as the merchants’ fascinating way of life.

Qiao Family Courtyard

The huge ornate Qiao Family Courtyard House is where the famous director Zhang Yimou’s chilling movie “Raise the Red Lantern”, starring Gong Li, was filmed.

Built in 1756 in the Qing Dynasty, the Qiao Family Courtyard House was renovated twice and enlarged once afterwards. Occupying an area of 8,274 square metres in Qi County, Shanxi Province, this compound consists of 6 courtyards and 313 rooms. Vast and magnificent, it does not represent even one percent of the Qiaos’ wealth.

Looking down on the house from above, the Qiao Family Courtyard House resembles two parallel Chinese characters “xi”, which means double happiness and luck. With three sides facing the street, this compound has a 10-metre-high parapet, unrivalled in its exquisite design and meticulous craftsmanship. Entering the main gate, you will see an 80-metre-long path leading to the ancestral hall. This path divides the whole compound into two parts: the South Complex and the North Complex. The roof of each house in the compound is connected, which made it easier for the guards to protect the compound. There are, besides, over 140 chimneys on the roof, all different in design.

Qu Family Courtyard House is also known for the exquisite craftsmanship in brick carving, woodcarving and murals, apart from many valuable tablets.

It is difficult to imagine that all this was achieved first from a small-time tea and bean-curd merchant who later rose to riches.

Any Pingyao-bound bus will go to the courtyard house from Taiyuan. On the right-hand side of the highway you will see red lanterns and a large gate marking the complex.

Music: Garlic Picking

 

3. Wang Family Courtyard

Wang Family Courtyard House is located in Jingsheng Town, Lingshi County, about 35 kilometres from Pingyao Ancient City and 140 kilometres from Taiyuan City, Shanxi Province. It is a luxurious residence built between 1762 and 1811 by the descendants of the Wang Family, one of the Four Families of the Qing Dynasty(1644–1911) in Shanxi Province.

Wang Family Courtyard House occupies an area of 150,000 square metres, among which an area of 45,000 square metres has been declared as a provincial protected cultural relic. There are altogether 231 courtyards and 2,078 houses in this huge compound. Refined exquisite sculptures of stone, wood, and brick can be found everywhere. Well-known courtyards open to the public, such as Gao Jia Ya and Hong Men Bao, attract visitors from home and abroad.

East Courtyard, also called Gao Jia Ya, was built during the reign of the Emperor Jiaqing (1796 A.D.–1820 A.D.) in the Qing Dynasty. The complexity of the structure of this courtyard gives the feeling of walking through a labyrinth. It is a cluster of courtyards, each with its own kitchen yard and private school yard. In the centre of East Courtyard are two main courtyards and Beiwei Yard. In front of the main courtyard is a long passage about 127 metres long and 11 metres wide.

Opposite the west gate of East Courtyard is West Courtyard, also called Hong Men Bao. This compound is about 180 metres long and 105 metres wide. The 133-metre-long and 3.6-metre-wide main street divides the whole courtyard into two big areas. Three passages cross the main street from east to west, and thus form the Chinese character “Wang”. West Courtyard contains 27 courtyards in different styles, but all are fine examples of exquisite craftsmanship.

Music: Longing for My Husband

 

4. Shuanglin Temple

7 kilometres south of Pingyao in Shanxi Province is the famous Buddhist Shuanglin Temple. Part of the World Heritage Site at Pingyao, it occupies an area of about 150,000 square metres and is well-known for its rich collection of over 2,000 painted statues of the Song (960 A.D.–279 A.D.) and Yuan Dynasties (1279 A.D.–1368 A.D.). Shuanglin Temple was originally founded in the 6th century during the Northern Wei period, although the present buildings date back to the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The interiors of the Sakyamuni Hall and flanking buildings (for the Gods and Goddesses of Hell, Harvests, Protection and Compassion) are particularly exquisite.

Music: Love Song

 

5. Mount Wutai

Mount Wutai, also known as Wutai Mountain or Qingliang Mountain, is located in Shanxi, China. One of the Four Sacred Mountains in Chinese Buddhism, Mount Wutai is home to many of China’s most important monasteries and temples. The cultural heritage of Mount Wutai consists of 53 sacred monasteries which were inscribed, and they were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.

Each of the four sacred mountains is considered the abode or centre of one of the four great bodhisattvas. Mount Wutai is the home to the Budhisattva of Wisdom, Manjusri or Wenshu in Chinese.

Mount Wutai consists of five rounded peaks (North, South, East, West, Central), of which the North Peak, called Bei Tai Ding, is the highest, and actually the highest point in northern China.

Mount Wutai is ranked the first among the Four Sacred Mountains in China. It is home to some of the oldest wooden buildings in the country, which have existed since the Tang Dynasty (618 A.D.–907 A.D.). These include the Main Hall of Nanchan Monastery and the East hall of Foguang Monastery, built in 782 A.D. and 857 A.D. respectively. They were discovered in 1937 and 1938 by a team of historians including the famous historian Liang Sicheng.

For almost as long as Buddhism has existed in China, Mount Wutai has been a place of pilgrimage and study. It is believed that by the 6th century there were already 200 temples in this area, and in the Tang Dynasty it was one of the major centres of worship in Asia, attracting tens of thousands of pilgrims from across China, India, Korea and Japan. In the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D.–1644 A.D.), Mount Wutai began attracting large numbers of Tibetan Buddhists (principally from Mongolia) for whom Manjusri holds special significance. Many temples on Mount Wutai contain a statue of Manjusri, who is generally depicted riding a lion and holding a sword used to defeat ignorance and illusion.

Besides its temples, Mount Wutai offers some opportunities for hiking and, with enough persistence, it might just be possible to cast off the cloud of red dust.

Music: Persuasion / Eloping Lovers Jump off the Wall / Shilidun

 

6. Chongshan Temple

Located in Taiyuan City, Shanxi Province, Chongshan Temple was first built in the Tang Dynasty (618 A.D.–907 A.D.). It was once called Baima Si (White Horse Temple).

In 1383 Zhu Feng, the third son of the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty, Zhu Yuanzhang (1328 A.D.–1398 A.D.), had the monastery rebuilt and extended in memory of his mother and re-named it Chongshan Temple. Unfortunately the temple was almost completely destroyed by fire during the reign of the Emperor Tongzhi (1862 A.D.–1874 A.D.) of the Qing Dynasty. Only a small part of the temple survived. Later in 1881, Wen Miao was built on the site of the remains and has now become the first section of Shanxi Museum.

In the old buildings which survived the fire, there are three treasures of Chongshan Temple: a) The original edition of sutras of the Song, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties. The oldest sutra has a history of more than a 1,000 years. b) The “Gem Paintings”, copies of two frescoes still retaining their bright colours after 500 years. c) The three gilded Ming Dynasty statues of Bodhisattvas, each about 8 metres tall. In the middle is the statue of Kwan-yin Goddess of Mercy with a thousand hands and a thousand eyes. These relics continue to attract visitors from home and abroad.

Twin Pagoda Temple (Shuangta Si)

The Twin Pagoda (Shuangta Si), also known as Yongzuo Temple, is located 4 kilometres southeast of Taiyuan City, Shanxi Province. There are two 53-metre-tall pagodas standing in the temple, hence the name “Twin Pagoda Temple”. Historical records reveal that the temple and two pagodas were all built in the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D.–1644 A.D.).

Each pagoda has 13 storeys and is made entirely of brick and stone. Octagonal in shape, the pagodas are decorated with exquisite flying eaves. Visitors can climb to the top of each pagoda by mounting the staircase inside.

In the temple there is a rare and precious collection of stone tablets which contain work by very famous ancient Chinese calligraphers of different periods, including Wang Xizhi, Yan Zhenqing and Su Dongpo.

The best time to visit Twin Pagoda Temple is in spring (April and May) when the peonies and cloves are in full bloom. It is said that these beautiful flowers were planted during the Ming Dynasty and their fragrance adds to the appeal of the ancient temple.

Music: I Want a Son-in-law/ Coachman Wutou / Shilidun

 

7. Jinci Temple

Located 25 kilometres southwest of Taiyuan City proper, Jinci Temple is an attractive combination of historical and cultural relics and beautiful landscape. The welcoming boughs of a multitude of ancient trees offer a fine entrance to the temple. Inside, the large number of interesting halls, cabinets, pavilions and bridges have not only made Jinci Temple a rare ancient ancestral monument in China but also a world-famous site.

Jinci Temple has a long history dating back to the Western Zhou Dynasty (1122 B.C.–771 B.C.), when King Cheng nominated his younger brother Yu as head of one of his states. Yu was an outstanding leader and devoted himself to the prosperity of the state. After his death, his descendants built a temple named Jinci Temple in honour of his achievements.

The different halls, cabinets, pavilions, and bridges inside the temple, though built at different times, demonstrate the development of Chinese architecture. The Flying Bridge is the only one of its kind still existing in China.

Jinci Temple boasts Three Treasures that attract visitors from elsewhere in China and from abroad: the Western Zhou Dynasty Cypress; Song Dynasty Sculptures of Maidens; Rejuvenated Spring.

Music: Song of the Pole Carrier / An Embroidered Pouch

 

8. Hanging Monastery

Hanging Monastery stands at the foot of Mount Heng, 5 kilometres south of Hunyuan County, and 65 kilometres from Datong City proper. Since it gives an impression of hanging from the west cliff of Jinlong Valley more than 50 metres above the ground, it is called Hanging Monastery.

Built in 491 B.C. Hanging Monastery has a history of over 1,400 years. The extant monastery was largely rebuilt in the Ming Dynasty (1368 A.D.–1644 A.D.) and Qing Dynasty (1644 A.D.–1911 A.D.).

Having withstood wind and storm for so many years, Hanging Monastery is a real wonder in Chinese architecture. A unique mechanical theory was applied in building the framework. Crossbeams were half inserted into the mountain rocks as its foundation, while the rock behind became the strongest support. Hanging Monastery appears like a tumble-down castle-in-the-air, though inside it looks more or less the same as any other temple.

A great attraction of Hanging Monastery is that it contains elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Inside the monastery the sculptures of Sakyamuni, Confucius, and Laotzu exist together, which is very unusual. There are 40 halls and cabinets containing about 80 vivid sculptures made of copper, iron, terracotta, and stone.

Building the monastery on the cliff protected it from floods. The mountain also protected the monastery from rain and snow, as well as providing a serene and tranquil environment.

Music: Beautiful Scenery

 

9. Yingxian Wooden Pagoda

The Yingxian Wooden Pagoda in Ying County, about 70 kilometres south of Datong City, Shanxi Province, is a wooden pagoda built in 1056 during the Khitan-led Liao Dynasty. The pagoda survived several large earthquakes throughout centuries and won the nickname of “Muta”.

With a height of 67.31 metres the pagoda stands on a 4-metre-tall stone platform. From the outside it seems to have only 5 storeys. Yet there are 4 more storeys hidden inside. So the pagoda has 9 storeys in total. The statue of Buddha Sakyamuni sits prominently in the centre on the first floor. This pagoda is the oldest and highest wooden pagoda in China.

Music: Kite Flying / In Praise of Local Specialities

 

10. Yungang Grottoes

The Yungang Grottoes are ancient Buddhist temple grottoes near the city of Datong in Shanxi Province, China. They are excellent examples of rock-cut architecture and one of the three most famous ancient sculptural sites of China. The others are Longmen and Mogao.

The site of Yungang Grottoes is located about 16 kilometres southwest of the city, in the valley of the Shi Li River at the base of Wuzhou Mountain. The grottoes were mainly constructed in the period between 460 A.D. and 525 A.D. during the Northern Wei Dynasty. They are an outstanding example of Chinese stone carvings of the 5th and 6th centuries. Altogether the site is composed of 252 caverns with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes. In 2001, the Yungang Grottoes were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Yungang Grottoes are considered by UNESCO to be a masterpiece of early Chinese Buddhist cave art. They represent the successful fusion of Buddhist religious symbolic art from south and central Asia with Chinese cultural traditions, starting in the 5th century A.D. under Imperial auspices.

After the decline of the Jin Dynasty, the northern parts of China came under the control of the northern Wei dynasty, ruled by a proto-mongolic tribe called Tuoba. They made the city of Pingcheng, now known as Datong, their capital. With its rise in status Pingcheng saw an increase in construction work. The Northern Wei adopted Buddhism as their state religion at an early stage in their history. Buddhism arrived here through travellers on the ancient North Silk Road, the northern route about 2600 kilometres in length, which connected the ancient Chinese capital of Xian to the west over the Wushao Ling Pass to Wuwei, emerging in Kashgar before linking to ancient Parthia.

The work on this first period of carving lasted until the year 465 A.D., and the caves are now known as caves 16–20. Beginning around the year 471 A.D., in a second construction phase that lasted until 494 A.D., the twin caves 5/6, 7/8 and 9/10, as well as caves 11 and 12, and probably 13 were constructed under the supervision and support of the imperial court. The imperial patronage ended in 494 A.D. with the move of the Wei court to the new capital of Luoyang. All the other caves emerged under private patronage in a third construction period, lasting until 525, when the construction came to a final halt owing to uprisings in the area.

Since the end of the work the sandstone of the grottoes has been exposed to heavy weathering. The ensuing centuries therefore saw several attempts to preserve the caves and to repair the damage sustained. During the Liao Dynasty the caves saw some renewal of statues and the construction of the “10 temples of Yungang” from 1049 to 1060, which were meant to protect the main caves. However, they were destroyed again only some 60 years later in a fire. The early Qing Dynasty brought the construction of the wooden buildings that still can be seen in front

Music: Sisters / Datongfu

 

11. Huayan Temple

Huayan Temple is located in Datong City, Shanxi Province. It was originally built by the Khitan during the Liao Dynasty (907 A.D.–1125 A.D.), though little has survived from that period. Huayan Temple is divided into two separate complexes, one of which is an active monastery (the upper temple), the other being a museum (the lower temple). Very interestingly, the temple faces east instead of south. It is said that the Khitan were also sun worshippers.

The upper temple is immediately recognisable from the Buddhist music blaring out of the shops leading up to the entrance. The main Mahavira Hall dates back to 1140 and is one of the largest Buddhist halls in China.

The lower temple doubles as the city museum and contains assorted relics from the Wei and Liao Dynasties. The rear hall, which at one time was a sutra library, was built in 1038 and is the oldest building in Datong City. Inside are some remarkable Liao Dynasty sculptures.

Shanhua Temple

Shanhua Temple is located in Datong City, Shanxi Province. Shanhua Temple was originally built in the Tang Dynasty (618 A.D.–906 A.D.), and then called the Kaiyuan Temple. In the Liao Dynasty the temple was destroyed in war and was rebuilt afterwards in the Jin Dynasty (1113 A.D.–1234 A.D.). The temple was renovated in the Ming Dynasty, and renamed Shanhua Temple. The grandiose, bracketed wooden halls in this temple date back nearly 900 years to the 12th century. The rear Hall of Mahavira contains five central Buddhas and statues of celestial generals at the sides. A small dragon screen stands in a western courtyard, moved here from the South Gate.

Of all the extant temples built during the Liao and Jin Dynasties in China, Shanhua Temple retains more of its original structure.

Music: Gift to the Beloved / Hot Soup

 

12. Mount Heng

Located in Hunyuan County, Shanxi Province, Mount Heng, about 2,017 metres in height, is one of the Five Sacred Mountains of Taoism. It is sometimes called Northern Heng Shan, because there is a mountain in Hunan Province with the same Chinese pronunciation as Heng Shan, also one of the Five Sacred Mountains of Taoism.

Northern Mount Temple was built in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.–221 A.D.), and dedicated to the mountain god on the slopes of Mount Heng.

The most famous temple on Mount Heng is a Buddhist temple—Hanging Monastery, which stands at the foot of Mount Heng. Built in 491 B.C., Hanging Monastery has a history of over 1,500 years. The extant monastery was largely rebuilt in the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

Mount Heng is famous for its grand scenery, precipitous cliffs, secluded temples and resplendent waterfalls. Many beautiful places here were fully described by Xu Xiake, a famous Chinese travel writer and geographer of the Ming Dynasty, in his well-known The Travel Diaries of Xu Xiake.

Music: New Year Greetings / Shilidun

 

13. Guandi Temple

Guandi Temple, 18 kilometres south of Yuncheng City, Shanxi Province, was dedicated to red-faced, black-whiskered Guan Yu, one of the most popular of all Chinese gods.

Guan Yu appears on altars in restaurants and shops, as a character in opera and in video games, and his picture is often pasted onto front doors. The 14th-century novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms gave Guan Yu the biggest boost of all. His character traits—loyalty, bravery, righteousness, benevolence—came to be inseparable from his divinity.

Guandi Temple was built during the Sui Dynasty (581 A.D.–617 A.D. B.C.), and was rebuilt in the Song Dynasty (960 A.D.–1279 A.D.).

The temple consists of Jieyi Garden, Front Building, and Rear Building. It is full of vivid imagery, beginning with the bloodthirsty battle murals on the third gate and fierce cavalry decorating the fourth gate. Next is the unusual Bagua Tower, followed by Guan Yu’s terrestrial palace, Chongning Hall, supported by 26 pillars with sinuous dragons in low relief. It is possible to climb up to the second floor of the Rear Building for good views of the painted eaves, glazed roof tiles and surrounding landscape.

There are numerous Guandi Temples in China and abroad. Of all of them, the Guandi Temple near Yuncheng City of Shanxi Province is the largest and bestmaintained.

Pujiu Temple

Pujiu Temple, 3 kilometres east of Puzhou Old Town of Yongji City, Shanxi Province, occupies a commanding height. With a long history, Pujiu Temple is the scene of the classical Chinese drama Romance of the West Chamber.

The grand Pujiu Temple boasts distinctive features in its layout: a monastery, pavilion, veranda and pagoda. All its buildings have a solemn magnificence of their own.

Pujiu Temple won considerable fame from the Chinese drama Romance of the West Chamber. The pagoda inside the temple was also re-named after the heroine in the drama as “Yingying Pagoda” and became even more famous than before. Moved by the tragic love story in the drama, many visitors from home and abroad go to visit this well-known ancient temple.

Music: Going to Watch a Yangge Dance / Railroad Tour / Going to West Gate

 

14. Hukou Waterfall

Hukou Waterfall, the largest waterfall along the Yellow River, is about 25 kilometres southwest of Ji County, Shanxi Province. It is second only to Huangguoshu Waterfall, the largest in China. Located at the intersection of Shanxi Province and Shaanxi Province, Hukou Waterfall is formed naturally when the middle reaches of the Yellow River flow through the great Jinshan gorge. With a width of about 100 metres and a fall of over 50 metres the waterfall looks as if the water is poured from a huge teapot, hence the name Hukou Waterfall.

The grandeur of the waterfall is unforgettable, and the beautiful rainbow over the waterfall is simply marvellous.

In September 2006, Hukou Waterfall National Geology Park opened, and has attracted numerous visitors from other parts of China and elsewhere.

Music: Jiaochengshan / Going to West Gate


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