HebeiChengde Imperial Summer Resort
Apr-Oct ¥145, Nov-Mar ¥90
Kangxi, the influential emperor during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), called his summer creation Bishu Shanzhuang — Fleeing the Heat Mountain Villa — now known as the Imperial Summer Villa.
In the north of Chengde, about 200 km from Beijing, the summer residence of Qing emperors for nearly 300 years has exquisite towers, pavilions, terraces, hills and lakes within the palace, that contrast sublimely with each other.
Through rich and varied ancient architecture, the villa displays the tough nature of northerners and the more delicate characteristics of southerners. Outside the walls, eight outer temples, built in the styles of different nationalities, create an atmosphere of political harmony and unity.
A huge spirit wall shields the resort entrance at Lizhengmen Dajie Street.
Through Lizheng Gate, the Main Palace is a series of nine courtyards and five elegant, unpainted halls, with a rusticity complemented by towering pine trees. The wings in each courtyard have various exhibitions (porcelain, clothing, weaponry), and most of the halls are decked out in period furnishings.
The first hall is the refreshingly cool Hall of Simplicity and Sincerity, built with an aromatic cedar wood called nanmu, and displaying a carved throne draped in yellow silk. Other prominent halls include the emperor’s study (Study of Four Knowledges) and living quarters (Hall of Refreshing Mists and Waves). On the left-hand side of the latter is the imperial bedroom. Two residential areas branch out from here: the empress dowager’s Pine Crane Palace to the east, and the smaller Western Apartments, where the concubines (including a young Cixi) resided.
Exiting the Main Palace brings you to the gardens and forested hunting grounds, with landscapes borrowed from famous southern scenic areas in Hangzhou, Suzhou and Jiaxing, as well as the Mongolian grasslands.
The two-storey Misty Rain Tower, on the northwestern side of the main lake, served as an imperial study. Further north is the Wenjin Pavilion, built in 1773. Don't miss the wonderfully elegant 250-year-old Yongyousi Pagoda, which soars above the fragments of its vanished temple in the northeast of the complex.
Most of the compound is taken up by lakes, hills, forests and plains. There are magnificent views of some of the outlying temples from the northern wall.
Just beyond the Main Palace is the starting-point for bus tours of the gardens. Further on you'll find a place for boat rentals.
Top Buddhist temple in Chengde
Apr-Oct ¥80, Nov-Mar ¥60
8am-5.30pm Apr-Oct, 8.30am-5pm Nov-Mar
Puning Road, Chengde city
With its squeaking prayer wheels and the devotional intonations of its monks, Puning Temple is Chengde’s only active temple. It was built in 1755 in anticipation of Qianlong’s victory over the western Mongol tribes in the present Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Supposedly modelled on the earliest Tibetan Buddhist monastery (Samye), the first half of the temple is distinctly Chinese, with Tibetan buildings at the rear.
Covering an area of about 23,000 square meters, the temple has the biggest woodcarving –– Guanyin (the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy) –– in the world. The temple was recognized as a world cultural heritage site by the UNESCO in 1994.
Enter the temple grounds to a stele pavilion with inscriptions by the Qianlong emperor in Chinese, Manchu, Mongol and Tibetan. The halls behind are arranged in typical Buddhist fashion, with the Hall of Heavenly Kings and beyond; the Mahavira Hall, where three images of the Buddhas from three generations are displayed. Some very steep steps rise up behind (the temple is on a mountainside) leading to a gate tower, which you can climb.
On the terrace at the top of the steps is Mahayana Hall. On either side are stupas and squares, and block-like Tibetan-style buildings, decorated with attractive water spouts. Some buildings have been converted into shops, while others are solid, serving a purely decorative purpose.
The mind-bogglingly vast gilded statue of Guanyin towers sits within the Mahayana Hall. The effigy is astounding, and at over 22 meters high it’s the tallest of its kind in the world and radiates a powerful sense of divinity. Hewn from five different kinds of wood, Guanyin has 42 arms, with each palm bearing an eye and each hand holding instruments, skulls, lotuses and other Buddhist devices.
Tibetan touches include the pair of hands in front of the Goddess, below the two clasped in prayer, the right of which holds a sceptre-like orje (vajra in Sanskrit), a masculine symbol, and the left a dril bu (bell), a female symbol. On Guanyin’s head sits the “Longevity Buddha”. To the right of the Goddess stands a huge male guardian and disciple called Shanchan, opposite his female equivalent, Longnv (Dragon Girl). Unlike Guanyin, they are both coated in ancient and dusty pigments. On the wall on either side are hundreds of small effigies of Buddha.
Housed within the grounds, on the east side, is the Puyou Temple. It is dilapidated and missing its main hall, but it has a plentiful contingent of merry gilded luohan (Buddhists who have achieved nirvana) in the side wings, although a fire in 1964 killed many of their confrères.
Zhaoxian county, Shijiazhuang city
China’s oldest stone segmental arch bridge, the Zhaozhou Bridge, has spanned the Jiao River for 1,400 years. As the world’s first stone segmental arch bridge (its arch is a segment of a circle, as opposed to a complete semicircle), it predates other bridges of its type throughout the world by 800 years. In excellent condition, and part of a riverside, landscaped park, it is 50.82 meters long and 9.6 meters wide, with a span of 37 meters.
Twenty-two stone posts are topped with carvings of dragons and mythical creatures, with the center slab featuring a magnificent taotie (an offspring of a dragon).
The bridge is in Zhaoxia county, about 40 kilometers southeast of Shijiazhuang and 2 kilometers south of Zhaoxian town.
Zhengding county, Shijiazhuang city
At 1,500 years old, Longxing Temple is one of the most impressive temples in northern China. It's certainly Zhengding’s star attraction. More popularly known as Dafo Temple, or “Great Buddha Temple”, the complex contains an astonishing array of Buddhist statuary, housed in some stunning temple halls.
Dating back to AD 586, the temple has been restored and stands divided from its spirit wall by Zhengding county.
The time-worn bridge out front constitutes a handsome historical prelude. You are greeted in the first hall by the jovial Milefo (the laughing Buddha), while the four Heavenly Kings flanking him in pairs are disconcertingly vast.
Beyond the ruined Hall of Sakyamuni's Six Teachers is the Manichaean Hall, an astonishingly large hall flagged in smooth stone, with amazing carpentry overhead, a huge gilded statue of Shakyamuni and faded Ming frescoes detailing Buddhist tales.
At the rear of the hall is a distinctly male statue of the Goddess Guanyin, seated in a lithe pose with one foot resting on his thigh (a posture known as lalitásana) and surrounded by luohan (disciples freed from the cycle of rebirth).
The Buddhist Altar behind houses an unusual, bronze, Ming-dynasty (1368-1644) two-faced Buddha, gazing north and south.
There are two halls behind the Buddhist Altar. On the left is the Revolving Library Pavilion, which contains a highly unusual revolving, octagonal, wooden bookcase for the storing of sutras, and some stele on the back of a snarling bixie (a mythical, tortoise-like dragon). Opposite stands the Pavilion of Kindness, containing a fabulous, 7.4 meter-high statue of Maitreya (the future Buddha), one hand aloft.
The immense Pavilion of Great Benevolence contains Longxing Temple's real attraction: a 21.3 meter-tall bronze statue of Guanyin. Created in AD 971 and sporting a third eye, the effigy is wonderful, standing on a magnificently carved base from the Northern Song dynasty (420-479). Examine the carvings, which include myriad characters and musicians, including Buddhist angels (apsaras).
Circumambulated by worshippers, the Hall of Vairocana at the rear of the complex contains a four-faced Buddha (the Buddha of four directions), crowned with another four-faced Buddha, upon which is supported a further set. The entire statue and its base contain 1,072 statues of Buddha in total.
The gardens at the back contain the scattered remains of a temple, including some very old stele and a triple-arched stone pailou, dating from 1591.
9am-5pm Tue-Sun, last entry 4pm
Fanxi Road and Zhongshan Road, Shijiazhuang
Wandering the cavernous halls of the provincial museum will take you deep into the multi-layered realms of Chinese history, with most exhibits focusing on archaeological excavations that date as far back as the Shang dynasty (1600–1046 BC). As fascinating as the trove of funeral figurines, jade burial suits and bronze vessels are, the real star is the Quyang Stone Carvings collection, which features masterful ancient creations –– mostly Buddhist –– carved from Hebei’s Quyuan marble.
The museum is divided in two: the old building (the Zhongshan Donglu side) houses temporary exhibits; the new building houses the permanent collection.
Occupying an area of 53,128 square meters, among which 22,000 square meters are used for exhibitions, Hebei Museum has a total of 150,000 cultural relic collections.
Also, the museum is the home of over 50,000 books, the majority of which record the local history of places in Hebei.
Location: Jingxing county, Shijiazhuang
Completed in 1581, this three-storey pavilion was supposedly the work of one reportedly crazed individual, Yu Xichun, who wanted to be able to see Beijing from the top. It was, according to legend, built entirely at night, over a 16-year period, without the help of any other villagers.
It was certainly built by an amateur architect: there are no foundations, and the building stones (in addition to not being sealed by mortar) are of wildly different sizes (some as large as 2 meters), giving it a misshapen look that’s quite uncommon in Chinese buildings.