Ancient living city with thousands of lanterns

The night landscape in Zhengding in Shijiazhuang, in the province of Hebei (north of China). [Photo provided to China Daily]

As night falls, the modern part of the county darkens into darkness. Red lanterns of different sizes illuminate the ancient structures, bringing the ancient city back to life.

Zhengding, about 250 kilometers southwest of Beijing, an hour from the capital by high-speed train, is a county in Shijiazhuang, the capital of northern China’s Hebei Province.

With a history of over 1,600 years, it was once one of the three most important cities in ancient North China, the other two being Beijing and Baoding, also in Hebei.

A two-story tower sits in the center of the county. When the lights are on at night and cast a soft glow over the rooftops, the view is awe-inspiring.

It is a walled city, although much of the wall is in ruins. The southern part has been restored, lined with red electric lanterns and extending on both sides for a total length of approximately 9.6 km.

Zhengding has four pagodas, eight temples, nine towers and 24 memorial gates.

The square brick Xumi Pagoda of Kaiyuan Temple, located near the south gate, is designed to open at night.

Said to date back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the nine-story pagoda is 42.5 meters high and sits on a square stone platform.

At the corners of the platform, small stone carvings of kings and heavenly guardians in the Tang artistic style have been well preserved.

Next door is the province’s first archaeological site open at night. Originally part of the temple that houses the pagoda, the site has produced more than 6,000 cultural relics and other artefacts since protective work began in 2015.

Visitors can see the archaeological site, which is surrounded by glass.

Cultural relics like these are treasured in the ancient city, which is proud of its history.

Historical records show that five Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) emperors – Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong, Jiaqing, and Guangxu – visited the ancient city.

Emperor Kangxi once left his writing on horizontal planks inscribed at Longxing Temple, the most famous temple in Zhengding.

The local government began to renovate and beautify the ancient city two years ago, to protect its cultural relics and develop tourism as a pillar industry, including restoring ancient walls and widening and cleaning up downtown streets, according to the Zhengding Culture and Tourism Bureau.

More than 100 buildings, trees along the sides of 14 streets and a dozen parks and public parking lots are illuminated by the lighting. About 45,000 small lanterns have been installed on trees along 14 main streets in Zhengding.

Besides the old architecture, a food street offers visitors local specialties even late at night, as around 600 restaurants, bars and shops are open at night.

“Creating a satisfying consumption environment at night for citizens and tourists is our goal,” said Wang Yonghong, deputy head of the bureau.

She said tourists can have fun in the county while appreciating its ancient culture.

The county has hosted more than 80 cultural events, such as musicals and traditional opera festivals, during National Day week.

“This beautiful old town comes alive at night! It is truly magical. People dancing everywhere, beautiful buildings, an amazing atmosphere,” said a comment on TripAdvisor, one of the world’s largest travel sites.

Last year, the county received about 13 million tourists, up 145.8% year-over-year. Its tourism revenue topped 6 billion yuan ($ 840 million) last year, an increase of 174.7 percent year-on-year, according to the bureau.

About John A. Provost

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