Places to visit in China
Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum, and 故宫 in Chinese.
It was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty, from 1420 to 1912. It is located in the centre of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. It housed the emperors and their households as well as the ceremonial and political centre of Chinese government for almost 500 years.
When Hongwu Emperor’s son Zhu Di became the Yongle, he decided to move the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, and started to build what would become the Forbidden City in 1406. Over one million workers were required and the construction was lasted fro 14 years.
From 1420 to 1644, the Forbidden City was the seat of the Ming dynasty. The Qing rulers changed the names on some of the major buildings, to emphasise “Harmony” rather than “Supremacy”, made the name plates bilingual (Chinese and Manchu), and introduced Shamanist elements to the palace.
In 1860, during the Second Opium War, Anglo-French forces took control of the Forbidden City and occupied it until the end of the war. In 1900 Empress Dowager Cixi fled from the Forbidden City during the Boxer Rebellion, leaving it to be occupied by forces of the treaty powers until the following year.
In 1912, with the abdication of Puyi, the last Emperor of China, the Forbidden City ceased being the political center of China, after housed 24 emperors, 14 of the Ming dynasty and 10 of the Qing dynasty.
In 1933, the Japanese invasion of China forced the evacuation of the national treasures in the Forbidden City. Part of the collection was returned at the end of World War II, but the other part was evacuated to Taiwan in 1948 under orders by Chiang Kai-shek, whose Kuomintang was losing the Chinese Civil War. This relatively small but high quality collection was kept in storage until 1965, when it again became public, as the core of the National Palace Museum in Taipei.
The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage in 1987 by UNESCO as the “Imperial Palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties”, due to its significant place in the development of Chinese architecture and culture. It is currently administered by the Palace Museum, which is carrying out a sixteen-year restoration project to repair and restore all buildings in the Forbidden City to their pre-1912 state.
With with 961 metres (3,153 ft) from north to south and 753 metres (2,470 ft) from east to west , the Forbidden City is in rectangle shape. People always think that there are 9,999 rooms, based on oral tradition. However, this is not supported by the fact. The Forbidden City consists of 980 surviving buildings with 8,886 bays of rooms. The Forbidden City is enclosed in a larger well-protected area called the Imperial City. It was designed to be the centre of the ancient, walled city of Beijing.
The Forbidden City remains important in the civic scheme of Beijing. The central north–south axis remains the central axis of Beijing.
The Forbidden City is surrounded by a 7.9 metres (26 ft) high city wall and a 6 metres (20 ft) deep by 52 metres (171 ft) wide moat. The walls are 8.62 metres (28.3 ft) wide at the base, tapering to 6.66 metres (21.9 ft) at the top. These walls served as both meant to defend and retain the palace. They were constructed with a rammed earth core, and surfaced with three layers of specially baked bricks on both sides, with the interstices filled with mortar.
Entering from the Meridian Gate, there is a large square, pierced by the meandering Inner Golden Water River, which is crossed by five bridges. Beyond the square stands the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Behind that is the Hall of Supreme Harmony Square. A three-tiered white marble terrace rises from this square. Three halls stand on top of this terrace, the focus of the palace complex. From the south, these are three great halls, namely, Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony, and the Hall of preserving Harmony. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the largest, and rises some 30 metres (98 ft) above the level of the surrounding square. It is the ceremonial centre of imperial power, and the largest surviving wooden structure in China. It is nine bays wide and five bays deep, the numbers 9 and 5 being symbolically connected to the majesty of the Emperor. In the Ming dynasty, the Emperor held court here to discuss affairs of state. During the Qing dynasty, as Emperors held court far more frequently, a less ceremonious location was used instead, and the Hall of Supreme Harmony was only used for ceremonial purposes, such as coronations, investitures, and imperial weddings. The Hall of Central Harmony is a smaller, square hall, used by the Emperor to prepare and rest before and during ceremonies. Behind it, the Hall of Preserving Harmony, was used for rehearsing ceremonies, and was also the site of the final stage of the Imperial examination. All three halls feature imperial thrones, the largest and most elaborate one being that in the Hall of Supreme Harmony.
The design of the Forbidden City, from its overall layout to the smallest detail, was meticulously planned to reflect philosophical and religious principles, and above all to symbolise the majesty of Imperial power.
Almost all the roofs in the Forbidden City bear yellow glazed tiles due to the fact that yellow is the color of the Emperor. However, there are two exceptions. The library at the Pavilion of Literary Profundity had black tiles because black was associated with water, and thus fire-prevention. Similarly, the Crown Prince’s residences have green tiles because green was associated with wood and thus growth.
The main halls in outer and inner courts are all arranged in groups of three. It represents Heaven. The residences of the inner court are arranged in groups of six, which representing the Earth.
The collections of the Palace Museum are based on the Qing imperial collection. According to the results of a 1925 audit, some 1.17 million pieces of art were stored in the Forbidden City. In addition, the imperial libraries housed a large collection of rare books and historical documents, including government documents of the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Today, there are over a million rare and valuable works of art in the permanent collection of the Palace Museum, including paintings, ceramics, seals, steles, sculptures, inscribed wares, bronze wares, enamel objects, etc. According to an inventory of the Museum’s collection conducted between 2004 and 2010, the Palace Museum holds a total of 1,807,558 artifacts and includes 1,684,490 items designated as nationally protected “valuable cultural relics.”
Great Wall of China
One of the most iconic symbols of China, the Great Wall is the longest wall in the world, an awe-inspiring feat of ancient defensive architecture. Just like a gigantic dragon, it winds up and down across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus, stretching approximately 13,170 miles (21,196 kilometers) from east to west of China. It deserves its place among “the New Seven Wonders of the World” and the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in China.
In 220 B.C., under Qin Shi Huang, sections of earlier fortifications were joined together to form a united defence system against invasions from the north. Construction continued up to the Ming dynasty (1368–1644), when the Great Wall became the world’s largest military structure. Its historic and strategic importance is matched only by its architectural significance.
The wall spans from China’s western frontier to the east coast, but the most integrated and best preserved sections are close to Beijing. So this is what people usually refer to when talking about the Great Wall of China.
The mystery of the construction of the wall is amazing. The construction, which drew heavily on the local resources for construction materials, was carried out in-line with the local conditions under the management of contract and responsibility system. A great army of manpower, composed of soldiers, prisoners and local people, built the wall. The construction result demonstrates the wisdom and tenacity of the Chinese people. Great Wall carries a considerable part of Chinese culture. It has long been incorporated into Chinese mythology and symbolism. The most well-known legend is about the collapse of a section of the Wall caused by Meng Jiangnu, who cried bitterly over the death of her husband after he died while building the wall. This legend has been spread widely through textbooks, folk songs and traditional operas.
The Great Wall of China is a series of fortifications made of stone, brick, tamped earth, wood, and other materials, generally built along an east-to-west line across the historical northern borders of China to protect the Chinese States and empires against the raids and invasions of the various nomadic groups of the Eurasian Steppe. Several walls were being built as early as the 7th century BCE; these, later joined together and made bigger and stronger, are now collectively referred to as the Great Wall. Especially famous is the wall built 220–206 BCE by Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. Little of that wall remains. Since then, the Great Wall has on and off been rebuilt, maintained, and enhanced; the majority of the existing wall is from the Ming Dynasty.
Other purposes of the Great Wall have included border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation or encouragement of trade and the control of immigration and emigration. Furthermore, the defensive characteristics of the Great Wall were enhanced by the construction of watch towers, troop barracks, garrison stations, signaling capabilities through the means of smoke or fire, and the fact that the path of the Great Wall also served as a transportation corridor.
One of the earliest known references to this myth appears in a letter written in 1754 by the English antiquary William Stukeley. Stukeley wrote that, “This mighty wall of four score miles [130 km] in length is only exceeded by the Chinese Wall, which makes a considerable figure upon the terrestrial globe, and may be discerned at the Moon.”The claim was also mentioned by Henry Norman in 1895 where he stated “besides its age it enjoys the reputation of being the only work of human hands on the globe visible from the Moon.”
With a history of more than 2,000 years, some of the sections are now in ruins or have disappeared. However, it is still one of the most appealing attractions all around the world owing to its architectural grandeur and historical significance.
The Terracotta Army
The Terracotta Army (Chinese: 兵马俑) is a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. It is a form of funerary art buried with the emperor in 210–209 BCE and whose purpose was to protect the emperor in his afterlife.
The figures were discovered in 1974 by local farmers. The figures vary in height according to their roles, with the tallest being the generals. The figures include warriors, chariots and horses. Estimates from 2007 were that the three pits containing the Terracotta Army held more than 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses, the majority of which remained buried in the pits nearby Qin Shi Huang’s mausoleum. Other terracotta non-military figures were found in other pits, including officials, acrobats, strongmen and musicians.
Qin’s tomb appears to be a hermetically-sealed space the size of a football pitch. The tomb itself remains unexcavated, though Siam Qian’s writings suggest even greater treasures.
“The tomb was filled with models of palaces, pavilions and offices as well as fine vessels, precious stones and rarities,” reads a translation of the text.
The account indicates the tomb contains replicas of the area’s rivers and streams made with mercury flowing to the sea through hills and mountains of bronze. Precious stones such as pearls are said to represent the sun, moon, and other stars.
Modern tests on the tomb mound have revealed unusually high concentrations of mercury, lending credence to at least some of the historical account.
Chinese archaeologists are also using remote-sensing technology to probe the tomb mound. The technique recently revealed an underground chamber with four stairlike walls. An archaeologist working on the site told the Chinese press that the chamber may have been built for the soul of the emperor.
Experimental pits dug around the tomb have revealed dancers, musicians, and acrobats full of life and caught in mid-performance, a sharp contrast to the military poses of the famous terra-cotta soldiers.
But further excavations of the tomb itself are on hold, at least for now.
“It is best to keep the ancient tomb untouched, because of the complex conditions inside,” Duan Qinbao, a researcher with the Shaanxi Provincial Archaeology Institute, told the China Daily in 2006.
The terracotta army figures were manufactured in workshops by government laborers and local craftsmen using local materials. Heads, arms, legs, and torsos were created separately and then assembled. Eight face moulds were most likely used, with clay added after assembly to provide individual facial features. It is believed that the warriors’ legs were made in much the same way that terracotta drainage pipes were manufactured at the time. This would classify the process as assembly line production, with specific parts manufactured and assembled after being fired, as opposed to crafting one solid piece and subsequently firing it. In those times of tight imperial control, each workshop was required to inscribe its name on items produced to ensure quality control. This has aided modern historians in verifying which workshops were commandeered to make tiles and other mundane items for the terracotta army. Upon completion, the terracotta figures were placed in the pits in precise military formation according to rank and duty.
The terracotta figures are life-sized. They vary in height, uniform, and hairstyle in accordance with rank. Originally, the figures were also painted with bright pigments, variously colored pink, red, green, blue, black, brown, white and lilac. The colored lacquer finish and individual facial features would have given the figures a realistic feel. However, much of the color coating had flaked off or become greatly faded.
Most of the figures originally held real weapons such as spears, swords, or crossbows, and the use of actual weapons would have increased the figures’ realism. Most of the original weapons, however, were looted shortly after the creation of the army, or have rotted away. Nevertheless, many weapons such as swords, spears, battle-axes, scimitars, shields, crossbows, and arrowheads were found in the pits.
The magnificent Potala Palace, once the seat of the Tibetan government and the winter residence of the Dalai Lamas, is Lhasa’s cardinal landmark. Your first sight of its towering, fortress-like walls is a moment you’ll remember for years. An architectural wonder even by modern standards, the palace rises 13 storeys from 130m-high Marpo Ri (Red Hill) and contains more than a thousand rooms. Pilgrims and tourists alike shuffle open-mouthed through the three storeys, trying to take in the dozens of magnificent chapels, golden stupas and prayer halls.
The first recorded use of the site dates from the 7th century AD, when King Songtsen Gampo built a palace here. Construction of the present structure began during the reign of the fifth Dalai Lama in 1645 and took divisions of labourers and artisans more than 50 years to complete. It is impressive enough to have caused Zhou Enlai to send his own troops to protect it from the Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution.
The layout of the Potala Palace includes the rooftop White Palace (the eastern part of the building), used for the living quarters of the Dalai Lama, and the central Red Palace , used for religious functions. The most stunning chapels of the Red Palace house the jewel-bedecked golden chörten (Tibetan stupa) tombs of several previous Dalai Lamas. The apartments of the 13th and 14th Dalai Lamas, in the White Palace, offer a more personal insight into life in the palace. Grand aesthetics and history aside, however, one can’t help noticing that today it is essentially an empty shell, notably missing its main occupant, the Dalai Lama, and a cavernous memorial to what once was.
Tickets for the Potala are limited. The day before you wish to visit, you or your guide should take your passport to the ticket booth just inside the far southwest exit (yes, exit), where you will receive a free ticket voucher with a time stamped on it.
The next day, be at the south entrance 30 minutes before the time on the voucher (tour groups use the southeast entrance). After a security check, follow the other visitors to the stairs up into the palace. Halfway up you’ll pass the actual ticket booth, where you’ll buy your ticket. Note that if you arrive later than the time on your voucher (or if you forget your voucher) you can be refused a ticket. Photography isn’t allowed inside the chapels.
The Potala Palace has stood for centuries as a testament to the Tibetan people and their beliefs. Thousands of pilgrims from around the world come every year to pay homage to this grand estate and the symbol it stands for.
Considered to be one of the wonders of the world for its physical structure and its importance in Tibetan history, the Potala Palace is admired by all who visit.
The Red Palace
The Red Palace is the higher of the two palaces, and is made up of several chapels. Used as a house of prayer by the Dalai Lama, this part of the Potala Palace was dedicated to the study of Buddhism and the advancement of the religion.
Housed within the Red Palace are several mausoleums of previous Dalai Lamas. Each mausoleum is built with stateliness and honor in mind. The mausoleum of the fifth Dalai Lama (the Potala’s patron), located in the west of the palace stands five stories high, is overlaid with gold, diamonds, pearls, and many other precious gems, and expresses the high honor the people had for this Buddhist saint.
The White Palace
The White Palace was home to ten successive Dalai Lamas and their courts. Also located there are the offices of the Tibetan government, governmental assembly halls, and other official offices.
The original White Palace was built as a present from King Songtsan Gampo to his bride-to-be in 637, but destroyed during the ninth century. The fifth Dalai Lama built the current one on its site, and therefore, this structure pays homage to him in greater measure than previous Dalai Lamas or those that would follow.
After Norbulingka was built in 1755, it became the summer residence of the Dalai Lama, and the White Palace became known as the winter estate of this saint of Buddhism.
Inside the Potala Palace
Housed within this amazing stone and wood structure are articles and artifactsfrom Tibetan history, religion, and culture. Statues of Buddha, murals, and antiques that are centuries old, and incredible works of art grace every area of this mountaintop palace.
The elaborate works of art and murals tell many stories of the Dalai Lamas and the history of the Tibetan people, and depict different customs and traditions held dear in this beautiful part of the world.
One area of particular importance is the wall frescoes that depict the life and works of the fifth Dalai Lama. Other precious works of art include ornate statues, sculptures, and Tibetan paintings.
Of all the ornate decorations located within these sacred walls, visitors should take time to visit the topmost hall. Called Sasong Langjie, this hall was built in 1679 and contains a portrait of the Qing Emperor Qianlong. An inscription on this portrait “A long, long life to the present emperor” is written in the languages of Han, Manchu, Mongol, and Tibetan. It is here that Dalai Lamas have come to pay homage every Tibetan New Year’s Day for centuries as they pray for guidance and direction for the Tibetan people.
The Golden Roof Group
The golden roof group is a unique view of the Potala Palace. It’s on the top of the Red Palace, composed of seven roofs made of gilded bronze. They are the tops of the holy stupas of the Dalai Lamas. Every golden roof is decorated with one to five flower-and-bell-shaped spires, which serve as lightning conductors. If you step out on the palace roof, you can see the blue sky and white cloud above your head and overlook the city.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Mogao Caves
The Mogao Caves (Chinese: 莫高窟; pinyin: Mògāo kū), also known as the Thousand Buddha Grottoes (Chinese: 千佛洞; pinyin: qiān fó dòng), form a system of 492 temples 25 km (16 mi) southeast of the center of Dunhuang, an oasis strategically located at a religious and cultural crossroads on the Silk Road, in Gansu province, China.
Wealthy traders and important officials were the primary donors responsible for creating new caves, as caravans made the long detour past Mògāo to pray or give thanks for a safe journey through the treacherous wastelands to the west. The traditional date ascribed to the founding of the first cave is AD 366.
The caves fell into disuse for about 500 years after the collapse of the Yuan dynasty and were largely forgotten until the early 20th century, when they were ‘rediscovered’ by a string of foreign explorers.
Carved into the cliffs above the Dachuan River, the Mogao Caves south-east of the Dunhuang oasis, Gansu Province, comprise the largest, most richly endowed, and longest used treasure house of Buddhist art in the world. It was first constructed in 366AD and represents the great achievement of Buddhist art from the 4th to the 14th century. 492 caves are presently preserved, housing about 45,000 square meters of murals and more than 2,000 painted sculptures. Cave 302 of the Sui dynasty contains one of the oldest and most vivid scenes of cultural exchanges along the Silk Road, depicting a camel pulling a cart typical of trade missions of that period. Caves 23 and 156 of the Tang dynasty show workers in the fields and a line of warriors respectively and in the Song dynasty Cave 61, the celebrated landscape of Mount Wutai is an early example of artistic Chinese cartography, where nothing has been left out – mountains, rivers, cities, temples, roads and caravans are all depicted.
Tours by excellent English-speaking guides at 9am, noon and 2.30pm are included in the admission price, and you should be able to arrange tours in other languages as well. Many of the guides are students or researchers at the Dūnhuáng Academy, which administers the caves.
In 2015, the Mògāo Grottoes site saw a huge upgrade, with a state-of-the-art visitor centre built just a few kilometres outside of central Dūnhuáng. Admission includes two 30-minute films, one on the history of the area and the Silk Road, and one that allows close-up CG views of cave interiors not normally open to visitors in an IMAX-style theatre. From here, visitors are shuttled to the caves 15km down the road in dedicated coaches.
Of the 492 caves, 20 ‘open’ caves are rotated fairly regularly. Entrance is strictly controlled – it’s impossible to visit them independently. In addition to the two films, the general admission ticket includes a roughly two-hour tour of 10 caves, including the famous Hidden Library Cave (cave 17), the two big Buddhas , 34.5m and 26m tall, and a related exhibit containing rare fragments of manuscripts in classical Uighur and Manichean.
Photography is prohibited inside the caves. If it’s raining or snowing or there’s a sand storm, the site will be closed.
Tickets must be purchased in advance either online at the caves’ official website (Chinese ID card needed at the time of writing) or from the Mògāo Grottoes Reservation and Ticket Center , a separate booking office where staff speak English. Note that tickets are not sold at the main visitor centre.
Jiu Zhai Gou Valley
Jiuzhaigou (pronounced [tɕi̯òu̯ʈʂâi̯kóu̯]; Chinese: 九寨沟; literally: “Valley of Nine Fortified Villages”; Tibetan: གཟི་རྩ་སྡེ་དགུ།, ZYPY: Sirza Degu) is a nature reserve and national park located in the north of Sichuan province, China.
Jiuzhaigou Valley is part of the Min Mountains on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau and stretches over 72,000 hectares (180,000 acres). It is known for its many multi-level waterfalls, colorful lakes, and snow-capped peaks. Its elevation ranges from 2,000 to 4,500 metres (6,600 to 14,800 ft).
Jiǔzhàigōu National Park ( 九寨沟风景名胜区), an enchanting Unesco World Heritage site, is one of Sìchuān’s and even China’s star attractions. More than two million people visit annually to gawk at its famous bluer-than-blue lakes, rushing waterfalls and deep woodlands backlit by snowy mountain ranges. The park’s major sites are easily accessed on foot, via kilometres of well-maintained boardwalk trails, or by bus. There are even opportunities to camp.
Jiǔzhàigōu means ‘Nine Village Valley’ and refers to the nine Tibetan villages scattered in the parklands. According to Tibetan legend, Jiǔzhàigōu was created when a jealous devil caused the goddess Wunosemo to drop her magic mirror, a present from her lover the warlord god, Dage. The mirror dropped to the ground and shattered into 114 shimmering turquoise lakes.
The remote region was inhabited by various Tibetan and Qiang peoples for centuries. Until 1975 this inaccessible area was little known. Now The site was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1992 and a World Biosphere Reserve in 1997. The tourism area is classified as a AAAAA scenic area by the China National Tourism Administration.
Here is a summary of the sites found in each of the gullies:
- The Primeval Forest (原始森林 Yuánshǐ Sēnlín) is a preserved ancient woodland. It is fronted by spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and cliffs, including the 500-metre-high, blade-shaped Sword Rock (剑岩 Jiàn Yán).
- Swan Lake (天鹅海, Tiān’é Hǎi) is a 2250-metre-long, 125-metre-wide picturesque lake named for its visiting swans and ducks.
- Grass Lake (草海, Cǎo Hǎi) is a shallow lake covered in intricate vegetation patterns.
- Arrow Bamboo Lake (箭竹海, Jiànzhú Hǎi), covering an area of 170,000 m2, is a shallow lake with a depth of 6 m. It lies at an elevation of 2,618 m, and was a main feature site for the 2002 Chinese film Hero.
- Panda Lake (熊猫海, Xióngmāo Hǎi) features curious color patterns of blue and green. Giant Pandas were said to have come to this lake to drink, though there have been no sightings for many years. The lake empties into the multi-stream, multi-level Panda Waterfalls, dropping 78 m in three steps.
- Five Flower Lake (五花海, Wǔhuā Hǎi) is a shallow multi-colored lake whose bottom is criss-crossed by ancient fallen tree trunks.
- Pearl Shoal (珍珠滩, Zhēnzhū Tān) is a wide, gently sloping area of active calcareous tufa deposition covered in a thin sheet of flowing water. It empties into the famous Pearl Waterfalls, where the shoal drops 28 m in a 310-metre-wide broad curtain of water. A scene of the television adaptation of Journey to the West was filmed there.
- Mirror Lake (镜海, Jìng Hǎi) is another quiet lake casting beautiful reflections of the surroundings when the water is calm.
- Long Lake (长海, Cháng Hǎi) is crescent-shaped and is the highest, largest and deepest lake in Jiuzhaigou, measuring 7.5 km (5 mi) in length and up to 103 m in depth. It reportedly has no outgoing waterways, getting its water from snowmelt and losing it from seepage. Local folklore features a monster in its depths.
- Five-Color Pond (五彩池, Wǔcǎi Chí) is one of the smallest but most spectacular bodies of water in Jiuzhaigou lakes. Despite its very modest dimensions and depth, it has a richly colored underwater landscape with some of the brightest and clearest waters in the area. According to legend, the pond was where Goddess Semo washed her hair and God Dage came daily to bring her water.
- The Seasonal Lakes (季节海, Jìjié Hǎi) are a series of 3 lakes (Lower, Middle and Upper) along the main road, that change from empty to full during each year.
The Shuzheng Valley (树正沟, Shùzhèng Gōu) is the northern (main) branch of Jiuzhaigou. It ends after 14.5 km (9 mi) at the Y-shaped intersection of the three gullies. Going downhill from the intersection to the mouth of the valley, visitors encounter the following:
- Nuorilang Falls (诺日朗瀑布, Nuòrìlǎng Pùbù), near the junction of the valleys, are 20 m high and 320 m wide. They are reportedly the widest highland waterfall in China, the widest travertine-topped waterfall in the world, and one of the symbols of Jiuzhaigou.
- Nuorilang Lakes (诺日朗群海, Nuòrìlǎng Qúnhǎi) and Shuzheng Lakes (树正群海 Shùzhèng Qúnhǎi) are stepped series of respectively 18 and 19 ribbon lakes formed by the passage of glaciers, then naturally dammed. Some of them have their own folkloric names, such as the Rhinoceros, Unknown, and Tiger lakes.
- Sleeping Dragon Lake (卧龙海, Wòlóng Hǎi) is one of the lower lakes in the area. With a depth of 20 m, it is notable for the clearly visible calcareous dyke running through it, whose shape has been compared to a dragon lying on the bottom.
- Reed Lake (芦苇海, Lúwěi Hǎi) is a 1375-metre-long, reed-covered marsh with a clear turquoise brook (known as the “Jade Ribbon”) zigzaging through it. The contrast is particularly striking in the autumn when the reeds turn golden yellow.
- The Fairy Pool (神仙池, Shénxiān Chí) lies 42 km (26 mi) west of Jiuzhaigou and features travertine pools very similar to those of the nearby Huanglong Natural Reserve.
The Shaolin Monastery (Chinese: 少林寺; pinyin: Shàolín sì), also known as the Shaolin Temple, is a Chan (“Zen”) Buddhist temple in Dengfeng County, Henan Province, China. Dating back 1,500 years, Shaolin Temple is the main temple of the Shaolin school of Buddhism to this day.
Shaolin Monastery and its Pagoda Forest were inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2010 as part of the “Historic Monuments of Dengfeng.”
The name refers to the forests of Shaoshi (少室; Shǎo Shì) mountain, one of the seven peaks of Song mountains. The first Shaolin Monastery abbot was Batuo (also called Fotuo or Buddhabhadra) a dhyana master who came to China from Indiaor from Greco-Buddhist Central Asia in 464 AD to spread Buddhist teachings. As Chinese Kungfu also originated from Shaolin Temple, it has been recognized as the origin of Chan Buddhism and the cradle of Kungfu.
Besides, it is known that martial arts have been practiced at the temple throughout its history. A legend had it that Bodhidharma found monks weak and unhealthy after long time meditation practices, so he developed the martial arts to strengthen them, which formed the basis of Shaolin Kungfu. However the unique aspect of Shaolin culture is the combination of Shaolin Kungfu and Chan Buddhism.
Shaolin Temple embraces many exciting attractions, such as the Hall of Heavenly Kings (Tianwangdian), the Mahavira Hall (Daxiongbaodian), the Pagoda Forest, the Dharma Cave and the Martial Art Training Center. Visitors may follow the virtual guide to visit the temple.
First we see the Shanmen Hall. Hung on its top is a tablet reading ‘Shaolin Temple’. The tablet was inscribed by the Emperor Kangxi (1622 – 1723) during the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1911). Under the stairs of the hall crouches two stone lions made in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The hall enshrines the Maitreya Buddha. Two sides of the corridor behind the hall’s gate are paved with inscriptions on stone steles made during several different dynasties.
Next we arrive at the Hall of Heavenly Kings. The gate of the hall is guarded by two figures depicting Vajra (Buddhist warrior attendants). Inside the hall are figures of the Four Heavenly Kings who are responsible for inspecting peoples’ behavior, helping the troubled, and blessing the people.
Then we come to the Mahavira Hall. The complex’s center is right before your eyes. Both important celebrations and regular prayers are held here. 18 Buddhist Arhats stand along the eastern and the southern walls of the hall. Buddhas of the Middle, East and West are enshrined in this hall, respectively Sakyamuni Buddha, Pharmacist Buddha and Amitabha Buddha. Figures of Kingnaro (the founder of Shaolin Cudgel) and Dharma (the founder of Chinese Zen Buddhism) stand beside those three Buddhas, a placement which is very different from other Mahavira Halls. At the feet of the pillars in this Mahavira Hall are stone lions that are more than one meter (about 3.33 feet) high. On the ground there are about 50 small pits, 20 centimeters (about 7.87 inches) deep. It is said that they are the footprints left by monks when they practiced Shaolin Martial Arts.
Unexpectedly, we come to the Pagoda Forest, a graveyard for Buddhist dignitaries through the ages. On average, the pagodas are less than 15 meters (about 49 feet) high. The layer and the shape of a pagoda depend on many factors, such as one’s Buddhist status, attainment and prestige during his lifetime. The Pagoda Forest here is the largest of China’s pagoda complexes.
Outside the temple we continue walking to the northwest, and then we will take a look at two monasteries, named the Ancestor’s Monastery and the Second Ancestor’s Monastery. The first monastery is built by a Dharma’s disciple to commemorate Dharma’s
The cave we see next is the Dharma Cave. In this cave Dharma patiently faced the wall and meditated for 9 years. Finally, he reached the immortal spiritual state and created the Buddhist Zen. The cave is seven meters deep (about 23 feet) and three meters high (about 9.8 feet). Many stone inscriptions are carved on both its sides. There is a Meditating Stone in the cave. It is said Dharma’s shadow was reflected upon the stone and embedded on it because of the long time of his meditation facing the wall. Unfortunately the stone was ruined during the war.
After passing the Dharma Cave, we come to the Buddhist Living Quarters for transient monks. It is on the south bank of the Shaoxi River opposite the temple. First built in 1512 of the Ming Dynasty, it was repaired in the Qing Dynasty. The quarters are noted for the simple and distinctive design. It collapsed in 1958 and then repaired in 1993.
The Shaolin Temple Wushu (Martial Arts) Training Center comes last. Its perfect scenery makes it an ideal place for practicing the Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu. Shaolin monks have been practicing Kung Fu for over 1,500 years. The system was invented by Dharma who taught the monks basic methods to improve their health and defend themselves. The Martial art performance shows the true Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu. For example, Tong Zi Gong, performed by teenagers, is a kind of martial art to train one’s flexibility and strength.
In a word, Shaolin Temple is worthy of a visit. It will give you a better understanding of Chinese Buddhism and the Chinese martial arts.
Mount Tai, located just north of Tai’an city in East China’s Shandong province, is a mountain of historical and cultural significance, with impressive views and beautiful natural scenery. It’s just 50 km (30 miles) south of Shandong’s capital Jinan, so access is convenient.
The word tai in Chinese means stability and peace and the name Tai’an is attributed to the saying: “If Mount Tai is stable, so is the entire country” (both characters of Tai’an have an independent meaning of stability and peace). Mount Tai is crowned by Jade Emperor Peak (in Chinese mythology, the Jade Emperor is the most powerful god in heaven) with an altitude of 1,545 meters.
Mount Tai is the greatest of the Five Great Mountains, the most famous mountains in Chinese history, destination of imperial pilgrimages and sacrifices for over three thousand years. Their religious significance transcends faith; they have been associated with Confucianism and Buddhism, but their strongest relation is with Taoism.
Each of the Five Great Mountains is related to one of the five cardinal directions. Mount Tai is the mountain of the East; it is associated with birth, sunrise and renewal. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang (of Terracotta Warriors fame) announced the unity of China from the summit of Mount Tai, two hundred years before the birth of Christ.
Nowadays, Mount Tai is a UNESCO World Heritage site, visited by six million people every year. There are dozens of temples, stone tablets and inscriptions lining the path to the summit, making the mountain a cultural as well as natural attraction.
Southern Chinese claim ‘myriad mountains, rivers and geniuses’ while Shāndōng citizens smugly contest they have ‘one mountain, one river and one saint’, implying they have the last word on each: Tài Shān (the most revered of China’s five sacred Taoist peaks, and the most climbed mountain on earth), Huang He (the Yellow River) and Confucius.
Tài Shān is a unique experience – its supernatural allure attracts the Chinese in droves. Bixia, the Princess of the Azure Clouds, a Taoist deity whose presence permeates the temples dotted along the route, is a powerful cult figure for the rural women of Shāndōng and beyond. Tribes of wiry grandmothers – it’s said that if you climb Tài Shān you’ll live to 100 – trot up the steps with surprising ease, their target the cluster of temples at the summit where they burn money and incense, praying for their progeny. Sun-worshippers muster wide-eyed on the peak, straining for the first flickers of dawn.In ancient Chinese tradition, it was believed that the sun began its westward journey from Tài Shān.
From its heights Confucius uttered the dictum ‘The world is small.’ You too can climb up and say ‘I’m knackered.’
Avoid coinciding your climb with the public holiday periods held in the first weeks of May and October, otherwise you will share the mountain with what the Chinese call ‘re’n shan re’n havi’ – literally a ‘mountain of people and a sea of persons.’