Shanxi Historic villages, stunning mountains and the Yellow River
July 2016 by Bruce/Beijing
Shanxi is famed for its great courtyard houses – the historic homes of merchants who had become prosperous through banking or trading. Wang’s Grand Courtyard, dating from the Ming and Qing periods, is adjacent to Jingsheng town. It is well worth seeing – built like a series of large, walled forts climbing a hillside. Beyond the walls are many traditional ‘cave-style’ homes that are characteristic of Shanxi.Beyond rises Mianshan.
On the lower slopes of Mianshan Mountain sits Zhangbi Village – walking on its cobbled, partly covered alleys feels like going back in time – the village is not only unique but is a place where families have lived in the same residences for generations.
Beyond Zhangbi the road climbs up the seemingly vertical cliff side of Mianshan mountain – an amazing piece of construction that rises past temples, natural water springs, viewpoints and finally to a hotel – a spectacular location high on the mountains.
Descending from Mianshan the journey eventually led downhill to the Yellow River at the historic small settlement of Qikou – for Bruce, this was an amazing place for photography – a magnificent destination for an eye-opening journey through some enchanting parts of Shanxi Province.
Temple on Mianshan; Historic village near Qikou; Beauty of Mianshan; Qikou – arched passageways; Walking in Zhangbi Village; Stone paved alley Qikou; Yellow River at Qikou Shanxi
There, in the land of the Yellow Earth, bordered by the Yellow River, was history set in stone, for indeed stone featured prominently – narrow sometimes covered alleys were paved in stone blocks.
Stone and local brick lined the exteriors of homes, temples and commercial premises along with outer walls partially enclosing the villages. If only stones could talk what a story they could tell for the townships regionally were within the ‘Cradle of Chinese Civilisation’, at the crossroads of dynasties, armies, traders, pastoralists and now travellers finding something unique beyond mass-tourism destinations. Imagine the people over many generations who have walked through these villages!
Zhangbi, at 1040 metres above sea level on the lower slopes of Mianshan Mountain, traces itself back to the ancient Xia that originated in today’s Ningxia – a region easily reached by expressway though historically the Yellow River formed a water route from northwestern China for sheepskin rafts as far as Qikou where cataracts prevented onward passage.
Sitting high on an artificial platform above potential flooding Qikou thrived for centuries as a transshipment point before the advent of modern transportation. Merchants prospered, their wealth spreading along nearby Qiushuihe River to smaller more inland settlements such as Xiwan.