A Riot of Colour in Autumn
Translated by Pan Zhongming Edited by David Ball Photos by Bu Xiangdong, Qi Guiying, Wang Xibao, Wei Zheng and courtesy of Changping District Commission of Tourism Development, Beigong Forest Park
The soft autumn wind blows, bringing the new season with it. Now is the best time to appreciate the short autumn in Beijing, where the air is clear and the season’s colours complement the ancient charm of the city.
The soft autumn wind is blowing, bringing the new season with it. Now is the best time to appreciate the short autumn before Frost’s Descent— the 18th solar term in the Chinese lunisolar calendar—making it the favourite time of the year for Beijingers. In autumn, the air in Beijing is clear and the season’s colours complement the ancient charm of the city; the picturesque scenes making people stop in their tracks and almost forget to go home. The leaves, fallen or on the trees, form a beautiful sight. The bright smoke trees and golden maples interweave to make a colourful autumn scene, whilst the red maples and green pines clash, forming a shocking and amazing autumn picture.
In 1934, writer Yu Dafu (1896–1945) wrote a famous essay, “Autumn in the Ancient Capital,” describing the strong flavour of autumn in Beijing. Such a strong flavour does not come from just maple leaves and yellow gingkos, it is made up of a mixture of different reds, yellows and greens which create the most beautiful of sights.
Fragrant Hills and Mangshan Hill
At the mention of red leaves in Beijing, people will immediately think of the Fragrant Hills. The famous writer Yang Suo once said about such a scene: “I heard that the red leaves of the maple tree in the Fragrant Hills have the strongest sense of autumn. If there is any chance, I would, of course like to go.” The Fragrant Hills are known for their red leaves and are considered one of the top-four places to appreciate maple trees. “With the maple-covered peaks within sight, the red leaves fill the hills as if they have even spread to inside my jacket.” As such, whenever autumn comes, the leaves of the maples and smoke trees all over the hills here turn a fiery red.
The Fragrant Hills are located in the western suburbs of Beijing. Steep and covered with green trees, they were once an imperial garden. On one of its peaks there is a huge stone which looks like an incense burner. In the mornings and evenings, the clouds and fog envelop the peak, making it look like smoke coming from an incense burner from afar, hence, the name Incense Burner Peak ( Xianglushan), or Fragrant Hills ( Xiangshan) for short. Incense Burner Peak is 557 metres (m) above sea level, its steepness and difficulty to climb bringing about the nickname “Ghosts’ Frown.” Construction of the first temple in the Fragrant Hills began during the reign of Emperor Shizong (1123–1189) of the Jin Dynasty (1115–1234). Emperor Shizong and Emperor Zhangzong (1168–1208) of the Jin Dynasty conferred the title of “Dayong’an” (lit. great peace forever) on the temple. Emperor Zhangzong, visited the Fragrant Hills on seven occasions.
During the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), Emperor Renzong (1285–1320) repaired the Dayong’an Temple and changed its name to Ganlu Temple (Sweet Dew Temple). After that, during the reign of Emperor Wenzong (1304– 1332), Yeh-lu Alemi, a descendant of Yeh-lu Chutsai (1190–1244), built the Biyun Nunnery, forming the “Eight Scenes in the Fragrant Hills and Ten Scenes at Biyun Nunnery.” During the reign of Emperor Yingzong (1427–1464) of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), the eunuch Fan Hong spent more than 700,000 taels of silver ordering workers to rebuild the temple, making it brand-new and on a grander scale. When the emperor learned of this, he conferred the name of Yong’an Temple on the nunnery.
During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1711–1799) of the Qing Dynasty (1644– 1911), the emperor ordered an expansion of his old temporary dwelling palace whilst he was away from the capital. It took only nine months to build more than 80 gardens, big and small, in the Fragrant Hills. Among them, Emperor Qianlong wrote poems for 28 sites, which became the “famed 28 scenes of the capital.” Emperor Qianlong also conferred the name “Jingyi Garden” on the temporary dwelling palace of Emperor Kangxi (1654–1722).
As a park with natural mountains and forests, the Fragrant Hills have a long history. In particular, a large number of trees such as gingkos and Chinese red pines were planted around the temples. Among them, the number of first-class ancient trees reached more than 300. Species including Arborvitae, Chinese junipers, white-barked pines, gingko, Stantung maples and panicled golden rain trees make up the main part of the landscape. Since the Tang (AD 618–907) and Song (AD 960–1279) dynasties, with the rise of the Chinese Buddhism and Taoism, the beautiful and quiet Fragrant Hills with their wide-open and high terrain and amiable climate, have become a famed landscape and religious site in the northwest of Beijing.
In ancient times, the Fragrant Hills used to be covered with apricot blossom, the fragrance of which filled the hills every spring. Wang Heng (1562–1609), a famous dramatist during the reign of Emperor Wanli (1573–1620) of the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) once said, “The number of apricot trees reached 100,000, which were the top draw to the Fragrant Hills.” One Ming Dynasty poem goes: “The temple lies along an ancient path in the Fragrant Hills, half of it covered by white clouds. In the corridors and courtyards, small springs still flow. Among the valleys, there are apricot trees.” In the book, Brief Summary of Landscapes in the Capital, it is recorded: “Some say that the Fragrant Hills get their name from the fragrance of the apricot blossom.”
When entering the Fragrant Hills in autumn, the colourful red leaves give visitors a sense that although spring can beautify nature, autumn makes nature more attractive. The poet Du Mu (AD 803–852) described the area in a poem, saying: “People feel like stopping for a while when climbing because the leaves of the maple trees in evening time during autumn are even redder than the flowers in February.” The red leaves in the Fragrant Hills come from more than 30 species including smoke trees, Shuntung maples, trident maples, painted maples, palmate maples and flare maples. The smoke trees are the most representative species in the Fragrant Hills, and the palmate maples have the reddest leaves in autumn.
The earliest poem to describe the red leaves in the Fragrant Hills, called “The Fragrant Hills,” was written by Zhou Ang, a poet in the State of Jin. It goes: “The forest in the morning features two colours: red leaves and yellow flowers, forming a strong contrast between the hill and the capital. The water in the wild teases people and the pine trees witness the world without telling the year. I am so immersed in the scene that I do not have time to write a poem. We start to chat about life. I wish to know whether you have calmed down, who knows whether the book talks about life before.” In autumn, the red leaves and yellow flowers in the hills, mixed with the streams and towering pine trees, make people feel completely at ease.
The abundant smoke trees are a symbol of the Fragrant Hills. Planted during the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, more than 200 years later, they gradually formed a forest with more than 100,000 specimens.
Entering the park from the East Gate, one passes Jingcui Lake, Shuangqing Villa, Langfeng Pavilion and Yutai Gate to reach the peak before arriving at the red leaf forest. From 1989 onwards, the Fragrant Hills Park has hosted more than 20 sessions of the Red Leaves Culture Festival for appreciating the red leaves. The festival is held every year in mid-october, attracting numerous visitors.
Yang Shuo (1913–1968), a famous writer and essayist, wrote: “Some will regret that they missed a red leaf. However, I picked one such precious leaf and kept in my heart. It is not an ordinary red leaf, however. It is a red leaf that has experienced setbacks and hardships in life. The deeper it gets into autumn, the lovelier the red leaf is.” He saw the red leaves all over the mountain and found one that had been exposed to the wind and rain, which he then kept in his heart.
There is a popular story amongst people in Beijing’s Changping District. Legend has it that towards the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), there was a python living in the hilly areas in Changping, which often attacked passers-by. Later, an Islamic scholar by the name of Shaykhbaba (meaning “wise ancestor”) came to the area. He volunteered to put on a cowhide cloth and wield sharp knives, entering the belly of the snake in order to kill it. However, Shaykhbaba was killed and was buried at Heying Village in Nanshao. There is a tomb and a mosque dedicated to him. To commemorate Shaykhbaba, people named the hill there Mangshan, meaning the “Python Mountain.” Every year on the 24th day of the third lunar month, the Hui ethnic people of Heying Village in Changping District celebrate “Shaykhbaba Festival” in his honour.
Mangshan National Forest Park is located in Changping District and is part of the Jundu Mountains, a branch of the Yan Mountain range. The park is the largest national forest park in Beijing and has more than 170 species of trees and flowers, vast natural forests and unique views. Its highest peak is 659 m above sea level. Honoured as a “natural oxygen bar,” Mangshan features a slope covered with 300 mu (one mu is about 614 sq.m) of red leaves, called “red-leaf slope.”
The red leaves at Mangshan are honoured as “better than the Fragrant Hills.” The scenery there is extremely magnificent, as described in one poem: “Its pines, cypresses and floating clouds form a great picture; the green hills and clean water record history.” Between the Frost’s Descent and the Beginning of Winter (the 19th solar term), the forest will turn red. The red leaves on Mangshan are mainly smoke trees, flare maples and Shantung maples, but it also has dozens of other colourful trees including oaks and persimmon trees. After several frosts, the maple trees, oak trees, smoke trees, Shantung maples and flare maples in the forest turn bright red and golden.
At the platform at the foot of Mangshan Hill, there sits a statue of the Maitreya Buddha. The largest stone Buddha in northern China, it was designed by Professor Zhao Shutong, a famous Chinese sculptor, and took more than 80 stone masons one year to complete. The red-leaf slope lies to the northeast of the Buddha statue and is the area with the densest concentration of red leaves on Mangshan. The wonderful views at the Mangshan Stone Sculpture Buddha Scenic Spot both captivate and enthral all who visit.
Autumnal Leaves at the Great Wall
During the reign of Emperor Wanli of the Ming Dynasty, the commander of West Beijing, Jiang Yikui, was looking for old tablets and stone statues to collect records and poems on Beijing’s ancient scenic spots. The book, The Guest’s Note on Chang’an, contains one of his records on the Badaling section of the Great Wall: “The road separated from here to reach all directions, hence the name Badaling, which is the highest peak of the pass.” The earliest poem about the Great Wall was written by Gao Shi (AD 704–765) during the Tang Dynasty. He wrote, “The slope joins with the water down below, the mountains are as high as clouds.” The earliest record of the name “Badaling Great Wall” is found in the long poems, Arriving at Badaling in the Evening and Climbing the Following Morning as well as Going Outside of Badaling.
Badaling is a pass in the Jundu Mountains, a branch of the Yan Mountain range. Mountains reveal themselves one behind the other, their steepness making them an excellent strategic position.
The Badaling section of the Great Wall is honoured as one of the nine fortresses in China. As a frontier outpost, the Great Wall during the Ming Dynasty was no longer a single high wall, rather it had become a defensive system with several layers of protection. Since ancient times, there have been many sayings about the region such as “Looking down at Juyongguan Pass at Badaling, is like looking down a well from a high roof” and “The steepness is not at the pass but at the Great Wall.” Shen Yongji, the Qing Dynasty poet, once wrote, “Riding a horse and leaving Juyongguan Pass, making turns to climb over the peak. Sitting on the peak to observe the capital, one would walk around many fortresses.”
Badaling is the most popular section along the Great Wall. Due to restorations, it is well-preserved and so favoured by visitors. Its temperature is also lower than that in the city, so when the leaves in the capital have not yet changed, Badaling is already multi-coloured. Today, Beijing Badaling National Forest Park is situated between the Badaling Section and Juyongguan Pass with its highest peak at 1,238 m above sea level. Dragon-watching Beacon Tower is the best place from which to see the Badaling Section of the Great Wall. One saying goes: “If you really want to see the Great Wall, visit the side peak of the dragon. One who fails to reach the Great Wall is not a man. You will only be one after you reach the Dragonwatching Beacon Tower.”
Badaling National Forest Park has more than 50,000 smoke trees, the largest natural Manchurian lilac forest. At the Qinglong Valley Scenic Spot, there is a large natural pear tree forest. The main scenic spots in the park include the Red-leaf Scenic Spot, Qinglong Valley Scenic Spot, Manchurian Lilac Valley Scenic Spot and Stone Gorge Scenic Spot. The best place to appreciate the autumnal leaves is at Red-leaf Scenic Spot which is adjacent to the zig-zag railway designed by Zhan Tianyou (1861–1919) in the north, the Beijing-tibet Highway in the west and the Great Wall to the east and south. There, colourful smoke trees and Shantung maples are mixed in with Arborvitae. The leaves there not only turn red earlier but are also the brightest, making it the most attractive place in the forest park during autumn.
Compared with the high-altitude Redleaf Scenic Spot, the flat Qinglong Valley Scenic Spot is better suited for leisure. The colourful smoke trees, Shantung maples and golden rain trees are scattered between pines and cypresses. Wandering through Qinglong Valley, one can raise one’s head to look at the Great Wall atop the mountains. In terms of colours, the smoke trees are particularly striking, looking as they do like enchanting red clouds. The Shantung maples are the brightest-coloured, their base colour of red and yellow changing over time into a sea of tender red, pink, light yellow and orange. The fruit of the Shantung maples looks like Chinese shoe-shaped gold ingots. Under the yellowish-red Shantung maple leaves hang many “gold ingots,” creating a colourful and warm atmosphere amid the maple tree forest.
The brightly coloured leaves, set against the backdrop of the winding Badaling Great Wall, form a grand sight. One can feel the ancient history of the Great Wall when
listening to the rustling of the leaves and the singing birds, touching the wall’s grey stones that have witnessed such difficult times, and rubbing one’s hands along the red-leafed trees and bark of the pines and cypresses.
As with Badaling, the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is also open to the public, having undergone delicate restorations, and is the most complete part of the Ming Dynasty Great Wall. Mutianyu is situated in Huairou District, an area with a long history and magnificent culture, and a high concentration of defensive fortresses. The Mutianyu Great Wall Tourism Area is surrounded by picturesque mountains and in autumn, the mountains are completely covered with red leaves and fruits. It enjoys the honour of being known as the “unique scene at Mutianyu of the Great Wall” at home and abroad.
The scenic spot has undulating mountains and beautiful scenery. There are more than 200,000 trees across the mountains including apricot trees and flare maples; their leaves covering the whole of the Mutianyu area. Around mid-october is the best time to visit the Mutianyu Great Wall. The colourful leaves gradually turn from light yellow to golden yellow, deep red and bright red, for a distance of about five kilometres (km), creating a strong sense of layers. As the temperature drops, the leaves begin to change colour day by day. Looking down from a high vantage point, the forest seems to have been dyed different colours. Among the trees here, the brightest are those of the smoke trees, oaks, mono maples, Shantung maples and Rhus typhina, which look like curling red clouds. The leaves wave in the wind like flames in a fire. The colourful leaves on the mountain dotting the Great Wall form a poetic scene, making visitors forget they have to go back home. The bright red leaves in the scenic spot create an appropriate setting for the Great Wall, sketching the poetic and picturesque golden autumn.
Tang Shunzhi (1507–1560), a Ming Dynasty poet, wrote: “All the towns are at the foot of the mountain, but this one sits atop the mountain as if a bird’s nest. People here would think of the brave soldiers fighting in the high mountains.” The poem describes a view of Gubeikou Great Wall, which is the most complete part of the Great Wall system. It consists of the Great Wall built in the North Qi Kingdom (AD 550–577) and that built during the Ming Dynasty. It is a fortress located between Shanhaiguan Pass and Juyongguan Pass, which is a strategic military site. According to the book, North History, in AD 556 “The Great Wall started from the northwest of Datong in the west and stretched to the sea in the east for a total of more than 1,500 km.” To defend against the northern nomadic tribes, the North Qi built the Great Wall in Gubeikou. This section of the Great Wall is situated in Gubeikou Town, Miyun District in Beijing. It is located in the Yan Mountains, in the southern shallow area of the hilly mountains of Panlong and Wohu. The area is extremely steep, making it a key position for entering the capital. The Emperor Hongwu (reign: 1638–1698) of the Ming Dynasty first built the Gubeikou Pass over the mountain. The town was built on top of the mountain, extending up and down along the slope, which is why Tang Shunzhi likened it to a bird’s nest.
In 1569, Prime Minister Zhang Juzheng (1525–1582) invited famous generals such as Qi Jiguang and Tan Lun to the north to consolidate the area’s defences. Tan Lun became the governor of Hebei and Liaoning whilst Qi Jiguang became the commanderin-chief of Hebei in charge of the more than 600 km of the Great Wall. After meticulous planning and supervision by Qi Jiguang, a solid defensive line with high walls, fortresses and beacon towers was built in around a dozen years. When Qi Jiguang restored the Gubeikou Great Wall, he not only kept the section built during the North Qi but also added bricks to the outer wall—hence the
famous double Great Wall at Gubeikou.
In autumn, climbing the Gubeikou Great Wall to appreciate the red leaves cannot help but evoke a strong sense of history in people’s minds. Currently, Miyun District has more than 60,000 mu of coloured-leaf forests, mainly mixed broad-leaved forests including a dozen species of smoke trees, mono maples and birches. The wonderful combination of the Great Wall and the ancient town creates a grand natural view and cultural scene. The layers of colourful leaves in autumn have inspired countless famed scholars throughout history.
Picturesque Northern Palace and White Birch Forests
In 1804, Jinyi (1764–1815), the head of Rongke Prefecture, started to build a residential park in Yingtaoyuan, Dahuichang Village, Fengtai District. However, construction was not yet complete in 1815 when he passed away. The more than 60 houses had been being built for more than 10 years, turning Yinghuayuan into a giant construction site. As there was another construction site to the south, people began to refer to the site in the south as “Nangongshang” and the site at Yingtaoyuan as “Beigongshang,” which was later shortened to “Beigong” (Northern Palace). As a result, Beigong gradually replaced the name of Yingtaoyuan. Today, Beigong National Forest Park has been constructed as an autumn resort.
The Beigong Forest Park is located in the mountainous area of Fengtai District in the northwest of Beijing and was first built in 2002. After six years of efforts, it has become a mountain-water scenic spot with a colourful, rich and beautiful garden layout. The park consists of three scenic spots in the east, west and central part and includes the Beigong Manor and Mingsheng Building. There are 12 pavilions, corridors, attics and towers and more than 10 scenic spots such as Fangze Stream, Small Jiangnan and Maple Forest Road. There are more than 30,000 trees, highlighting the ecological construction in the western part of Beijing. Langpoding is the main peak in the Forest Park which is situated at 349 m above sea level. The park has a famous earthquake fault zone and manmade scenes such as the Golden Turtle Visits Buddha and Looking-to-beijing pavilions. In the south, there are steep slopes from east to the west. Legend has it that Langpoding used to be inhabited by packs of wolves and other wild animals, hence its name, which literally means wolf slopes.
Lancui is the central part of the park and Terrace is surrounded by mountains on three sides and water on the other. Standing on the terrace, one can see the charm of Beijing, the beauty of Fengtai District and various hills. The Huguo Pagoda (Guarding State Pagoda) was built in 1560. It is octagonal in shape and is an 11-layer wood-like tiled stone pagoda which is more than 6 m in height. The structure is an outstanding tower of the same type built during the Ming Dynasty in Beijing. The Taigu Huayang Cave in the park is also quite famous. According to the Inspections of Old Stories, “Jietan Temple is the furthest west, and the Taigu Cave is the most attractive. One needs to hold a torch to enter and see the stalactites and the stone Buddha statues extend for several kilometres. At the gate, there are five Chinese characters which read ‘Taigu Huayang Cave’.” The entrance to the cave is covered with vines, and once around 250 m inside, one can see stalactites of various shapes. Some are shaped like flying dragons, some like fish and others like seated lions.
The Beigong Forest Park has an area of 3,000 mu covered with colourful leaves, of which 2,100 mu are red leaves. The trees here mainly include more than 20 varieties of Shantung maples, smoke trees, flare maples, panicled golden rain trees, Asiatic elms and gingkos. Yanxia Ridge is situated on the western slope of Xinglong Valley in the Langpoding Scenic Spot where the smoke trees there form a sea of red leaves.
“Passing the river in the evening amid the cold wind; among the yellow leaves come the geese.” Entering the Beigong Forest Park, a large portion of tall gingko trees are the first thing that come into sight. The golden leaves set against the blue sky are truly breath-taking. Autumn is the best season to visit the park, since at that time the park is ablaze with reds, oranges, yellows, greens, blues and purples—making it the perfect place to appreciate the season in Beijing.
It is said that during the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the Qing Dynasty, the emperor once went out of the northern part of the capital arriving at a place named Labagoumen. There he found the head of a dragon in a village, and so held a religious ceremony that lasted 49 days. On the final day of the ceremony, the feng shui master
suddenly became alarmed and told the emperor that this place had geomantic properties, and that he was afraid that one day a descendant of the dragon would be born here and strive to take over the country. Upon hearing this, the emperor became worried. He immediately asked what he should do to avoid this happening. The master wrote two characters “yi” (one) and “shan” (virtuous) and ordered the stonemasons to carve them on the slope opposite the dragon head to seal the mountain gate. Today, this place is the Labagoumen Manchuria Ethnic Township in the northernmost of Huairou District which today is still a secondary forest ecological scenic spot.
Labagoumen Nature Reserve is the only primeval forest natural scenic spot in Beijing. It is also known as the back garden of the capital, honoured as the “greater natural oxygen bar,” and contains 70,000 mu of secondary forest. Nanhou Ridge, located at more than 1,700 m above sea level, is the highest peak in Huairou District. Labagoumen boasts rich plant life. The mountain and its peak are enveloped by poplar trees and white birches; inside the forest, there are various species of bushes and thick marshy grassland; and the rocks are covered in thick moss. The whole scenic spot is full of mysterious virgin forests; it has several historical Phoenix Platforms; the only summer glacier in Beijing; 1,000 mu of white birches—which are generally only found in Siberia—and other pine trees of different shapes. Due to a large difference in the height above sea level across the park, its climate changes vertically. The reserve’s woody and herbal wild flowers are wellknown because of their rich varieties and extremely long flowering phases.
Labamengou primeval forest scenic spot is composed of three main sites: Yi Shan Resort, the central living area in the resort; Baizhang Cliff Gantian Resort, which includes many scenic spots such as Sword- Casting Peak, Pearl Fountain, Commander-appointment Terrace and Sky Line; and the Nanhou Ridge Zone, which includes the highest peak in Huairou. Here, there are dense poplar trees and white birches growing out of the soft marshy grassland. The main trunks of the white birches can be as high as 25 m, and their white bark is as smooth as paper which can be peeled off easily. Visiting Labagoumen in autumn is the ideal time to appreciate the towering white birches and pick up a few golden tree leaves.
Watching-son Mountain and Rose Valley
Baiwang Mountain Forest Park is situated 3 km north of the Summer Palace, making it the closest forest park to downtown Beijing. Local residents call it Wang’er Mountain, meaning “Watching-son Mountain.” It is said that during the Northern Song Dynasty (AD 960–1127), General Yang Liulang led his soldiers to fight the Liao army at the foot of the mountain. His mother, She Taijun, stood on the slopes to watch and help boost morale. Therefore, the mountain acquired its name, Wang’er Mountain. Baiwang Mountain has dense forests and is known locally as Beijing’s oxygen source. According to Night Story of Chang’an: “Baiwang Mountain blocks Xihu Lake in the South and leads to Yanping in the north. Even if one leaves the mountain, the peak can still be seen from 100 li ( 50 km) away. Therefore, it is called ‘Baiwang’ [lit. one hundred view].” Baiwang Mountain is part of the Taihang Mountain range in the east of the North China Plain. Hence, it is also referred to as “the first peak of the Taihang outpost.”
“As the wind from the west wishes to weave a brocade, it urges the tree leaves to turn red.” In autumn, large swathes of red-leaf forests can be seen in Baiwang Mountain Forest Park. Climbing over the pavilion and looking westward, the peaks of Taihang Mountains, stand towering. The red leaves interweave with the green pines and cypresses, making the red leaves appear even brighter. Here when the sun sets, the evening clouds add a touch of radiance and beauty, and make the red leaves even more mysterious. Along with the stone plates of Baiwang Mountains on the west side of the slope, there is a “Fairy Red Leaf” stone statue deep in the valley. From the statue, it is possible to see the surrounding peaks. The main peak of Baiwang Mountain is towering, looking across at Heishantou and Hanjia Mountain. When the autumn wind blows, the thousands of mu of red leaves inspire visitors.
Every autumn, Baiwang Mountain holds a Red Leaves Festival, during which nearly 1,000 mu of red-leaf forest competes
to display its beauty. The whole area turns completely red, making it the perfect place to appreciate the red leaves. The two best places to view the red leaves at Baiwang Mountain are: Friendship Pavilion and Lanfeng Pavilion on top of the mountain. As the autumn wind blows, the leaves of smoke trees—the main tree species for appreciation in autumn— begin to turn red. The flare maples appear like burning torches in the mountains, and the persimmon trees also join in the competition. Surrounded by the red leaves of Baiwang Mountian, one can not only appreciate the red maple leaves, but also the tempting fruits such as dates, hawthorns and persimmons. In recent years, large amounts of colourful trees such as gingkos and Amur honeysuckles have been planted. Walking through the sea of colour in autumn is a relaxing endeavour, and standing in Lanfeng Pavilion, visitors can admire the brightly coloured mountain before them.
In Beijing’s Mentougou District, there is a scenic spot which is described as follows: “The hills on four sides are like paintings and you can see flowers there every day of the year.” This is Miaofengshan Scenic Spot, situated in the northern part of Miaofengshan Town. It borders Changping in the north, Haidian in the east, the Taihang Mountains in the west and the Yongding River Canyon in the south. Miaofengshan consists of five peaks, with Miaogao Mountain the highest at 1,291 m above sea level. Compared with other mountainous regions in Beijing, Miaofengshan has relatively gentle slopes and its mountains are covered with forests. The scenic spot is known for its ancient temples, strange pine trees, odd stone formations and unique flowers. Visitors can appreciate its sunrises, evening clouds and fog-wrapped pine trees during the different seasons as well as its 1,000 mu of roses. It also hosts the largest traditional temple fair in North China.
The temples at Miaofengshan, including Niangniang Temple, were first constructed during the Liao and Jin periods (AD 907–1234), and built against the mountains, making them extremely picturesque. There are a dozen Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian temples and halls in total, among which, Niangniang Temple is the most famous. Between the late Qing Dynasty and early Republic of China period, temple fairs were held here every year for the first fifteen days of the fourth lunar month.
The wide valley at Miaofengshan is characterised by fresh air. The plants on the mountains are mainly bushes and flowers, and there are numerous woody plants and medicinal herbs to be found. Statistics show that more than 600 species of woody plants and more than 20 types of medicinal herbs such as mountain persici, wild cloves, Huodengron tibeticum, rhododendrons and straw flowers as well as 1,000 mu of roses grow here. Jiangou Village in Miaofengshan Town has been growing Chinese roses since the Ming Dynasty. It is the source of “high mountain roses” and has been honoured as the “Hometown of Chinese Roses.” Miaofengshan Valley and Kazanlak Valley in Bulgaria are known as the world’s two largest rose valleys. The 10,000 mu of roses are divided into two parts: The Yangtaishan Rose Plantation Base and the Rose Garden in the western part of the scenic spot which also contains the “Fairy Rose” statue.
It is a tradition for locals in Beijing to go look at the red leaves in Xishan ( Western Hills) during autumn, as they have been doing since as far back as the Yuan Dynasty. Due to its unique geographical environment and climatic conditions, autumn arrives earlier in Miaofengshan. The mountain is mainly covered by Shantung maples along
with smoke trees and oak trees as well as persimmon, pine and cypress trees, making it a rare colourful scenic spot in Beijing. Towards mid and late September, the oaks, smoke trees and Shantung maples gradually turn red which set against the golden yellow and green of other trees, creates a colourful landscape painting. The whole scenic spot is covered with maple trees, pine trees, apricot trees and smoke trees, the colour extending for dozens of kilometres.
In mid-october, the hawthorns and persimmons at Miaofengshan begin to mature. As such, visitors not only have the chance to appreciate the red leaves but also pick their own fruit in farmer’s gardens or buy some agricultural products. One can also buy dried roses, fried hawthorns, and specialties such as rose jelly, rose Radix scutellariae and walnuts.
Tanzhe Temple and Huo Yuan
In Beijing, there is an old saying, “First came Tanzhe Temple, then came Beijing city,” which shows the long history of the temple. Facing south, Tanzhe Temple is located at the foot of Tanzhe Hill in Mentougou District, Beijing. Construction started in 307, the first year of the reign of Emperor Yongjia of the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 265–316). As the first temple built in the Beijing area after Buddhism spread into China, it was originally called Jiafu Temple. Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty later renamed it “Xiuyun Temple.” Because there is a dragon’s pool behind the temple and Cudrania trees on the mountain, local people called it Tanzhe (Pool Cudrania) Temple. Some say that plans for building the Imperial Palace were inspired by the temple, and in fact, a bird’s-eye-view does show that the strictly symmetrical temple and moat also has the same imposing appearance of the Forbidden City.
During the reign of Empress Wu Zetian (AD 625–705) of the Tang Dynasty, the senior Buddhist monk Huayan of the Huayan Sect built the temple on the mountain. As such, Tanzhe Temple became the first Huayan temple in the Youzhou (present-day Beijing) area. During the Jin Kingdom period, Chan Buddhism gained a lot of followers in Zhongdu (presentday Beijing). Several Chan masters arrived at Tanzhe Temple, greatly enhancing the honour of the temple. Emperor Xizong (1119–1150) of the Jin Kingdom once came to Tanzhe Temple to burn incense and pray, making him the first emperor to ever do so. After that, later generations of emperors followed in his footsteps, making the temple even more popular. Emperor Xizong changed the name of the temple to “Dawanshou Temple” and allocated money to restore and expand the grounds.
In the Yuan Dynasty, Princess Miaoyan, the daughter of Kublai Khan (1215–1294), the first emperor of the Yuan Dynasty (1271– 1368), retired from the world and became a nun at Tanzhe Temple to atone for her father. She remained at the temple for the rest of her life and would kneel to chant sutra in the Guanyin Hall every single day. As the days went by, she gradually even created two recesses with her feet in the hall. Today, the “praying brick” where the princess knelt is still present in the hall and is an extremely precious cultural relic of Tanzhe Temple. After she died in the temple, she was buried in front of it with a pagoda.
During the early Ming Dynasty, the famous monk Yao Guangxiao (1335–1418) once helped Zhu Li, the King of Yan, capture the imperial throne and become Emperor Chengzu (1360–1424). After his assisting the emperor, Yao resigned to
stay at Tanzhe Temple to pray where he discussed Buddhism with his old friend, the abbot, every day. During his stay at the temple, the emperor once paid him a visit. It is said that many buildings in Beijing were designed by Yao Guangxiao in accordance with structures found in Tanzhe Temple. For example, the Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Forbidden City was an imitation of the temple’s Hall of Mahavira. It also has hip-and-gable roof, and a golden dragon and seal painted in a compartment ceiling. The only difference is the size. From the first Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang (1328–1398) of the Ming Dynasty onwards, all emperors, empresses and concubines were Buddhist. Over the years, the imperial court allocated funds and the eunuchs also donated money on several occasions to renovate and expand the temple, creating the layout of the temple we see today.
Autumn is the most beautiful season for visiting Tanzhe Temple—its red leaves being known in the capital city as early as in the Qing Dynasty. Pingyuan Village, where the ancient temple is located, is covered with fruit trees growing persimmons, hawthorns and pears as well as smoke trees and flame maples. When the autumn wind blows, the “frost grass lingers over the pool and half of the pear trees’ leaves turn red.” This is a description of the famous view of “Pingyuan Red Leaves.”
Inside Tanzhe Temple, the most famous tree is a gingko which is more than 30 m high. Honoured as the “Imperial Tree,” it has a history of 1,300 years having been planted during the Zhenguan period (AD 627–649) of the Tang Dynasty. It was named the “Imperial Tree” by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty and is said to be spiritual. Whenever an emperor died, one of its branches would break off and conversely, whenever a new emperor ascended to the throne, a new branch would grow. The eminent monks in northern China all regarded the tree as a “linden,” a sacred Buddhist tree. The Imperial Tree has flourishing leaves and branches and retains its elegant demeanour even after a thousand years.
“The autumn beauty in southwest Beijing is no match for Shangfang Mountain.” In autumn, Shangfang Mountain is quiet, the air is clear, and colourful trees such as maples, oaks and smoke trees eagerly show off their bright foliage. A poem about Shangfang Mountain goes, “The forest dyes the sky with its leaves; green, yellow and red. The cypress is the only one not subdued by the frost with its green leaves.” Shangfangshan National Forest Park is located in Yuegezhuang Town in the southwest suburbs of Fangshan District, Beijing. There are nine caves in the park represented by Yunshui Cave, and 72 temples represented by Doulü Temple. The mountainous area consists of secondary forests and colourful-leafed trees which are rarely seen in North China. Shangfangshan has a Buddhist culture and history of 2,000 years. It is a comprehensive national forest park which integrates nature, Buddhism and caves.
As early as at the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25–220), monks began to build temples and plant trees here. The spot was honoured by tourists in past dynasties in the saying: “There are Suzhou and Hangzhou in the south and there is Shangfang in the north.” Within the mountainous resort, there are nine karst caves, the most famous of which is Yunshui Cave, meaning the “Clouds and Water Cave.” The cave features 108 natural landscapes and 12 peaks, and its “central column” is its highest peak at a height of 860 m above sea level. Shangfangshan has numerous towering peaks which blanket the site in green. Following construction over several dynasties, it formed a layout of “72 floral palaces dotted all over the site.” The main temple is Doulü Temple which has 15 stone tablets containing Sutra of Forty-two Sections carved on a wall behind the temple. The writing is in particularly elegant script. There are well-preserved Ming Dynasty murals in the corridor of the Hall of Buddha Sarira as well as inscriptions by famous people throughout the past dynasties.
Liu Yin, the Yuan Dynasty poet, once wrote a poem which said: “Huo Yuan’s residence at Xishan, its relics can still be examined.” The house mentioned in the verse refers to the home of Huo Yuan who was an official. Legend has it that there was once a man named Huo Yuan who lived in Guangyang of the Yan Kingdom (presentday east of Liangxiang in Beijing) during the Jin Dynasty whose uncle was framed and later sentenced to death. Huo Yuan stood up and offered to suffer the torture in his place. In the end, the false charges were cleared and he was released. During the reign of Emperor Yuankang (AD 291–300) of the Western Jin Dynasty (AD 266–316), Huo Yuan once lived at Lüpingshan, present-day Shangfangshan. There he established lecturing halls and dormitories to recruit men of talents and virtue to teach, the number of students reaching several thousand in its peak. At the time, Wang Jun, governor of Youzhou, wanted to claim the imperial throne for himself and so sent people six times to invite Huo Yuan to help. Each time, Huo Yuan refused, angering Wang Jun who ordered that Huo be killed. His students and the local people felt great sorrow and buried Huo’s body the very same night. To commemorate this upright man, people in later times changed the name “Lüpingshan” to “Liupinshan,” in reference to the six invitations he turned down. Ever since then, Shanghangshan has also been known as Liupinshan.
Shangfangshan National Forest Park is the only well-preserved secondary forest in North China. It has trees of various coloured leaves and is a typical limestone valley encircled by peaks. In autumn, people climb the mountain to appreciate the red leaves. The park is a famous scenic spot in the suburbs of Beijing that integrates mountains, water, karst caves, forests and cultural relics. The red-leaved trees at Shangfangshan mainly include Shantung maples, Rhus typhina, smoke trees and persimmon trees and the best time to visit is between mid-october and mid-november.
“The mountains are far, the sky is high, and the water is cold; pavilions and maples trees line both banks.” Entering the autumn mountains in Beijing and listening to the sound of the nature, one can admire the colourful leaves of the maples and smoke trees enveloped by the clouds. At this time of year, the valley becomes a riot of colour and a true sight to behold— certainly one that no one who gets the opportunity to visit should miss.
Biyun Temple in the Fragrant Hills
Mangshan National Forest Park in autumn
Beigong Forest Park
Labagoumen Nature Reserve
Miaofengshan Scenic Sopt
Tanzhe Temple in autumn