SHAANXI: YAN’AN RED TOURISM, GOLDEN MONKEYS AND XI JINPING’S CAVE HOME

SHAANXI

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Shaanxi Province
SHAANXI PROVINCE is famous for three things: the ancient capital of Xian in the south, the Yellow River in the east and the Shaanxi Loess Plateau in the north. The Long March ended in the Shaanxi town of Yennan, where the Communists regrouped. Shaanxi has large coal deposits and is relatively poor. It also perhaps the largest number of cave homes in the world. One of was the home of China’s President Xi Jinping for several years in the 1970s during the Cultural Revolution. Biángbiáng noodles is one of the "ten strange wonders of Shaanxi"

Shaanxi Province covers 205,800 square kilometers (79,500 square miles) and has a population density of around 190 people per square kilometer. According to the 2020 Chinese census the population was around 39.5 million. About 58 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Xian is the capital and largest city, with about seven million people in the city and 13 million in the Metro Area. Nearly all the people in Shaanxi are ethnic Han Chinese, with enclaves of Hui population in the northwestern part of the province near Ningxia.

The population of Shaanxi was 39,528,999 in 2020; 37,327,378 in 2010; 35,365,072 in 2000; 32,882,403 in 1990; 28,904,423 in 1982; 20,766,915 in 1964; 15,881,281 in 1954; 10,011,000 in 1947; 9,780,000 in 1936-37; 11,802,000 in 1928; 9,364,000 in 1912. [Source: Wikipedia, China Census]

Shaanxi (not to be confused with Shanxi Province to the south) is one of the major cradles of the Chinese civilization. Historically, 13 kingdoms and dynasties had their seats here — mostly in the Xian area — including the Zhou Dynasty (1100 to 221 B.C.) (11th century~221 B.C.), the Qin Dynasty (221-207 B.C.) (221~207 B.C.), the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220), and the Tang Dynasty (618-906).

Shaanxi takes pride in its 35,750 proven cultural relics (tombs, historical sites, ancient treasures and the like), including including 55 relics under state protection and 355 relics under provincial protection. Shaanxi leads China in the number and quality of relics collected (6,000,000 in total). Among these that attract tourists — again mainly in the Xian area — are the terracotta warriors and horses in the tomb of Emperor Qin Shihuang, the ancient city wall in Xian, and the Stele Forest, China’s largest stone library.

The Chinese pronunciation of Shaanxi and it eastern neighbor Shanxi differs only in tone. Their normal spellings in the Pinyin system are Sh nxī and Shānxī respectively, with the tone marks ("accents") alone distinguishing them. However as Chinese tone marks are often omitted in foreign typography, this would leave the two provinces indistinguishable. To prevent this ambiguity, the Chinese government has devised the special spelling Shaanxi (borrowed from the Gwoyeu Romatzyh romanization system) as the official (non-tonal) romanization of the name. As the spelling Shaanxi violates the rules of Pinyin, it is often found erroneously "corrected" to Sha'anxi. The addition of the apostrophe, the Pinyin syllable divider, misinterprets it as three syllables (Sha-an-xi) rather than its actual two syllables (Shaan-xi).

Shaanxi is the historical home, along with Gansu of the dialect of the Dungans, a Hui people, who emigrated out of China to Central Asia. Tourist Office: Shaanxi Provincial Tourism Administration, 15 North Chang’an Rd, 710061 Xian, Shaanxi, China, Tel. (0)-29-526-1289, fax: (0)-29-526-0151. . Maps of Shaanxi: chinamaps.org

Geography and Climate of Shaanxi

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Shaanxi map
Shaanxi is officially part of the Northwest China region despite in relatively central location in northern China. It includes portions of the Loess Plateau on the middle reaches of the Yellow River in addition to the Qin Mountains (Qinling) across the southern part of this province Going clockwise, Shaanxi borders Shanxi to the east and northeast Henan to the east, Hubei to the southeast, Chongqing to the south, Sichuan to the southwest, Gansu to the west, Ningxia to the northwest and and Inner Mongolia to the north.

The northern part of Shaanxi shares the Ordos Desert with Inner Mongolia. The Loess Plateau occupies the central part of the province. The Qin Mountains (Qinling) running east to west in the south central part of Shaanxi. The highest peak of the Qinling Range is 3,750-meter (12,300-foot) Taibaishan (Mount Taibai). Between the Loess Plateau and the Qinling lies the Wei River Valley, or Guanzhong, a cradle of early Chinese civilisation. The Wei River is a major river in west-central China's Gansu and Shaanxi provinces. It is the largest tributary of the Yellow River. Besides the provincial capital of Xian, other cities in Shaanxi include: Baoji, Hanzhong, Lintong, Tongchuan, Xianyang, Yan'an and Ankang.

Due to its large range from north to south, Shaanxi has a variety of climates. The northern parts of the, including the Loess Plateau, have either a cold arid or cold semi-arid, with cold and very dry winters, dry springs and autumns, and hot summers. The Guanzhong area is mostly semi-arid, though there are a few areas with a humid subtropical climate, with cool to cold winters, and hot, humid summers that often see early-season heatwaves. The southern portion is much more humid and lies in the humid subtropical zone, with more temperate winters and long, hot, humid summers. January temperatures range from −11 to 3.5 °C (12 to 38 °F) and July temperatures range from 21 to 28 °C (70 to 82 °F).

Shaanxi Loess Region

Shaanxi Loess Region is a 150,000-square-mile region in Gansu, Shanxi, Henan and Shaanxi provinces where everything is gritty yellow: the mountains, the cliffs and the houses where many people live. Even the air is yellow. It gets its color from the yellow dust that gets kicked up by the strong winds that blow through from time to time. The dust in turn comes from a fine loosely packed soil called loess, which is found in other parts of the world but not in the concentrations that are found here.

Loess soil is very fertile. The Loess Plateau produces a lot of crops and would be one of the breadbaskets of China of it weren't for the fact that the region is so dry. It only receives 10 inches of rain a year. Many crops are coaxed from terraces or raised with irrigation water from the Yellow River and its tributaries. It is the last major area of arable land as one heads north.

Compacted loess can be easily carved, and many farmers in Loess Plateau live in caves carved out of the loess cliff sides. Some farmers even dig down in their fields and make their homes underground. It is not usual in some places to see fields with smoking chimneys rising out of them from such homes.

The Loess Plateau is one of least inviting landscapes in China. It was once covered by forest but is now largely bare expect in areas of agriculture On some barren slopes, without a tree or bush in sight, are the slogans “Make the Green Mountain Even Greener” written in large characters. Occasionally there are serious problems In May 2005, a huge sink hole swallowed 11 houses in Jixian County in Shanxi Province. Sixteen people escaped the 80-meter-wide, 1250-meter-long hole created in loess soil.

Loess is hard when dry but dissolves when wet. Rains wash away huge amounts of soil and leave behind gullies that can become canyons that make travel across the region difficult. Loess is also light and blows away very easily. In the spring, when the winds are strongest, yellow dust from the Loess Plateau is carried westward into Korea and Japan, where it forms a pollen-like film. Some even makes it way to North America. The soils that blew away in dust bowl region of Oklahoma were primarily loess.

The Loess Plateau has some of the world's highest erosion rates, Farming is difficult. Rain and irrigation water are n short supply. The edges of terraced fields routinely collapse down steep gullies. Website: Wikipedia Wikipedia

Silk Road Sites in Shaanxi Province

Silk Road Sites in Shaanxi Province (Coordinates: N 33 06 12-35 06 12, E 108 01 10-109 01 22): 1) The Underground Chamber of Famen Temple, City of Baoji (Coordinates: N34 30 00 E107 22 35); 2) Mao Imperial Mausoleum (Maoling) of Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220) and Tomb of Huo Qubing, Xingping City (Coordinates: N34 19 22 E108 34 08); 3)Tomb of Zhang Qian, Hanzhong City (Coordinates: N 33 06-33 09, E 107 17, E 107 19);

Famen Temple (in Famen, 15 kilometers north of Fufeng County, Baoji city 120 kilometers northwest of Xian) was built to house a finger bone relic that reportedly belongs to Buddha. The finger relic is said to have been carried to China from northern India by monks 200 years after Buddha's death. In 1981, a 12-story brick pagoda in the temple collapsed, revealing the largest underground Buddhist vault ever found in China. Many precious relics were discovered, including 2400 pieces of gold, silverware, jewelry and 8th century textile products. The vault apparently lay in obscurity for1,000 years and escaped the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. It was discovered by archeologist cleaning the temple runs in 1987.

Famen Temple is said to be the only temple that preserves the finger bones of the Buddha. First constructed in the Eastern Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 220), it was originally known as the Ashoka Temple, and was renamed Famen Temple in early Tang Dynasty (618-906). The gold and silver wares discovered from the underground palace are exquisite treasures. The gilded Buddhist cane has 12 rings on its four sides. The consummate skills of weaving brocade in gold threads of the Tang Dynasty (618-906) is on display here. The thinnest gold threads for weaving

Maoling Tomb (Maoling Village of Nanwei Town, 40 kilometers west of Xian) contains the grave of the famous Han Emperor Wudi (156-87 B.C.). The largest tomb from the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. to A.D. 9), it took 57 years to build and embraces a 50-meter-high and 240-meter-wide pyramid-shaped mound. The nearby Maoling Museum has a fine collection of large stone horses and funerary objects found around the tomb. A survey has shown the tomb was sealed with rammed earth. The rectangular mound is surrounded by ground with a perimeter of more than a mile. Admission: 28 yuan; Tel: +86-0910-8456140, +86-0910-8418040 Getting There: You can take a tourist bus from Xian Yuxiangmen bus station or by train from Xian railway station.

Tomb of Zhang Qian (Raojiaying Village, Chenggu County of Hanzhong, 30 kilometers of Hanzhong, 132 miles of Xi'an) is the burial place of Zhang Qian, a famous Western Han Dynasty (202 B.C. - A.D. ) diplomat, explorer and arguably the pioneer of the Silk Road. The tomb and the Memorial Hall of Zhang Qian contain relics and materials related to Zhang and his travels. According to Travel China Guide: “Entering the main gate, there is a corridor about 39 feet (12 meters) wide, with two cultural galleries decorated with beautiful pictures of Chenggu’s local cultural customs on both sides of it. At the other end of the corridor stands a Han styled gate with an arch over the gateway. On the north of the gateway there is a main hall, which is the axis of the Memorial Hall. There are two paintings inside depicting Zhang’s journey to the Western Regions, roughly including today’s Gansu and Xinjiang in western China, and Central and West Asia. Right by the main hall, there are two wing halls which are used as exhibition rooms. The east wing hall exhibits the life stories of Zhang Qian (164-114BC). Being an envoy of the Western Han, Zhang traveled twice to the remote Western Regions.

See Separate Articles on Xian and Near Xian for more Silk Road sotes in Shaanxi Province.

Yanan

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Mao in Yennan at end of
Long March
Yan’an (230 kilometers north of Xian) was the destination of the Long March and the center of Chinese Communist revolution from 1935 to 1948. Today it is a shrine to Chinese Communism and place where many people still live in caves carved into the yellow cliffs. Located in the Shaanxi Loess Plateau, it is where Mao Zedong, Zhou EnLai and others hid out from 1937 to 1947 and regrouped and eventually launched a major offensive from that transformed China into most populous communist nation in the world.

Yan’an (also spelled Yenan, Yennan and Yanan) now has a population of about 340,000 and has a booming economy thanks to the recent discovery of oil in the area. Chinese communists celebrate Yan'an as the birthplace of the revolution. Tourists can participate in daily mock battles portraying “The Defense of Yan’an” against Chinese Nationalist Army forces. It is regarded as a Red Tourism Sight.

According to the New York Times the Yan’an area has become a tourist attraction but has been sanitized both physically and historically. Sidney Rittenberg, an American journalist and scholar, who who lived in China from 1944 to 1980 and hung out with Mao Zedong, Zhu De and Zhou Enlai in Yan’an told the New York Times: “They’ve virtually destroyed this museum to Chinese revolutionary history. I think it’s a real travesty.The local tour guides will not allow anyone to criticize Mao.” [Source: Mark McDonald, IHT Rendezvous Blog, New York Times, July 10, 2012]

Web Sites: Travel China Guide Travel China Guide Budget Accommodation: Check Lonely Planet books; Getting There: is accessible by air, bus and train from Xian. Travel China Guide (click transportation) Travel China Guide Lonely Planet Lonely Planet

Communists and Mao Zedong in Yan’an

As a final destination, Mao selected southern Shaanxi Province, where some 8,000 survivors of the original group from Jiangxi Province (joined by some 22,000 from other areas) arrived in October 1935. The Communists set up their headquarters at Yan’an, where the movement would grow rapidly for the next ten years. Contributing to this growth would be a combination of internal and external circumstances, of which aggression by the Japanese was perhaps the most significant. Conflict with Japan, which would continue from the 1930s to the end of World War II, was the other force (besides the Communists themselves) that would undermine the Nationalist government. [Source: The Library of Congress]

At Yan'an and elsewhere in the "liberated areas," Mao was able to adapt Marxism-Leninism to Chinese conditions. He taught party cadres to lead the masses by living and working with them, eating their food, and thinking their thoughts. The Red Army fostered an image of conducting guerrilla warfare in defense of the people. Communist troops adapted to changing wartime conditions and became a seasoned fighting force. Mao also began preparing for the establishment of a new China. In 1940 he outlined the program of the Chinese Communists for an eventual seizure of power. His teachings became the central tenets of the CCP doctrine that came to be formalized as Mao Zedong Thought. With skillful organizational and propaganda work, the Communists increased party membership from 100,000 in 1937 to 1.2 million by 1945. While in Yan’an Mao fine tuned many methods of political terror — purging real and imagined enemies — that would serve him well when he was leader of China. He also sold opium to raise money for his army.

The Mao set up a military command post in Yan’an and directed the Communist army for the 13 years from there. Young people from all over China came to Yan’an to join the revolution or simply catch a glimpse of history. Mao spent his time in Yan’an reading and relaxing, discussing poetry and plans of equality between the sexes with attractive women, and encouraging revolutionaries such as Zhu De and Zhou Enlai to take up ballroom dancing. In Yan’an Mao developed the Yan’an Rectification campaign, aimed at purifying beliefs of new recruits to the Communist Party and ensuring their loyalty and fealty to Mao as the ultimate authority. The campaign was a precursor to grander and more destructive purges that occurred when the Communists took power.

According the book Mao's Brothers and Sisters," Mao's second wife He Zichen became enraged with her husband's flirtation with an American journalist named Agnes Smedly and her beautiful Chinese translator Lily Wu. According to the book the two women "became the target of all the female comrades." One night He reportedly burst in on Mao and Wu while they were talking about poetry and called Mao a "rotten egg" who "wants to usurp me with capitalist dances." She pulled Wu's hair "until her head started bleeding" and got into a fight with Smedly after calling her an "imperialist" who was "to blame for everything." Smedly reportedly said He was "weak and monastic, an unsuitable companion for a revolutionary leader."

Yanan Tourism

The revolutionary museum in Yan’an is one of the biggest Red Tourism attractions in China, at one time drawing more than four million visitors a year. Visitors can check out black and white photographs of the last stages of the Long March, buy Mao memorabilia and have their picture taken in front of the caves where the top Communist leaders stayed.

The post-Long-March compound at Yangjialing is near the mouth of a dry valley, just north of town. The four-cave complex where Mao lived and worked is tunneled into the side of a hillside. The canopy bed Mao used is (or was) theatrically littered with cigarette butts, seemingly to illustrate the midnight oil spent developing strategies to fight the Japanese and the Nationalists. A photograph of the helmsman hangs over the desk where he used to work. Most of the visitors are uniformed soldiers and Communist Party members.

According to China Highlights: Yan’an has about 140 revolutionary sites, including Wangjiaping Revolutionary Museum (the site of Central Military Commission and head office of the Eighth Route Army during it's Yan’an occupation, which lasted from October 19, 1935 to March 23, 1948), Fenghuang Mountain (the site of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China), Baota Hill, and Yangjia Ling Revolutionary Site.”

Yulin Manor of Jiang Yaozu (in Liujiamao Village, Mizhi County, Yulin City, 100 kilometers northeast of Yan’an) was built by Jiang Yaozu, the richest man in the village during the reign of Emperor Tongzhi (1861-1875) of the Qing Dynasty. Covering an area of over 40 mu (2.7 hectares), it consists of three parts: lower, central and upper sections. The lower part is surrounded by a 9.5-meter-high stone wall, while connected to the central part by an 8 by 10 meter wall. The upper part is the manor's main living area. A cave connects the back of manor to a mountain, providing an excellent shelter for people to avoid attacks Hours Open: 8:00am-5:00pm- Admission: 20 yuan;- Getting There: take a bus from Mizhi County

Cave Homes in Shaanxi

The Yan’an area is a good place to see Chinese cave dwellings (yaodongs). You can visit the ones Mao Zedong and Xi Jinping lived in as well as ones still occupied by ordinary Shaanxi familes. Qianxian and Yan’an in Shaanxi and and Linfen and Taiyuan in Shanxi have ones bored into the Loess Plateau. In Yan'an and Yulin you can find ones that tourists can visit.

Around 30 million to 40 million Chinese still live in caves and over a 100 million people reside in houses with one or more walls built in a hillside. Many of the cave and hill dwellings are in the Shaanxi, Henan and Gansu provinces. Caves are cool in the summer, warm in the winter and generally utilize land that can not be used for farming. On the down side, they are generally dark and have poor ventilation. Modern caves with improved designs have large windows, skylights and better ventilation. Some larger cave have over 40 rooms. Others are rented out as three-bedroom apartments.

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, Many Chinese cave'dwellers live "in Shaanxi province, where the Loess plateau, with its distinctive cliffs of yellow, porous soil, makes digging easy and cave dwelling a reasonable option. Each of the province's caves, yaodong, in Chinese, typically has a long vaulted room dug into the side of a mountain with a semicircular entrance covered with rice paper or colorful quilts. People hang decorations on the walls, often a portrait of Mao Tse-tung or a photograph of a movie star torn out of a glossy magazine. [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2012 <*>]

Sometimes the cave homes are unsafe. In September 2003, 12 people were killed when a landslide buried a group of cave houses in the village of Liangjiagou in Shaanxi Province. Most of the dead were in one cave house that was hosting a party for family members after the birth of a son.

Yaodong are also found in Turpan and Kashgar in Xinjiang; Lanzhou, Dunhuang, Pingliang and Gannan in Gansu; and Yinchuan in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Municipality. A Modernized Shaanxi Cave Dwelling by hyperSity was named by Dwell as one of 12 incredible examples of cutting edge Chinese architecture. Here an old cave dwelling in east-central Shaanxi was transformed into a chic and modern, rammed-earth residence for a local Internet star. [Source: Travel China Guide, Michele Koh Morollo Dwell, February 5, 2019]

History of Cave Dwellings

According to the research of ancient architects, more than 4000 years ago Han people living on the northwest Loess Plateau had a custom of "digging a cave and living in." People of this region continue to live in cave dwellings in the provinces or autonomous regions of the upper and middle reaches of the Yellow River."Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

The caves have an important role in modern Chinese history. After the Long March, the famous retreat of the Communist Party in the 1930s, the Red Army reached Yanan, in northern Shanxi Province, where they dug and lived in cave dwellings. In "Red Star Over China," writer Edgar Snow described a Red Army university that "was probably the world's only seat of 'higher learning' whose classrooms were bombproof caves, with chairs and desks of stone and brick, and blackboards and walls of limestone and clay." In his cave dwelling in Yan'an, Chairman Mao Zedong led the War of Resistance against Japan (1937-1945) and wrote many “glorious: works, such as "On Practice” "Contradiction Theory" and "Talking about the Protracted War." Today these cave dwellings are tourist sights. ~

Chinese President Xi Jinping lived for seven years in a cave when he was exiled to Shaanxi province during the Cultural Revolution (See Below). "The cave topology is one of the earliest human architectural forms; there are caves in France, in Spain, people still living in caves in India," said David Wang, an architecture professor at Washington State University in Spokane who has written widely on the subject. "What is unique to China is the ongoing history it has had over two millenniums." <*>

Types of Cave Dwellings

Cave dwellings are divided into three types: 1) earth cave, 2) brick cave, and 3) stone cave. Cave dwelling do not occupy cultivated land or destroy the topographical features of the ground, benefitting the ecological balance of an area. They are cool in summer and warm in winter. Brick cave dwelling are generally made up of bricks and built where the earth and hills are composed of relatively soft yellow clay. Stone cave dwellings are commonly built against mountains facing the south with stones selected by their quality, lamination and color. Some are carved with patterns and symbols. ~

The earth cave is comparatively primitive. These are generally dug in a naturally vertical broken precipice or abrupt slope. Inside caves the rooms are arch shaped. The earth cave is very firm. The better caves protrude from the mountain and are reinforced with brick masonry. Some are connected laterally so a family can have several chambers. Electricity and even running water can be brought in. "Most aren't so fancy, but I've seen some really beautiful caves: high ceilings and spacious with a nice yard out front where you can exercise and sit in the sun," one cave home owner told the Los Angeles Times. <*>

Many cave homes consist of a large dug-out square pit with a well in the middle of the pit to prevent flooding. Other caves are chiseled out of the sides of cliff faces comprised of loess---a thick, hard, yellow rocklike soil that is ideal for making caves. Rooms chiseled into hard loess usually have an arched ceilings. Those made in softer loess have pointed or supported ceilings. Depending on what materials are available, the front of a cave is often made of wood, concrete or mud bricks.

Modern Cave Homes in China

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, In recent years, architects have been reappraising the cave in environmental terms, and they like what they see. "It is energy efficient. The farmers can save their arable land for planting if they build their houses in the slope. It doesn't take much money or skill to build," said Liu Jiaping, director of the Green Architecture Research Center in Xian and perhaps the leading expert on cave living. "Then again, it doesn't suit modern complicated lifestyles very well. People want to have a fridge, washing machine, television." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2012]

Liu helped design and develop a modernized version of traditional cave dwellings that in 2006 was a finalist for a World Habitat Award, sponsored by a British foundation dedicated to sustainable housing. The updated cave dwellings are built against the cliff in two levels, with openings over the archways for light and ventilation. Each family has four chambers, two on each level.

"It's like living in a villa. Caves in our villages are as comfortable as posh apartments in the city," said Cheng Wei, 43, a Communist Party official who lives in one of the cave houses in Zaoyuan village on the outskirts of Yanan. "A lot of people come here looking to rent our caves, but nobody wants to move out."

The thriving market around Yanan means a cave with three rooms and a bathroom (a total of 750 square feet) can be advertised for sale at $46,000. A simple one-room cave without plumbing rents for $30 a month, with some people relying on outhouses or potties that they empty outside. Many caves, however, are not for sale or rent because they are handed down from one generation to another, though for just how many generations, people often can't say.

People Who Live at Cave Homes in China

Barbara Demick wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Like many peasants from the outskirts of Yanan, China, Ren Shouhua was born in a cave and lived there until he got a job in the city and moved into a concrete-block house. His progression made sense as he strove to improve his life. But there's a twist: The 46-year-old Ren plans to move back to a cave when he retires. "It's cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It's quiet and safe," said Ren, a ruddy-faced man who works as a driver and is the son of a wheat and millet farmer. "When I get old, I'd like to go back to my roots." [Source: Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2012]

Ma Liangshui, 76, lives in a one-room cave on a main road south of Yanan. It is nothing fancy, but there is electricity---a bare bulb dangling from the ceiling. He sleeps on a kang, a traditional bed that is basically an earthen ledge, with a fire underneath that is also used for cooking. His daughter-in-law has tacked up photographs of Fan Bingbing, a popular actress.

The cave faces west, which makes it easy to bask in the late afternoon sun by pulling aside the blue-and-white patchwork quilt that hangs next to drying red peppers in the arched entrance. Ma said his son and daughter-in-law have moved to the city, but he doesn't want to leave. "Life is easy and comfortable here. I don't need to climb stairs. I have everything I need," he said. "I've lived all my life in caves, and I can't imagine anything different."

Xi Jinping's Cave Home in Shaanxi

China’s current leader and president Xi Jinping lived in a cave home in Liangjiahe in Yan’an County about 75 kilometers northeast of Yan’an City, Altogether he spend seven years in Shaanxi from 1969 to 1976. Liangjiahe (two hours from Yenan, where Mao finished the Long March) is where Xi Jinping spent seven years during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and 70s. He was one of millions of city youths "sent down" to the China countryside to work and "learn from the peasants" but also to reduce urban unemployment and quiet the violence of radical student groups. . Alice Su wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Tourists in matching red scarves visited a set of caves” where Xi reportedly lived. “Here is where the chairman ate coarse grain buns with the farmers," a guide said as a group of teachers from Guangzhou peered inside one of the caves. Newspaper cutouts with headlines about Mao and a photo of teenage Xi, slightly smiling into the distance, hung above rolled-up blankets and a straw mat on a raised mud platform. A bag of anti-flea powder sat prominently displayed on the window ledge, a testament to the fleabites young Xi endured. [Source: Alice Su, Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2020] “A small museum weaves Xi's narrative with that of the Communist Party's benevolence, explaining that Xi read stories and dug wells for the villagers as a teenager, then charting the village’s recent rise in average income per person — from $25 a year in 1984 to $3,218 a year in 2019. The teachers from Guangzhou were all receiving required training as supervisors of the Young Pioneers, a Communist Party youth organization, and would then pass on the "red spirit" they'd acquired here to their students, one of the teachers said. When Xi speaks about his coming of age, he points to Liangjiahe. “Northern Shaanxi gave me a belief. You could say it set the path for the rest of my life,” Xi said in a 2004 interview with the People’s Daily.

On Liangjiahe around the time Xi Jinping became president, Leo Lewis wrote in The Times, “In the remote hamlet of Liangjiahe, tucked among the parched mountains of China's northwest Shaanxi province, the corn harvest is in, firewood has been gathered for winter and the lanes are usually quiet. But on the winding approach road, activity is frenetic. Five work parties are laying a new surface and a huge bridge is being built to bear the future stream of traffic. When the Communist Party appoints China's new leader, Liangjiahe will be known as the village where Xi Jinping's character was honed by rural hardship. Residents are expecting tourists. [Source: Leo Lewis, The Times, November 3, 2012]

Ancient Building Cluster in Dangjiacun Village

Dangjiacun Village Ancient Building Cluster (200 kilometers northeast of Xian, 200 kilometers southeast of Yan’an and 100 kilometers southwest of Linfen) is part of the Ancient Residences in Shanxi and Shaanxi Provinces, which were nominated to be a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2008. [Coordinates: N31 35-35 33 40 E110 28 1-110 30 40]

According to a report submitted to UNESCO: There are plateaus at the south and north sides of the Dang village, 30-40 meters higher than the village, which can prevent the village from being attacked by the northwest wind in winter. The local-style dwelling houses were built on the calabash-shaped gully. Mishui River, a branch of the Yellow River runs around the south of the village. The village is called "Dust-Preventing Pearl". 2 kilometers east to the village is the Xian-Houma railway, and 2 kilometers west of the village is the No. 108 national highway, so the traffic is very convenient. [Source: State Administration of Cultural Heritage, People’s Republic of China]

“The ancient residents of Dang's Village are mainly composed of Dang's and Jia's clans. Dang's clan had fled here from famine from the Zhaoyi County of Shaanxi since the 2nd year of Zhishun period of Yuan Dynasty (1279–1368) (1332). Around the 15th year of Qianlong period of Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) (1750), Jia's clan went to Guotan Town, Tanghe County, Henan Province to be engaged in trade, and the business was flourishing. After going into business for about one hundred years, Dangs became the local tycoons. The large-scale construction of Dang's houses began at that time too. People called Dang's Village as "the village of rich men". Along with the residents' becoming rich, people began advocating culture and following social etiquette. There were Jinshis (doctorates), Jurens (successful candidates in the imperial examinations at the provincial level in the Ming and Qing dynasties) and Gongshengs (senior licentiate in feudal China) in the Ming and Qing Dynasties in the village. There are 6 old-style private schools in the village at the late stage of Qing Dynasty (1644–1911), and 44 Xiucais (title of scholars) in Ming and Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). Up till now, the culture and education there has been prosperous.

“The Dang's Village is also called Dang's Gelao (mound). The construction of the ancient group of Dang's Villages is divided into 3 stages: Zhengtong to Jingtai period of Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) (1436-1456), the 16th year of Chongzhen of Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) to the 50th year of Kangxi of Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) (1643-1711), and Qianlong to Xianfeng period of Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) (1736-186).There are 123 local style Chinese courtyard dwelling houses and 18 public facilities preserved in the ancient group of Dang's Villages. The public facilities, such as the lanes, roads and sentry doors, etc, were built in an orderly manner. The main lane, the second-class lane, the lane at the ends and the flow direction of the waterway were defined according to the terrain and the ground features. In the first year of Xianfeng period of Qing Dynasty (1644–1911) (1851), in order to guard against theft and refuge, the village people raised funds to purchase land, and built the fort making use of the situation on the plateau at the northeast of the village. The site of the ancient group of Dang's Villages was selected in the gully with shelter and countenance surrounded by high and dry plateaus. It conforms to the traditional Chinese geo-mantic omen concept of "gathering water and hiding from wind".”

Hukou Waterfall

Hukou Waterfall (on the Shanxi-Shaanxi border, 120 kilometers southeast of Yan’an, 400 kilometers southwest of Taiyun) is the most impressive waterfall on the Yellow River. Situated in the Qinjin Canyon on the middle reaches of the Yellow River, it is the second largest waterfall in China. Only Huangguoshu waterfall in Guizhou is bigger. The riverbed here is like an enormous teapot where the water is poured out. This is the waterfall is named Hukou Waterfall (Kettle Spout Falls)

When the mighty Yellow River flows through mountains and gorges to Hukou, the billowy water streams narrow suddenly, from over 300 meters to 50 meters in width, falling 30 meters into a deep riverbed like a herd of galloping horses, transforming the quiet river into a turbulent one. The thundering sound can be heard from quite a distance. The tremendous mass of water strikes the rocks, creating piles of foam and huge water poles. It is an amazing view with mist all around.

Hukou Waterfall is 50 meters high. It was naturally formed from water in the middle reaches of the Yellow River flowing through the Jinxia Grand Canyon. The width of the waterfall changes with the season. It usually stretches 30 meters wide but can increase to 50 meters during the rainy season; Admission: 81 yuan (US$12.8) per person, Tel:0086-911-4838030

Qinling Range

Qin Mountains (Qinling) run east to west in the south central part of Shaanxi. The highest peak of the Qinling Range. Is 3,750-meter (12,300-foot) Taibaishan (Mount Taibai). Between the Loess Plateau and the Qinling lies the Wei River Valley, or Guanzhong, a cradle of early Chinese civilisation. To the south is the Han River valley. To the west is the line of mountains along the northern edge of the Tibetan Plateau. To the east are the lower Funiu and Dabie Shan which rise out of the coastal plain. Three culturally significant peaks in the range are Mount Hua (2,155 meters or 7,070 feet), Mount Li (1,302 meters or 4,272 feet), and Mount Maiji (1,742 meters or 5,715 feet). [Source: Wikipedia]

The Qinling were formerly known as the Nanshan ("Southern Mountains") and sometimes called the "Szechuan Alps". The mountains provide a natural boundary between North and South China and support a huge variety of plant and wildlife, some of which is found nowhere else on earth. They also acted as a natural defense against nomadic invasions from the North, as only four passes cross the mountains. In the late 1990s a railway tunnel and a spiral was completed, thereby easing travel across the range.

The region is home to a large number of rare plants, of which around 3,000 have so far been documented. Plant and tree species native to the region include Ginkgo, thought to be one of the oldest species of tree in the world, as well as Huashan or Armand pine (Pinus armandii), Huashan shen (Physochlaina infundibularis), Acer miaotaiense and Chinese fir. The region is home to the Qinling pandas, a sub-species of the giant panda. There are between 250 and 280 giant pandas living in the region, — around a fifth of the entire wild giant panda population — mostly in Changqing and Foping nature reserves. The mountains are also home to golden takin, golden pheasant, golden snub-nosed monkey, Temminck's tragopan, crested ibis, golden eagle, blackthroat, clouded leopard and Chinese giant salamander.

Foping Nature Reserve: Pandas and Golden Monkeys

Foping Nature Reserve (in Qinling, 200 kilometers southwest of Xian) has the highest panda densities of all the panda reserves. Located in the northwest of Foping County, it is a forest and wildlife nature reserve founded to protect the giant pandas.With an area of 350 square kilometers, the Foping Nature Reserve has three protection stations — Sanguanmiao, Damuping and Yueba. The nature reserve is home to 1,583 species of wild plants, including 22 species of rare plants under state protection, such as Chinese larch, Qinling Mountains fir, tetracentron and one flower kingdonia.

Foping Nature Reserve is bordered in the east by the Long-caoping Forest Farm; in the west it is flanked by the Changqing Nature Reserve; Zhouzhi Nature Reserve, the stronghold of the Golden Monkey, and Laoxiancheng Nature Reserve are situated to the north. The Foping Reserve covers 292 square kilometers of rugged mountain terrain. Elevations range from 1,080 to 2,094 meters. Forested lands dominate the reserve with a mix of conifers and broadleaf deciduous trees.

The Foping Nature Reserve was set up in 1978 with a view to protecting the giant panda. Roads end at the reserve edge to minimize human presence in the interior of the reserve. There are 265 species of wild animals, including giant panda, golden monkey, mainland serow, Chinese goral, dwarf musk deer, Asiatic black bear, North-Chinese leopard, red and white giant flying squirrel.. Giant pandas live in the core area of the nature reserve. On average, there is one giant panda every 2.5 square kilometers, which ranks first nationwide in terms of density. The pandas lived in areas with abundant bamboo.

Foping Nature Reserve is said to be the best place to see golden monkeys. A German traveler that went there in 2013 posted on Tripadvisor: “Foping National Nature reserve is a remote area in the Qinling mountains. Traveling to the place is not easy for people who are not able to speak Chinese. Otherwise if you like to see golden monkeys in their natural habitat it is the best place to do. You can travel from Xi'an by bus, which takes 4-5 hours to Foping city. There the new ecological theme hotel is an excellent recommendation for staying. The hotel can arrange a pickup service for you to the national nature reserve, you even can found a wildlife expert there, who speaks english very well. The drive to main entrance of the reserve is about 30-45 min . Then you have to walk into a beautiful valley to see the monkeys . After one hour hiking you will find a place where rangers have adapted a group of 70 golden monkeys to human appearance by feeding them with corn one time a day. Due to this you are able to get very close to the monkeys and can photograph them in their natural surroundings

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China Web site; CNTO; Perrochon photo site; Beifan.com; University of Washington; Ohio State University; UNESCO; Wikipedia; Julie Chao photo site

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021


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