Civil­i­sa­tions Thrive on Water

Beijing (English) - - REDISCOVERING BEIJING -

Rivers nour­ish and are in turn nour­ished by cities and it seems as if ev­ery renowned city lives and breathes to­gether with a river, which can bring bliss to a city. This can be at­tested to in London with the Thames, Paris with the Seine, Vi­enna with the Danube River, and Prague with the Vl­tava. An in­trigu­ing har­mony be­tween the city and the river has given birth to hu­man civil­i­sa­tions. No­madic peo­ple would mi­grate to wher­ever they could find water and grass, while farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties set­tled down near moun­tains and rivers. Water was the ori­gin of life on Earth and sus­tains hu­man so­ci­ety in its sur­vival and pros­per­ity.

Sang­gan River was the up­per reaches of Yongding River and one of the important trib­u­taries of Haihe River. If you look at a map of north­ern China, you can see how the Sang­gan River runs through north­ern Shanxi Prov­ince, north­ern Heibei Prov­ince, Bei­jing, and Tianjin. While the Sang­gan River may ap­pear pal­try and in­signif­i­cant when compared with the Yangtze or the Yel­low River, its drainage area fea­tured promi­nently through­out Chi­nese his­tory, sup­port­ing a string of cap­i­tals, in­clud­ing Pingcheng (mod­ern-day Da­tong), the cap­i­tal of the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty (AD 386–534); Zhuolu, cap­i­tal of the Yel­low Em­peror; and Bei­jing, cap­i­tal of the Yuan (1271–1368), Ming (1368–1644), and Qing dy­nas­ties (1644–1911), and the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China (1949–present).

Ori­gin of the Sang­gan River

The Sang­gan River starts with the Huihe and Yuanzi rivers, the former of which orig­i­nates

on Guan­cen Moun­tain in Ningwu County in north­ern Shanxi Prov­ince, and the lat­ter from up on Jiekou Moun­tain in Zuoyun County, Shanxi. The Huihe, after leav­ing Ningwu County, runs north­east. On the south side of Guan­cen Moun­tain.there is the Fenhe River, which runs in the op­po­site di­rec­tion of the Huihe River, and was the birth­place of the leg­endary Yao and Shun, an­ces­tors of the Chi­nese. The Sang­gan River, on the north side of Guan­cen Moun­tain, nur­tured pros­per­ous Bei­jing. The Huihe River and Yuanzi River meet just south of Shen­tou Town, near the city of Shuozhou, to form the Sang­gan River. The Huihe River runs un­der­ground from the north of Fan­wangsi Town­ship, in the Shuocheng District of Shuozhou, and re-emerges at Fengyu Vil­lage in Yaoz­i­tou Town­ship. One of the eight sig­nif­i­cant sights of Shuozhou is “the Un­der­ground Huihe River.” The Huihe River then zigzags to the south of Shuozhou where it joins the Yuanzi River.

The Huihe River has an in­ter­est­ing story behind its name. In 215 BC, Qin Shi Huang (the Yel­low Em­peror, 221–210 BC ), first em­peror of the Qin Dy­nasty (221–206 BC), or­dered Gen­eral Men Tian to lead 300,000 troops to push back the Xiongnu, fierce no­mads from north­ern China. Men spot­ted a place with plenty of clean water and lush grass up­stream on the Sang­gan River, and deemed it an ideal place to pas­ture the horses. Fur­ther­more, he de­cided to build a city and do­mes­ti­cate war horses in what is now the Shuozhou area, giv­ing the city the name of “Mayi (Horse city).” Dur­ing the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty, the Huihe was called Mayichuan­shui River and flowed to the south of Mayi Pre­fec­ture and Shuozhou dur­ing the Sui (AD 581–618) and the Tang (AD 618–907), so it was called the “Nanhe [South] River.” Dur­ing the Liao Dy­nasty (AD 916–1125), the river got the name “Huihe [Dusty River].” Dur­ing the Yuan, the river would turn tur­bid from the soil wash­ing down, so it was called the “Hunhe [ Tur­bid River].” Dur­ing the Ming, when most rivers were muddy and many had the same name, the river re­gained the Huihe moniker, sur­vived un­til the Qing, when the un­der­ground flow emerged and “Hui” (

) was thought to be a bit too rus­tic, so it was changed to the “Huihe” ( ) mean­ing “Reemerged River.” The Yuanzi River car­ries with it a story re­lated to the Em­peror Xiaowen (reign: AD 398–409) of the North­ern Wei, who pushed for the pop­u­lar­is­ing of Han sys­tems and cul­ture, and changed his fam­ily name from “Tuobashi” to “Yuan.”

The Sang­gan River runs be­tween the in­side and out­side parts of the Great Wall in the Sais­hang region and looks like a mag­nif­i­cent jade belt ly­ing across the ex­pan­sive plain. But, the jade belt seems to pos­sess some mag­i­cal power, be­stow­ing vigour and vi­tal­ity on the land it crosses. Since an­cient times, peo­ple liv­ing along­side the Sang­gan River have used the river water for house­holds, ir­ri­ga­tion, and for live­stock. The peo­ple north of the Great Wall called it the “mother river.”

Early in the Ming, in the area of Yun­zhong (to­day’s Da­tong City), the “Evening Ferry on the Sang­gan River” was considered as one the city’s “Eight Sights.” That scene dis­ap­peared over the pas­sage of time but peo­ple are still fully aware of the river’s sig­nif­i­cance, and regard it with deep af­fec­tion. These days, the Dongyulin Reser­voir, in the Shuocheng District of Shuozhou, con­trols the ir­ri­gated ar­eas of the Sang­gan River and the Min­sheng Ditch, keeping the close ties the river has with the peo­ple liv­ing along­side it.

The ram­parts of the old city of Mayi have been re­duced to ru­ins but, dur­ing some dy­nas­ties, “Mayi” was syn­ony­mous with Shuozhou. His­tor­i­cal records show Mayi as be­ing aban­doned dur­ing the Qin, then re­built in AD 717 dur­ing the Tang, and re­paired in 1383 and 1437 dur­ing the Ming. The ren­o­va­tion work peaked in 1572, with the city walls be­ing faced with bricks piled and stones used as foun­da­tion. These walls bore wit­ness to count­less wars and heroic ac­tions.

Of the he­roes who came from the Sang­gan River area, the most fa­mous no doubt was Yuchi Gong, a Tang gen­eral. He led a leg­endary life, was a sea­soned gen­eral, and has been wor­shiped as a door god in Chi­nese folk re­li­gion for his loy­alty and val­our and is hon­oured in the Lingyan Pavil­ion. Mayi was the site of plenty of lakes that fed the Sang­gan River plen­ti­fully, and were a de­sir­able habi­tat for fowl and other wildlife. Leg­end has it that, dur­ing the Sui and Tang, there were wild horses that were tread­ing on crops, which the suf­fer­ing peas­ants re­ferred to as “Hai Horses.” Yuchi Gong captured two of these “Hai Horses”at the Shen­tou Spring. One of them was yel­low, the other black. He rode these two “Di­vine Horses” and had no peer on the bat­tle­field. You can read this story on the base of a Yuchi Gong statue in the cen­ter of Shuozhou.

The Sang­gan River was long the ob­ject of nu­mer­ous bat­tles be­tween the West­ern Han Dy­nasty (206 BC–AD24) and Xiongnu. Yan­men Pass was a nat­u­ral de­fence for the Han liv­ing in the Cen­tral Plain. At the same time, the Sang­gan River was a life­line fought over by the Han Chi­nese in the plain and eth­nic mi­nori­ties to the north and it

was a bound­ary sep­a­rat­ing the Han and the steppe no­mads. The town of Guangwu, in Shany­inx­ian County, was the very cen­ter of the de­fence sys­tem around the Yan­men Pass back then. When­ever the no­mads in­vaded from the north, Guangwu was the first place to be at­tacked be­fore Yan­men Pass. These days, the town is di­vided into “Old Guangwu” and “New Guangwu,” even though the new town was built dur­ing the Ming on an ear­lier site of the War­ring States Pe­riod (475–221 BC), so it can be considered a re­con­struc­tion pro­ject. Cu­ri­ously, the ‘Old’ Guangwu was built dur­ing the Song Dy­nasty (AD 960–1279) and Liao so it is actually 1,000 years younger than the ‘New’ one.

To the north of the town, there are mounds on the vast plain that are pop­u­lar with peo­ple search­ing for relics. They can be seen stretch­ing for miles in all di­rec­tions and, even from afar are im­pres­sive. These are re­ferred to as the “Guangwu Town Han Dy­nasty Graves” and are an un­usual Han Dy­nasty (206 BC–220) site known na­tion­wide. The relics and graves of that dy­nasty along the Sang­gan River caused peo­ple to mar­vel over the fact that the river had been a home for a very long time.

The area around the Sang­gan River’s source in­cludes the old city of Da­tong, the Yun­gang Grot­toes, Mount Heng to the north, the city of Xinzhou, Mount Wu­tai, Luya Moun­tain, and other scenic ar­eas to the south. There are also the town of Guangwu nearby, the Han Dy­nasty Graves, the Wooden Pagoda in Yingx­ian County, Shahukou, and other relic spots.

Re-lo­cat­ing the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty Cap­i­tal

Em­per­ors in the dis­tant past tended to es­tab­lish their cap­i­tal in places with mighty rivers pass­ing through and Da­tong, nur­tured by the Sang­gan River, emerged as the cap­i­tal of the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty, and the sec­ond cap­i­tal of the Liao and Jin dy­nas­ties (1115–1234), and was a strate­gic town of the Ming and Qing. An­other case was the em­peror of the Tuoba eth­nic group, who chose Pingcheng as the cap­i­tal when es­tab­lish­ing the North­ern Wei.

Then there was the Fu Jian Em­peror (reign: AD 357–385) of the Former Qin Dy­nasty (AD 350–394), who was de­feated at the Bat­tle of Feishui River in AD 383, after which, the Former Qin state, which had been in con­trol of China for half its life up un­til then, soon col­lapsed. In the spring of AD 386, Tuoba Gui, the leader of the Tuoba tribe of the Xian­bei peo­ple, reestab­lished the Dai state and set up its cap­i­tal at Shen­gle (to­day’s Horinger County near the city of Ho­hhot, In­ner Mon­go­lia), and changed its name to Wei, re­sult­ing in the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty. By the first

lu­nar month of AD 398, Tuoba Gui, by then the Daowu Em­peror of the North­ern Wei, had managed to oc­cupy a large share of North­ern China. In the sev­enth lu­nar month of that same year, he de­clared that he was mov­ing the cap­i­tal to Pingcheng against all other op­pos­ing views, and built palaces, im­pe­rial tem­ples, an Al­tar of the Land and Grain, and other sim­i­lar of­fices. This ush­ered in a 96-year-reign of the North­ern Wei, with Da­tong as the cap­i­tal, and saw six em­per­ors and seven im­pe­rial fam­ily gen­er­a­tions. The old Pingcheng had been an ab­so­lute pow­er­house of po­lit­i­cal, eco­nom­i­cal, and cul­tural ac­tiv­ity for north­ern China.

There were some fa­mous cities un­der North­ern Wei do­min­ion, such as Dayi, and, the most fa­mous, Yecheng in He­bei Prov­ince. Yecheng sits in the cen­tral of the North China Plain and was a hub for roads on the eastern side of the Tai­hang Moun­tains, and as well as a centre for grain trans­porta­tion. In the first lu­nar month of AD 398, Tuoba Gui paid an im­pe­rial visit to the city, but, left after few days, and sev­eral months later de­clared that Pingcheng was the cap­i­tal.

Why did Tuoba Gui make such a de­ci­sion? At that point, var­i­ous groups un­der the North­ern Wei fol­lowed the Tuoba tribe’s led, while mak­ing al­liances with many other tribes. The var­i­ous groups were weak and short of strength compared with the pop­u­lous re­gions of the Cen­tral Plains. The Han and other eth­nic group forces had their qualms about the North­ern Wei regime and, the regime wor­ried about how its small number of peo­ple would put it at an dis­ad­van­tage, with Yecheng as the cap­i­tal.

The Tuoba were no­madic peo­ple who lived on hunt­ing, which also con­trib­uted to the econ­omy. Hunt­ing also had its mar­tial side, whether with drills or recre­ation, and it kept that side after the regime set­tled down in Pingcheng. In the ex­pan­sive area north of the Sang­gan River, the abun­dance of water and grass al­lowed the regime to pas­ture and pen a lot of an­i­mals to meet the needs of its peo­ple, which lead to live­stock rais­ing. Most of the peo­ple in this area were from the Tuoba tribe, who played an important role in sus­tain­ing the fight­ing abil­ity of the state and the im­pe­rial house­hold. Even to­day, some agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties can be seen in the land south of the Sang­gan River, where farm­ers from the Cen­tral Plains en­sured the avail­abil­ity of grains.

When Tuoba Gui moved the cap­i­tal to Pingcheng, it was a place with a desert at its back and no­mads and a city on the broad Cen­tral Plains. But, it was a wise choice be­cause of the overall pol­i­tics, econ­omy, cul­ture, mil­i­tarism, and tra­di­tions.

Da­tong, an An­cient Coal Cap­i­tal

Da­tong is China’s coal cap­i­tal, but it was also the po­lit­i­cal cap­i­tal of three dy­nas­ties, and a strate­gic centre for two dy­nas­ties. It was here where the cul­ture of Pingcheng, the frontier, and the Bud­dhists of North­ern Wei came to­gether, with a wealth of his­tory and cul­ture. Out of this came the Yun­gang Grot­toes, Xuankong Tem­ple, Mount Heng, the Wooden Pagoda of Yingx­ian County, Huayan Tem­ple, and the Nine-dragon Screen, all of which are em­i­nently worth vis­it­ing.

The North­ern Wei en­shrined Bud­dhism as a state re­li­gion, leav­ing Da­tong with one of its most valu­able as­sets, the Yun­gang Grot­toes, on the south side of Wuzhou Moun­tain. They cover a kilo­me­tre of space and epit­o­mise Bud­dhism art, with 45 ma­jor caves, 252 big and small niches, and some 51, 000 Bud­dhist stat­ues. This is one of China’s largest grot­toes and is one of China’s four great grotto art trea­sures, with the Dun­huang Mo­gao Grot­toes, Long­men Grot­toes, in Luoyang, and Maiji Moun­tain Grot­toes, in Tian­shui.

The Yun­gang Grot­toes were built around 460 with the labour of about 1,000 crafts­men. The stone stat­ues in the ma­jor caves were com­pleted over a span of 60 years, from 460 to 524.

The Xuankong Tem­ple in Da­tong is an­other fa­mous site which, with the Yun­gang Grot­toes, is a won­der of the world and a trea­sure house of Bud­dhist art. It was built dur­ing the North­ern Wei, hang­ing on a sheer cliff of Cuip­ing Moun­tain and is the only tem­ple in China that com­bines Bud­dhism, Tao­ism, and Con­fu­cian­ism. The Hun­yuan River, above which it sits, runs

through the Jin­long Val­ley and into the Sang­gan River.

In AD 491 dur­ing the North­ern Wei Dy­nasty, the monarch wanted to move a Taoist tem­ple to the spot from Pingcheng and, in line with Taoist prin­ci­ples, built the Xuankong Tem­ple. That tem­ple is now the site of some 20 palaces, and holds about 80 Bud­dhist stat­ues, and many parts of the walls bear old in­scrip­tions. In the tem­ple it­self, the low­est part is 26 me­tres from the bot­tom of the val­ley, and the high­est part is about 50 me­tres above the ground.

Mount Heng, near Xuankong Tem­ple, strad­dles the Sang­gan and Hu­tuo rivers, both of which are trib­u­taries of the Haihe River. One of Mount Heng’s main peak is Tian­fengling Peak where there is a large com­plex of tem­ples and build­ings which in­clude: the Heng­zong Tem­ple, Huix­i­anfu (Guest re­cep­tion man­sion), Qin­gong (Bed­room), Jiu­tian Palace, Baixu Tem­ple, Gusao (Cliff), Cuixue Pavil­ion, and Kuix­ing Pavil­ion. Heng­zong Tem­ple is the main tem­ple on Mount Heng and the only one to be built on moun­tain of the Five Great Moun­tain tem­ples.

After the North­ern Wei moved its cap­i­tal to Luoyang, Pingcheng did not ex­pe­ri­ence a de­cline and, Da­tong, as the sec­ond cap­i­tal of the Liao and Jin dy­nas­ties, was home to his­tor­i­cal sites, such as the Huayan Tem­ple and Nine Dragon Wall. Huayan Tem­ple, which sits in the south­west cor­ner of an­cient Da­tong, was built in 1038, dur­ing the Liao, and got its name from the Bud­dhist Huayan Su­tra. The north­ern tem­ple, which thrived dur­ing the Liao and Jin, has the ti­tle of “Liao and Jin Dy­nas­tic Art Mu­seum,” which it well de­serves. Its his­tor­i­cal riches and crafts­man­ship can be seen in its large build­ings, stat­ues, mu­rals, and ceil­ings.

The tem­ple’s 43.5-meter-tall pagoda is China’s sec­ond largest pagoda of its kind, with wooden mor­tise and tenon joint struc­ture, after the Wooden Pagoda in Yingx­ian County. This one has five floors, three of which have win­dows. The roof is dec­o­rated with gold plate and the base is be­decked with a lo­tus pond. There is an un­der­ground palace be­low it that is made of 100 tons of pure cop­per, the largest ob­ject of its kind in china. The cen­tral cham­ber is bril­liant and con­tains relics of the monk, Mas­ter Hui Ming, of Yuan, and has some 1,000 Bud­dhist stat­ues of all sizes, giv­ing it the name, “1,000-Bud­dha Un­der­ground Palace.” It is most cer­tainly one of Da­tong City’s land­marks.

Way to the east of the Sang­gan River is some flat ter­rain of the Da­tong basin, where about 30 amaz­ing vol­canic cones rise up, known as the Da­tong vol­canic clus­ter. This area, hun­dreds of thousands of years ago, was a large lake stretch­ing for 9,000 square kilo­me­tres. Then vol­ca­noes on the lake-bed erupted, boil­ing the water and, when the lava cooled down, it so­lid­i­fied and be­came hills. About 60,000 years ago, the vol­ca­noes were ex­tinct, re­sult­ing in what we see now. It’s worth not­ing that the Hao­tian Tem­ple sits above the crater of Hao­tian Moun­tain. Strangely, no one knows when it was built. It’s been said that the tem­ple was built by an army pris­oner, and that the build­ing ma­te­ri­als were car­ried by a flock of sheep.

The Cul­tural Won­der of Xiang­guang Cave

There is a suc­ces­sion of scenic spots along the basin of the Sang­gan River as it heads east­ward. At its source is the “Un­der­ground Huihe River,” which is one of the eight important sites of Ningwu County. Of the eight scenic spots of Yingx­ian County, in Shanxi, which the river flows through, one is the “Sang­gan River Mist and Rain.” Other scenes are the “Green Sang­gan River” of Huairen County, and the “Sang­gan River Com­pet­ing Ferry” in Shanyin County. In Da­tong, the “Evening Ferry on the Sang­gan River” is known as the most spec­tac­u­lar of all the eight great sites. When the Sang­gan River en­ters Zhangji­akou, there is an even more splen­did sight, with the “Sang­gan River An­cient Ferry” of old Xin­ing (to­day’s Yangyuan County), which tops the county’s eight great sites. The “Sang­gan River Au­tumn Flood,” in Zhuolu County, com­pletes the list of the eight fa­mous scenes of Zhuolu County.

By en­ter­ing He­bei Prov­ince, the Sang­gan River wit­nessed a vast span of hu­man de­vel­op­ment and turned out to be one of the most his­tor­i­cal places with the great­est cul­tural her­itage. On the very spot where Yang­gao County, in Shanxi Prov­ince, joins Yangyuan County, in He­bei Prov­ince,

peo­ple have found Mid­dle Pa­le­olithic ru­ins, re­ferred to as the Xu­ji­ayao-hou­ji­ayao Site. Some 20 hu­man bones have been un­earthed, in­clud­ing skull frag­ments and teeth, around 10,000 pieces of stoneware, and many horn tools, and mam­mal fos­sils. The stoneware bears the marks of the Small Pa­le­olithic in North­ern China, with a mul­ti­tude of stone balls. The hu­mans can be dated back about 100,000 years, and were given the name “Xu­ji­ayao Man.” These dis­cov­er­ies filled a gap be­tween the “Pek­ing Man” dis­cov­ery, from the Lower Pa­le­olithic, and the “Zhiyu Man,” of the Up­per Pa­le­olithic and is important for re­search on the mi­gra­tion and evo­lu­tion of early hu­mans in China.

In eastern Yangyuan County, Heibei Prov­ince and on the north bank of the Sang­gan River at the Ni­he­wan Basin near the town of Huashaoy­ing hu­man re­mains from some 2,000,000 years ago had al­ready been found. The Ni­he­wan Basin site pro­duced a large number of re­mains over an equally long time span, cov­er­ing all of the Palae­olithic. The sites con­tained tens of thousands of hu­man and an­i­mal bones and stoneware of all types, record­ing al­most the en­tire process of hu­man evo­lu­tion, al­low­ing sci­en­tists to fig­ure out how hu­man be­ings evolved from the Lower to the Mid­dle Pa­le­olithic, and to the Up­per Pa­le­olithic, and how they cre­ated the Small Pa­le­olithic and then the Mi­crolithic Cul­ture. Cur­rently, of all the ex­ca­vated homi­noid fos­sils, hu­man bones, and important pa­le­oan­thro­po­log­i­cal relics, no other site can in­de­pen­dently show the se­quence of hu­man evo­lu­tion ex­cept for the Sang­gan River basin and the sur­round­ing area.

If you fol­low the Sang­gan River east­ward, you will reach the Sang­gan River canyon in the south­ern­most part of Xuan­hua County, near the city of Zhangji­akou, He­bei Prov­ince. The canyon bor­ders the Ni­he­wan Palaeoan­thropic Ves­tige to the west, the Yel­low Em­peror town of Zhuolu to the east, and the 1,000-year-old Bailin Tem­ple to the north. The canyon is blessed with beau­ti­ful moun­tains and clear wa­ters and is a mas­ter­piece of na­ture with a rich cul­ture.

There are high moun­tains with steep cliffs in the area the Sang­gan River runs through, with twists and turns, and a sense of mys­tery. Deep in the canyon, some strange rooms were carved into a cliff on the east bank of the Sang­gan River. These are the Taoist grot­toes and Xiang­guang Cave. If you fol­low the wind­ing path that clings to the cliff, you can reach 28 Taoist tem­ples in the cave. These tem­ples have un­usual palaces that copy Xuankong Tem­ple in the way they hang on the cliff. The high­est struc­ture in the cave is sev­eral hun­dred me­tres up from the bot­tom of the canyon.

If you work your way up the newly re­paired path, you can feel a strong wind bat­ter­ing the cliff, as the Sang­gan River rushes on. The tem­ples have both sin­gle room or suites and are 3-to-4 me­tres deep and sand­wiched in the cliffs or perch on tim­ber poles. The Weizheng Shrine on the moun­tain­side comes

with a view­ing plat­form on a bracket stuck into the moun­tain, from which you can view all the land­scape and na­ture around. The Weizheng Shrine is in a space that is com­pact but not cramped and a fresh breeze buf­fets the oval stone window be­low it, buoy­ing your spir­its.

A Pearl be­yond the Great Wall

Guant­ing Reser­voir, which stretches be­tween Huailai County around Zhangji­akou, He­bei Prov­ince and Yan­qing County in the Bei­jing area, is known for its pic­turesque land­scape. The clear water, abun­dance of fish and boats, and hills nearby have given the reser­voir the ti­tle of “A Pearl be­yond the Great Wall.”

The Sang­gan River en­ters the reser­voir in Zhuolu County and the Yanghe River reaches it in Xuan­huan County, near Zhuguan­tun Vil­lage, south­west of Huailai County, pro­duc­ing the “Yongding River.” The Yongding River then flows south­east, meet­ing with the Guishui River, from Yan­qing County, and heads south to the Guant­ing Reser­voir, the ori­gin of the Yongding River.

Build­ing the Guant­ing Reser­voir was done at the cost of the town of Huailai and var­i­ous vil­lages. Be­fore the area was in­un­dated, Huailai, at the foot Wo­niu Moun­tain, had been a fa­mous place be­yond the Great Wall and the seat of the Huailai County gov­ern­ment going way back. The town was on the road to Bei­jing and Tianjin on the east and Shanxi and In­ner Mon­go­lia to the west, and was a mil­i­tary gar­ri­son for var­i­ous dy­nas­ties. Huailai was known as a “Fa­mous Town for Bei­jing and En­vi­rons” and the “Key to the North Gate.” None­the­less, even with its glo­ri­ous past, the town had to be sac­ri­ficed to build the Guant­ing Reser­voir so it is nowhere to be found these days. However, the reser­voir has con­trib­uted a great deal to peo­ple’s well­be­ing.

For thousands of years, the Yongding River nur­ture Bei­jing thanks to the Sang­gan River, but it was also some­thing of a scourge dur­ing the flood season. It would in­un­date tracts of land and vil­lages and even threat­ened the very sur­vival of Bei­jing and Tianjin. Be­fore the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China was es­tab­lished, eight coun­ties east of the Yongding River had been flooded and the streets of Tianjin was so cov­ered with water that boats could ma­neu­ver on them. The mem­ory of this mis­ery still re­mains for some. Guant­ing Reser­voir was com­pleted in May 1954 and was the first large reser­voir to be built by the new Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China. It can help con­trol flood­ing, store water, ir­ri­gate crops, and en­sure a sup­ply of house­hold and in­dus­trial water for Bei­jing. It can also im­prove the cli­mate, the en­vi­ron­ment, and the land­scape of ar­eas be­yond the Great Wall, where water was pre­vi­ously scarce and sand­storms com­mon. In this way, the Yongding River went from be­ing a curse to a source of well­be­ing.

Ni­he­wan Ge­o­log­i­cal Relics, is a na­tional-level na­ture re­serve.

Xuankong Tem­ple (Hang­ing Tem­ple) in Da­tong

Sang­gan River flows across north­ern Shanxi.

Huihe River is a source of Sang­gan River.

Xiang­guang Cave, a clus­ter of Taoist caves lo­cated on Sang­gan River canyon

Guant­ing Reser­voir, a pearl be­yond the Great Wall

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