Experience the venerable beauty of a city that is more than 2,300 years old.

China is an old country, whose history extends thousands of years into the past. Historians believe that the first Chinese dynasty was established around 2100 BCE, and old cities that are filled with hidden historical gems dot the expansive landscape of mainland China. While many of the country’s large cities have long histories, there are four notable “ancient towns” that China proudly maintains: Pingyao of Shanxi Provence in the north, Lijiang in Yunnan Province in the southwest, Huizhou on the border of Anhui and Jiangxi Province in the east, and Langzhong of Sichuan Province in the west.

Out of the four cities, the western Langzhong is the best preserved, and when you visit the city it’s almost like you’ve somehow traveled back in time. However, its monuments are not very famous, so there are not many foreign visitors to the city on a regular basis. Lured by the off-the-beaten-path location of this 2,300-year-old city, and by its mystical history, our Japanese-language correspondent Ahiru Neko recently went on a trip to Langzhong, and he was pleasantly surprised by its elegance and beauty.

Getting to Langzhong

To arrive at his destination took a little bit of determination. Ahiru Neko first had to take a two-hour bullet train from Sichuan Province’s capital, Chengdu, followed by a shakey 20-minute bus ride to the old town area. The bus fare was the equivalent of only about 40 Japanese yen [about 37 US cents], pretty unheard of for a Japanese native, since the minimum fare on most Tokyo buses is about 150 yen.

The bus dropped him off by Jialing River, a tributary of the Yangtze. Langzhong lies along this river, giving it a picturesque, postcard look. Ahiruneko was very impressed with the immense size of the Jialing, and with its distinctly Chinese atmosphere.

● Strolling through an ancient city

With its old buildings roofed in an ancient tiling method, Langzhong has an instant charm. It doesn’t give off the sense of a town built in the image of an old place, but rather that the town you’re walking through actually is old. There are shops lining the streets, but they aren’t glammed up, brand-new tourist stores. Rather, they’re regular businesses that look like they have been supporting the everyday life of the citizens for centuries.

There are lots of places to see in Langzhong, but simply walking around the city is enjoyable enough. While the townscape in itself is something special to behold, there are many distinctly Chinese sights to find between the buildings as well. Pictures of daily life, like elderly men playing mahjong and dogs running around freely, can be observed all throughout the city streets.

At night, Langzhong becomes something more than just a place to sightsee, and this is when Ahiru Neko really fell in love with the town. As not only the sole Japanese traveler, but the only foreigner he saw there, he had the sense that he really was in a foreign country. Despite the unfamiliar surroundings, though, he didn’t feel a shred of fear for his safety, even at night.

● Checking out the sites

One of the neat things to see in Langzhong is Huanhou Temple, which commemorates Zhang Fei, a famous general who played a huge role in the foundation of the Shu Han state of the early Three Kingdoms Period in the third century. He was supposedly assassinated by traitorous subordinates in the streets of Langzhong, who brought his head to the general of an opposing army. His story is characterized as part of the famous fourteenth century historical novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Zhongtian Tower is a four-tiered pagoda-like structure built during the Tang Dynasty, somewhere between the seventh and tenth centuries CE. As the most auspicious building in town, all of the roads were built to start at the tower, and extend outward to other parts of town. At the top you can see a bird’s-eye view of the city, which was built according to principles of feng shui.

Another major building is Gongyuan, the Ancient Examination Hall. This was a place where those who aspired to work in the Chinese government would take an examination to determine if they qualify. This practice of choosing civil servants based on merit, and not wealth or birth, is said to have begun as early as the Han Dynasty in the third century, and it was a major historical milestone for not only China, but the world.

● Tasting Langzhong cuisine

When visiting Langzhong, one would be remiss to skip out on the local Zhang Fei Beef, washed down with a cold Zhang Fei Beer. Zhang Fei Beef is a dried jerky-like beef, and you can order it at restaurants or buy packages of it to take home anywhere in the town. It’s a little pricey, but it’s worth it to get a taste of the local delicacies.

We’ve looked into a few interesting places in China, like the richest neighborhood in the world, but Langzhong, in the inland province of Sichuan, is completely different. It is not a well-known area nor even one that’s easy to access. Nevertheless, compared to a large city like Shanghai, a small, ancient town immersed in history like Langzhong affords visitors an even deeper look into Chinese culture and history, perhaps even more so than browsing through old photographs. Ahiru Neko says that it’s well worth taking on the challenge.

Images ©SoraNews24
[ Read in Japanese ]