The Xi’an City Wall is one of the oldest and largest surviving wall of its kind in China. First built in the Ming dynasty, the city wall has been a landmark of the city for nearly 800 years. Riding a bike or walking on the wall is probably one of the best ways to embrace this ancient and modern city: At one moment, you just learn about this smart idea of creating a “barbican” (瓮城) with the double-gate system to protect the “city” (which is inside the city wall) against attacks from the outside enemy, and then you will see nowadays the concrete jungle spreads way outwards the “city”; at another moment, you find that people in different ages are very much enjoying themselves in the calligraphy, painting and antique market at the foot of the city wall, and then you start to wonder whether hundreds of years ago, people at that time have also experienced such lively lives in then one of the largest international city of the world.
This is the first time that I stepped onto the land of Northwest China. The destination is Xi’an, Shanxi, one of the oldest cities in China that is famous for being the capital for 13 dynasties in ancient China. This is really a historic city — walking on the street, you can’t keep thinking of that thousands of years ago, this is the center of the world. Of course one of the must-go sites in Xi’an is the Terracotta Warriors and Horses (秦兵馬俑) in the suburb, which is thought to be the Eighth Wonder of the World. Thousands of life-size soldiers and horses are buried underground with Qin Shi Huang (秦始皇), the first Emperor of China, and they were only discovered in 1974 by local farmers. There is a saying that in the Terracotta army, “a thousand soldier have a thousand faces” (千人千面) — they are so realistic such that you can understand whether a soldier comes from North China or South China, what’s the official rank of the soldier in the army, etc. simply from looking at them. And it’s said that these sculptures are originally painted with colors! How gorgeous that would be!
The last stop of the new year trip is the courtyard of Family Chou (周家大院) in Yongzhou, Hunan. It is said that descendants of the famous philosopher Chou Tun-i (周敦頤) of the Song Dynasty live here. The courtyard was built in the late Qing Dynasty — although after hundreds of years, you can still imagine the prosperity of the family at that time. Now, while the houses were still there as if they were hundreds of years ago, it seemed to be much quiet than it could be back to that time, with the exception of the time when you can see kids chasing each other on the old granite road.
It’s a winter morning when we visited Mt. Jiuyi in South Hunan. Rolling hills were hidden in the morning mist, as if they were not awake yet, while a flock of ducks quacked and followed the master all the way down to the field, hoping that they can get a first bite of the breakfast. What an interesting scene! According to Records of the Grand Historian (《史記》), Mt. Jiuyi is the burial place of Emperor Shun (舜帝), one of the “Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors” (三皇五帝) in ancient China. Many people may also learn about Mt. Jiuyi through one of Mao Zedong’s poems, which starts with Emperor Shun’s legendary stories:
七律 • 答友人 (毛澤東)
Different from the Western arts, which emphasize on delivering a picture of the reality, Chinese arts are more likely to pass a mood. When I took this picture, I didn’t feel like I was taking a picture of lotus — It simply reminded me a poem by the poet Shangyin Li (李商隱) from Tang Dynasty, and I sensed what he might have felt thousands of years ago: a combination of the pleasure to see the beautiful scenes and a little bit sadness of missing friends who were thousands of miles away.
宿駱氏亭寄懷崔雍崔袞 （唐 · 李商隱）
As the capital of a province, Changsha is among one of a few cities which enjoy abundant tourist resources — it’s probably the only one which has a mountain (山), a river (水) and an island (洲) in the city (城) at the same time. With the mountain refers to Mt. Yuelu (嶽麓山) and the river refers to River Xiang (湘江)， “island” here refers to the Orange Continent Head (橘子洲), which lies in River Xiang. The Orange Continent Head is known by Chinese people pretty much because of the poem “Chin Yuan Chun, Changsha” (《沁園春.長沙》) from Mao Zedong. Nowadays, the Orange Continent Head has become a city park where several pavilions and terraces have been restored or refurbished. Because of the popularity of a recent reality TV show “Where are we going? Dad”, when we are there in a weekend, almost all the visitors we see are families with young kids…So maybe this is the “positive energy” brought up by the media?
A new year visit to Yuanjiang, a small city sitting on the tip of south Lake Dongting (洞庭湖). Lake Dongting is among the largest lakes in China. With Lake Poyang (鄱陽湖), Lake Tai (太湖) and Lake Hongze (洪澤湖), they are called the four largest freshwater lakes in China. Interestingly, Lake Dongting is also the natural border of two provinces in China: Hunan and Hubei, with “Hunan” means “south of the Lake” while “Hubei” means “north of the Lake”. As a city sitting so close to Lake Dongting, Yuanjiang enjoys really rich natural resources and scenes, such as the large bulrush marsh. It’s almost the sunset time when we came to the marsh. Though we were told that winter is not the best season to visit the marsh and lake, it’s still quite amazing to see the bulrush swaying gentlely in the dusk.
A temple, which is said to be built in Tang Dynasty, locates at Jingzhou, Hubei Province, a famous historic town in China. Jade Emperor (玉皇大帝), the most powerful god in Han culture, has been worshiped in this temple for thousands of years. Though the paint was peeling and the red door looks weather-stained, we can still imagine how stately the temple used to be through the rusted knocker. I visited here at the very beginning of the new year, and thus happened to see quite some people stopped by to pray for blessings in the new year. Years may pass and times may change, but there are always something we share in common with our ancestries: our culture, our values, our most simple wishes for better lives.