Shennongjia: Mysterious Primary Forests in Central China

2022-08-02 10:50:00 Source:China Today Author:staff reporter MENG JIAXIN
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It is home to a number of rare animals and one of the best preserved subtropical primitive forests.


In central China, there is a mysterious forests region. According to Chinese mythology, Shennong, one of the ancestors of the Chinese nation, also known as Yandi, once tested a variety of herbs himself in order to find the right one that would save the sick. Another widely circulated tale around the place is that wild men were once spotted.

Legend has it that during Shennong’s journey to find the right herb, he came across a steep mountain covered with dense forests. He built a wooden ladder, and climbed up the mountain, finding 400 kinds of medicinal herbs. In memory of his contribution to the health of society, the mountain was named Shennong-jia, which literally means “Shennong ladder.”

Shennongjia is located in the northwestern part of Hubei Province, bordering the Yangtze River in the south and facing the Wudang Mountains in the north. It is a place where the Daba Mountain Range and the Qinling Mountains meet. It spans an area of around 3,250 square kilometers, with the highest peak, the Shennong Peak, reaching 3,106.2 meters in height, and the lowest point, the Shizhu River Valley, only 398 meters above sea level. Shennongjia is home to the largest primary forests in central China and a national nature reserve. With the only intact subtropical primary forests in the mid-latitude region of the northern hemisphere, it has won the title of “green miracle” at 31 degrees north latitude.

One of the first things many people learn about Shennongjia is the tale of the wild man, but after visiting the area, they find that the pristine natural landscape and biological diversity in that area add more mysteries to this solitude region.

Shennongjia encompasses a vast area of perfectly-preserved primitive forests, which have become the source of a lot of mysteries.

A Kingdom of Biodiversity

Shennongjia boasts such an abundance of species that it has been included in the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve list. In addition, it is inscribed on the list of Wetlands of International Importance, and is designated as a UNESCO Global Geopark. The local geographical conditions have created an ideal environment for a rich variety of species: it is a buffer zone where different climates and species meet; it has a huge altitude difference; it also has a subtropical forest ecosystem known as “the Earth’s lung,” coexisting with a peat moss wetland ecosystem, or “the Earth’s kidney.” The stable climate and agreeable ecological environment make Shennongjia a sanctuary for various kinds of life.

Within the range of more than 3,000 square kilometers around Shennongjia, almost all representative species from places as far as the regions of Mohe in northeastern China’s Heilongjiang Province, Xishuangbanna in southern China’s Yunnan Province, central Japan in the east, and the Himalayas in the west can be found here. As a result, it has been called the “gene pool” in central China. Records show that some 3,758 vascular plant species and more than 600 species of wild vertebrates can be found here. It is also home to 36 species of wild flora which are under state protection, such as the dove tree, and 75 species of rare wild fauna including the golden snub-nosed monkey and golden eagle. At the same time, it records numerous geological changes in the natural history since ancient times, exhibiting outcroppings dating back to Precambrian, Paleozoic, Mesozoic, and Cenozoic.

In order to protect the natural resources, Shennongjia has been desginated as a national forest park, a national geological park, a national wetland park, and a national nature reserve.

Workers are collecting honey from beehives at Guanmen Hill Scenic Spot in Shennongjia on July 28, 2020.

Shennong Peak

The gigantic Shennongjia Scenic Area is divided into several parts. A must-visit site is the Shennong Peak, which belongs to the eastern range of the Daba Mountains. It is the highest peak of Shennongjia, and stands 3,106.2 meters above sea level. Also the highest peak of the Daba Mountains, the peak is known as the “ridge of central China.”

Taking into consideration the high elevation of the mountain, an automobile ride is required to reach the top of the peak. While traveling up the mountain, tourists can stop at a 29-meter-high observation tower that was built in 1985. It is used for fire prevention and pest monitoring. A spot to enjoy a panoramic view of the scenic area, people have come to regard it as the best lookout around the Shennong Peak.

Almost every day of the year finds the peak enshrouded in a heavy layer of cloud cover, fog or mist, making it difficult for people to get a clear glimpse of its landscape. Only in summer and autumn, when the sky is clear and the fog has dispersed, can visitors look down from the top of the peak and see the rolling green hills, and trees of various kinds coming up from the ground, creating a lively mountain landscape painting. The sea of clouds, although preventing people from seeing any of the surrounding scenery, makes them feel like they are flying in the sky.

For tourists intending to reach the top of the peak, they must climb a line of stairs. The stone stairs leading to the top of the Shennong Peak are paved with 2,999 marble steps. After one and a half hours, visitors will reach the top. The landscape on the top is different from the dense forests on the hillside and at the foot of the mountain. Here, the ground is covered with rocks and stretches of imposing stone forest. There is no tree, only moss and ferns covering the ground.

A group of patrol officers of the Shennongjia National Park Administration camping out in the wild while on duty on August 14, 2019.

Golden Monkey Hill

The Golden Monkey Hill in the Shennong Peak is known as the haunt of golden snub-nosed monkeys. A shuttle bus takes visitors halfway to the top of the hill, and then they have to proceed on foot. Along the way are ravines meandering through ancient forests. There are small waterfalls here and there, vines dangling from the branches of towering trees, and moss-covered rocks emerging out of the water.

After a short tour down from the Golden Monkey Hill, visitors arrive at an animal shelter. Golden snub-nosed monkeys living in the shelter are under first-class state protection. Following years of rescue efforts, the number of golden snub-nosed monkeys in Shennongjia has risen from 501 in the 1980s to more than 1,470 today.

The National Forestry and Grassland Administration and the Shennongjia Administration set up a research base for golden snub-nosed monkeys dedicated to studying the activities of the monkey in the wild and providing necessary help when needed. It took three years for researchers in Shennong-jia to be able to feed those creatures in the wild when the monkeys were facing a food shortage. Many difficulties had to be overcome, including arduous trekking in the mountains and sleeping in the forest for days. Field research on the animal was allowed to be carried out at a closer distance without disrupting the habits and lives of the wild monkeys. Apart from the research, 24 special “corridors” were built to facilitate the migration of the monkeys, an effort to enhance population exchange and survival.

On a sunny day in spring, February 26, 2022, golden snub-nosed monkeys are hunting for food in groups at the field research base of golden snub-nosed monkeys at Dalongtan, Shennongjia National Park in Hubei.

Dajiu Lake Wetland

The Dajiu Lake Scenic Spot is a wetland located in the southwestern part of Shennongjia, on the watershed of the Yangtze River and the Hanjiang River. Surrounded by high mountains with a glacial valley in the center, the scenic spot is home to typical subalpine marshes. It awes visitors with its unique glacial terrain and a stunning landscape of alpine meadows. Research shows that the marshes here were formed as early as about 15,000 to 20,000 years ago and have remained intact ever since then.

The Dajiu Lake Scenic Spot presents a rarely-seen combination of wetland ecosystem and forest ecosystem, and its unique geological conditions provide the place with more diverse biodiversity. Rare animals, such as golden snub-nosed monkeys, white storks, and golden eagles, thrive here; “living fossil” plants like dove trees and Cercidiphyllaceae took shelter in this site and survived the Tertiary and Quaternary glaciation that led to global biological extinction.

With calm and clear water, the Dajiu Lake lies quietly in the arms of the mountains. On a clear day, the lake appears like a mirror, reflecting a beautiful scene of the sky, clouds, and mountains.

Apart from its breathtaking landscape, the scenic spot functions as an important water source. In order to protect local water resources, fossil fuel-powered buses are prohibited in the scenic spot. Visitors can take environmentally friendly electric carts for sightseeing.

The ancient Shennongjia is a place with a variety of ecosystems formed by forests, lakes, and mountains. Its unique terrains and climate have nurtured rich biodiversity. It is like a natural treasure chest that keeps surprising people with breath-taking beauty and wonders.

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