Baoding – from the Capital’s South Gate to Back Garden


THE city of Baoding, in Hebei Province, borders the national capital Beijing, 140 kilometers to the northeast. The city’s name, roughly interpreted as “protecting the capital,” refers to the city’s immediacy to Beijing. Due to its geographic location, Baoding has been of great military import since ancient times. The Battle of Zhuolu, the second battle in Chinese history recalled in Records of the Grand Historian, was fought between the Yellow Emperor (Huang Di) and Chi You in the north end of Baoding. Jing Ke, in the tale of The Emperor and the Assassin, resided as a guest in the estates of Dan in present-day Baoding, becoming renowned for his failure to assassinate Ying Zheng, the King of Qin, who later became China’s first emperor (r. 221-210 BC). The city also witnessed numerous historical episodes during the War of Resistance against Japanese Invasion, including the Five Heroes of Langya Mountain and Tunnel Warfare.

Baoding was home not just to various monarchs, such as Emperor Yao (a legend in ancient China), Liu Bei (founding emperor of Shu-Han) and Zhao Kuangyin (founder of the Song Dynasty), but also holds the Western Qing Tombs (of Emperors Yongzheng, Jiaqing, Daoguang, and Guangxu). A blend of central plains culture and grassland culture, the city’s rich cultural heritage includes Li Daoyuan’s Commentary on the Waterways Classic, Guan Hanqing’s Snow in Midsummer, and Wang Shifu’s Romance of the Western Chamber – all treasures in China’s cultural panorama.

Its history dating back to the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC - AD 24), Baoding later served as the capital of Zhili (today’s Hebei Province) from 1669, remaining a vital center of politics, defense and culture for almost 300 years.

Its age-old history and profound cultural legacy make Baoding a national historic and cultural city with abundant tourism resources. The city now has 47 key national and cultural relic protection sites, 3,500 immovable cultural relics, three national geographical parks, one national key scenic site, as well as five national forest parks.

Zhili Governor-general’s Office – the Qing Dynasty in Miniature

The ancient city now conserves 72 yamens (feudal government offices in China). Among them the Zhili Governor-general’s Office is the best preserved – a microcosm of the Qing Dynasty, full of rich historical connotations.

First built in 1729 (seventh year of Emperor Yongzheng’s reign), this was the office of the top military and administrative official in Zhili Province. In operation for 182 years, 74 governors served 99 terms here, all notable officials of the imperial court such as Zeng Guofan, Li Hongzhang, and Yuan Shikai. Among them, Li Hongzhang served the longest, for 25 years, also controlling the internal and foreign affairs of the Qing imperial court.

The 3,000-sq.m. complex was built according to the exacting architectural regulations of the Qing Dynasty. The main buildings are along a central axis, including the imperatorial main hall, the solemn second hall, the elegant official residence, and garden-like main quarters.

In the imperatorial main hall, a symbol of the feudal authority, the governor conducted major administrative activities and grand ceremonies. At the solemn second hall, the governor met officials from other locales and reviewed cases. The governor handled daily government affairs and examined documents at the elegant official residence. The garden-like main quarters held the living quarters of the governor-general and his family.

An adage recalls, “A Governor-general’s office tells half of Qing Dynasty history.” This expression is apt in describing the profuse historical materials this office imbues.

Western Qing Tombs – History on the Outskirts

Yixian County in Baoding, Hebei Province, 120 kilometers southwest of Beijing, locates the Western Qing Tombs, a group of mausoleums of emperors from the Qing Dynasty, twin of the Eastern Qing Tombs. The tombs are among the most precious ancient mausoleums in Chinese history. In 2000, the Western Qing Tombs were listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

The tombs incorporate 14 royal mausoleums, where 80 imperial family members are buried. These include the eternal sleeping chambers of four emperors: Tailing (Tomb for Emperor Yongzheng), Changling (for Emperor Jiaqing), Muling (for Emperor Daoguang), and Chongling (for Emperor Gangxu).

Surrounded on all sides by green hills, the tombs nestle comfortably on a large plain. About 800 square kilometers of hilly land are covered by more than 20,000 ancient pines and cypresses, shading the winding paths between the tombs. Each tree is over 340 years old, making for the largest and oldest pine forest in north China. The mausoleums also have more than 100 stone sculptures, partly hidden within the woods.

The architecture wholly arrays the strict hierarchy of the feudal society of those times. The emperors’ tombs are the largest among the whole group, followed by those of empresses, concubines and others. Notably, the roofs of the emperors’ and empresses’ mausoleums are covered in yellow glazed tiles, while those of other mausoleums are green.

Construction of the Western Qing Tombs was initiated by Emperor Yongzheng, who broke with tradition and refused to be buried in the Eastern Qing Tombs. Some have speculated, with no evidence yet, that since Yongzheng unlawfully usurped the throne by eliminating his brothers, his motive in relocating his tomb to the Western Qing Tombs was to avoid being buried alongside his father, Emperor Kangxi. Others suggest that Yongzheng, as a wise and great monarch, was not willing to be subordinate to others, even in death. Since the supreme point of the Eastern Qing Tombs was taken by an ancestor, he wanted a new mausoleum built at another site.

His son, Emperor Qianlong, later decided he should be buried in the Eastern Qing Tombs, and ordered that burials thereafter should alternate between the eastern and western sites, although this was not followed consistently.

Mount Langya – Scenic History

The Mount Langya Scenic Area, advantageously located within Baoding, is about 50 kilometers from Yixian County. Langya means “Wolf Teeth.”

Although few foreigners are aware of Mount Langya, almost all Chinese people know of it: not for its scenery, but for its history. Mount Langya recalls the five brave soldiers who fought off Japanese invaders while Chinese civilians were evacuated. The five men eventually ran out of ammunition, destroyed their rifles, and then leapt off the mountain to their deaths. This heroic tale has been the subject of a number of paintings, and a movie. A museum at the foot of the mountain provides more insight into the five men’s courage. In addition, a tower memorializing the five heroes stands at the mountain summit.

The beautiful scenery on Langya Mountain includes abundant old pines and cypresses. The karst cave halfway up led to the first discovery in China of natural scenery in red agate. Stalactites, stalagmites and other strange rock formations drip water beneath multicolor lights. Climbing higher, through trees and jagged rocks you come to a winding paved pathway. A few extended stairways push on toward the summit. If the weather is clear, visitors are treated to sensational views of the surrounding mountain area.

Mount Langya is made up of 36 peaks divided naturally into five groups. Lianhuaban (Lotus Petal) Peak, the main peak on Mount Langya, is 1,105 meters above sea level, with steep cliffs on the northern and western sides of the mountain. Due to this unique natural topography, tourists may reach the peak through the paths only on either the eastern or southern part. However, there are some narrow points along the paths where you may need to edge through clinging onto the rock face. When you reach the peak, you appear to stand on top of the world, surrounded by sharp wolf teeth.

Yesanpo National Park – a Geological Textbook

Located precisely at the intersection of the Yanshan Mountains and Taihang Mountains, Yesanpo National Park is famous for its spectacular natural landscape and ancient historical interest.

Yesanpo derives its name from its three topographical divisions: the easily recognizable upper, middle and lower sections, with the northwest slowly rising and the southeast slowly sinking. The reserve is tucked amidst layers of mountainous ranges marked with dramatic cliffs and karst caves. Some of the numerous sandalwood trees within are believed to be more than 1,000 years old. In addition to beautiful scenery, the valley is also home to a wide range of wildlife.

Numerous strong tectonic movements and magmatic activity have created a series of unique, magnificent, complete and rare geoheritage resources, which reliably record the 3-billion-year-long geological-tectonic history of northern China. Yesanpo doubles as a vivid geological textbook and a natural geological museum, now an ideal trove for geological research and geological knowledge popularization.

Covering over 600 square kilometers, Yesanpo is both a national forest park and a world geopark, comprising six main scenic areas and more than 200 natural sights. Comprising three gorges (namely, Shixuanxia, Haitangyu and Xiezigou) of respectively distinctive features, Baili Canyon extends as long as 105 li (1 li = 500 m), hence its name, Baili, which literally means in Chinese a hundred li. There are a great many streams, small waterfalls and wildflowers on the mountainside.

The Juma River flows as long as 35 km within this landscape, with varied beautiful hilltops, waters and pastoral sceneries, presenting lifesize paintings. Around the unusually clear river, the environment is quiet and beautiful. On hot summer days, people take boats downstream and appreciate the beautiful scenery along the riverbanks. The many resorts built on the Juma River are ideal for tourists to escape the summer heat.

Baishi Mountain – a Heavenly Lotus

The word “mountain” often reminds people of black rock. However, Baishi Mountain gets its name from its white rocks. Granite formed 100 million years ago raised the 700-million-year-old dolomite to the top, making for a marvelous natural spectacle.

Diversified landforms are found all over China. Zhangjiajie in Hunan Province, for instance, is renowned for its sandstone peak forest. Limestone constitutes the Stone Forest in Yunnan Province. Baishi Mountain in Baoding is one of the most typical marble mountains.

Baishi Mountain, 2,096 meters high, is at the northern end of the Taihang Mountain Range where the North China Plain, the Loess Plateau and the Inner Mongolia Plateau border each other. The mountain is divided into two parts at the altitude of 1,400 meters above sea level, with a 54-sq. km granite foundation below and a dolomite main peak spanning 20 sq. km above. The main peak shines bright like a blooming white lotus.

Baishi Mountain has fantastic scenery. Some of the hills resemble bamboo rising straight from the ground, while others look like piles of bricks or books. Some peaks appear rather fragile, eroded as they are by wind. Some rocks lean on each other, while others pose as pheasants do, standing on one foot.

The beautiful clouds drifting over the mountain are also very impressive. One ancient book describes it as: “White rocks spread all over Baishi Mountain. Clouds float above the elegant hills every now and then.” When the peaks and valleys are covered in cloud and fog, Baishi Mountain enters a dream world. Listening carefully, you may hear the water drops floating around you. Stretch out your hands to touch the fog, and water even drops onto your hands…

Perennial plants cover the mountain from head to foot, painting the mountain different colors in different seasons. Red birch trees spread widely over the mountain. The trees are found from 1,600 meters to 2,000 meters above sea level, covering thousands of hectares. August is the best season to enjoy the beauty of the red birch. Golden leaves and dark red trunks tint the mountain into a fairytale world.

Most waterfalls on the mountain cascade down from 1,400 meters above sea level, where marble and granite conjoin.

Ranzhuang Tunnel Warfare Site – a Great Wonder on the Plains

On the Central Hebei Plain, Ranzhuang appears to be an ordinary village with a population of 3,000 people. However, during the War of Resistance against Japanese Invasion, the locals achieved a grand geological feat by digging underground tunnels to defeat the enemy. Ever since, the village has shone as a star on the map of China. Seven decades have passed, and today this site of tunnel warfare in Ranzhuang Village is as well preserved as it was back in the 1930s and 1940s.

The Lugou Bridge Incident of July 1937 marks the launch of Japan’s all-out war of invasion. The North China Plain was helpless against Japan’s mechanized divisions, occupying the area by the end of the year. It was impossible for Ranzhuang Village to escape war. On the morning of June 15, 1939, Japanese troops surrounded Ranzhuang. A total of 13 villagers were killed, 11 injured and another 11 captured. The enemy burnt more than 700 houses and looted the whole village in what became known as the June 15th Massacre.

Wherever there is aggression, there is resistance. In order to defend the village from further invasion, the locals sought help from the vast surrounds. At first, the villagers dug a good numbers of cellars inside and outside the village, so as to shelter themselves and hide their belongings. Under the leadership of the local Communist Party committee, the villagers gradually changed the single-entrance holes into double-entrance and multiple-entrance ones, while extending and widening them to form tunnels that connected the other villages around Ranzhuang.

The tunnels reveal the wisdom of Ranzhuang people. They camouflaged entrances and exits to the tunnels in the corners of walls, troughs for livestock, bellows, and cooking stoves. Moreover, the villagers set up traps and platform trapdoors at crossroads underground. What’s more, the vents were connected to wells, making it possible to get fresh air and fresh water simultaneously. On the main streets above ground, blockhouses, hidden rooms, temples and even millstones were constructed and connected with the tunnels. In this way, locals could observe the situation of their enemies from clandestine niches and take the enemy unaware.

In fact, underground tunnels are found in every village of the Central Hebei Plain. During wartime, this underground Great Wall stretched a total of 12,500 kilometers.

In 1950, the Ranzhuang Tunnel Warfare Site welcomed delegates from 36 countries, who greatly praised the incredible underground construction. Hundreds of thousands of tourists from home and abroad have since visited the site each year. Up to now, the tunnel warfare site has received nearly 10 million visitors. At the same time, more than 10 films were shot at this site. Tunnel Warfare produced in 1965 is the most classic film, telling the stories based on this underground edifice.

Baoding, boasting a glorious history and picturesque scenery, is booming and thriving.