The Southern Great Wall

The Southern Great Wall 南长城 or the Miaojiang Great Wall苗疆长城: The Miao Frontier Wall

THE SOUTHERN GREAT WALL 南长城 OR THE MIAOJIANG GREAT WALL苗疆长城: THE MIAO FRONTIER WALL
THE SOUTHERN GREAT WALL 南长城 OR THE MIAOJIANG GREAT WALL苗疆长城: THE MIAO FRONTIER WALL

Rebuilding the past: The new old or the old new

The Southern Great Wall (sometimes known as the THE MIAOJIANG GREAT WALL 苗疆长城: THE MIAO FRONTIER WALL) lies a few kilometers outside the beautiful historic town of Fenghuang in western Hunan Porvince.

Set in lush green coutryside, the wall snakes its way through farm land and climbs up and over steep and verdant hills. But what is the Southern Great Wall? Most people have never heard of it!

Fenghuang Town 2003
Fenghuang Town 2003

THE SOUTHERN GREAT WALL and restoring China’s past

I have never figured out how to adequately describe the way the Chinese authorities attempt to preserve China’s past.

The Southern Great Wall An older stretch of the Southern Wall
An older stretch of the Southern Great Wall

Techniques range from the painstaking and meticulous restoration of ancient artefacts and burial sites (think the Terracotta Warriors), to the naffest styles you can imagine.

Waiting for the wrecking ball; the old city of Datong
Waiting for the wrecking ball; the old city of Datong

Sometimes entire ancient villages or ancient city centers are bulldozed down and then rebuilt in the same style using shoddy materials and guady add ons.

The new old city of Datong
The new old city of Datong

The old city of Datong 大同 in Shanxi山西 is a good example of this type of so-called restoration. If you look carefully at the above picture, you can see two yellow Chinese characters next the gate. The characters say ‘Gucheng 古城, which means ancient city. They are ready to be placed above the newly built old gate built over looking what used to be old Datong.

Then there are the cities that build a new historic centre when they never had one in the first place (Bayon Hot).

The New Gate surrounding the new old city of Bayonhot Inner Mongolia
The New Gate surrounding the new old city of Bayonhot Inner Mongoli啊

Another restorative approach is to rebuild almost from scratch, a monument or building that disappeared or crumbled away a long time ago, and try to retore it back to its former splendor. Unfortunately, all that glitters is not gold, and some modern restoring materials do not make the grade. The latter is definetly true for the Southern Great Wall or the Miaojiang Frontier Great Wall near Fenghuang.

The Southern  Great Wall

The Southern Great Wall: A brief History

The Southern Great Wall was originally built in the 16th century during the Wanli period of the Ming Dynasty (1573-1620). Its purpose? To keep the rebellious Miao 苗族, Tujia 土家族 and Dong 侗族 minorities from causing trouble. And at the same time preventing them from disrupting the lucrative trading routes such as the salt trade, that made Fenghuang such a prosperous city.

The Miao and Chilis
The Miao and Chilis

The Miao minority was particularly notorious for robbing merchants and raiding military outposts. Some say that the wall’s raison d’etre was to separate two types of Miao. The Raw Miao生苗; those Miao who refused to recognise the rule of the emperor. And the Mature Miao熟苗; those who did recognise and submit to the emperor’s rule.

Miao Traders Guizhou
Miao Traders Guizhou

Recreating the Southern Great Wall

Stretching for 190 kilometers, the Southern Great Wall basically separated what is now Guizhou Province from Hunan Province. The word Jiang 疆 in the wall’s other name, Miaojiang Changcheng (The Great Miao Frontier Wall), means frontier, and shows that this area was on the very fringes of the Chinese Empire at the time.

Miao and Bullfighting Guizhou
Miao and Bullfighting Guizhou

When the Ming Dynasty collapsed, the Miao destoyed the wall, the original parts you can see these days are remnants of the Qing Dynasty’s efforts to rebuild it. I say original parts, because most of what you see now was rebuilt between 2001 and 2003; exactly when we visited.

Recreating the Southern Great Wall Hunan China
Recreating the Southern Great Wall

We can testify that, while the wall is quite spectacular, what you are walking on is an almost completely new creation, covered with a grey spray to give it that ancient look.

Recreating the Southern Great Wall Hunan China
Recreating the Southern Great Wall Hunan China

While we were there, we witnessed hundreds of labourers beavering away and recreating the wall practically from scratch. However, there was one major problem: the quality of the materials. It is a pity that even after a few months, some of the shoddily built new parts were already falling apart. They definitely employed superior materials in bygone times. And The Chinese emperors maintained more vigorous quality control checks than today’s authorities.

Not in good shape. Shoddy building the Southern Great Wall
Not in good shape. Shoddy building the Southern Great Wall

Walking the Wall

The 45 Yuan entrance ticket (2003) allows you to roam freely along the wall. If you are lucky, you’ll have a steep undulating 2 to 3 kilometre stretch of wall pretty much to yourself (2003). However, in recent years, Fenghuang has become a major Chinese domestic tourist hotspot. I think you may now share this section with the hordes of day trippers from Fenghuang.

A sweaty Adam with the only other tourists
A sweaty Adam with the only other tourists

An authentic old village at the end of the wall

At the end of the wall you will come to an attractive black-stone village, with low medieval-looking houses, which is worth a wander around.  Don’t be surprised, however, if someone jumps out with a ticket demanding 10 Yuan for the privilege of visiting. 

Drying Chilis the Southern Great Wall
Drying Chilis the Southern Great Wall

Most of the villagers earn a living by cultivating chillies and corn. There are piles of extremely long chilies (maybe Thunder Mountain Chillies: the longest in the world) drying in every available space.

Drying Corn the Southern Great Wall
Drying Corn the Southern Great Wall

A more recent occupation for some of the younger villages was labouring on the reconstruction of the wall.

Villagers rebuilding the Sothern Great Wall
Villagers rebuilding the Sothern Great Wall

Tang dynasty fort, Huangsi Qiao

HuangSi  Qiao Fenghuang
HuangSi Qiao Fenghuang

A little further afield is the Tang dynasty fort, Huangsi Qiao, on the border with Guizhou province. The fort is a bit of a let-down, a couple of crumbling watch towers and a sturdy wall encircling a small surviving hamlet. The only reason to traipse out there is to enjoy the views of the enchanting countryside and admire the isolated beacon towers on the hilltops, stretching away into Guizhou province.

Scenery near Huangsi Qiao
Scenery near Huangsi Qiao

Practicalities (with updates)

Transport:

The Southern Great Wall

We jumped off a bus running between Fenghuang and HuangSi Qiao. Then flagged down a local bus to return to Fenghuang.

Fenghuang

Fenghuang used to be only accessible by bus (see update for new info). It could be approached from three directions. If you are heading to or from the nature reserve at Zhangjiajie, then you need to use the town of Jishou. There are regular buses between Fenghuang and Jishou (see update for new info).

In the past If you were going to Zhangjiajie, you needed to catch the first bus at 6.30 from Fenghuang to Jishou (2hrs), in order to catch the first train from Jishou to Zhangjiajie at 9.08. The bus from Fenghuang dropped you at the opposite end of Jishou from the train station and a taxi to the station was probably the best option, if you wanted to get a train ticket.

There are also regular buses from the railhead town of Huaihua on the Changsha – Guiyang rail line. It is a beautiful two and half hour ride.

Finally, there are buses from Fenghuang to Tongren in Guizhou, for those wishing to climb Fanjing Shan.

Updates

Fenghuang should be added to China’s high speed network this year (2021) making it very easy to get to Fenghuang from most places in China.

It will be part of the Zhangjiajie / Huaihua high speed line.

Places to Stay:

Riverside Inns (Kezhen) Fenghuang
Riverside Inns (Kezhen) Fenghuang

We stayed in a family guest house on the edge of the old city, where we paid only 60 Yuan for a clean room with  (primitive) bathroom. After we had checked in, we discovered several modern hotel options in the new town, as well as a whole string of atmospheric wooden Inns (Kezhan) by the river. These cheap hotels are basic but clean and many rooms have balconies overlooking the river.

Update: There are now loads of very nice places to stay in Fenghuang.

Adam's favourite Fenghuang Restaurant
Adam’s favourite Fenghuang Restaurant

Places to eat:

The riverside restaurants serve excellent food. Lots of them are point and choose joints, where the chef will cook up something wonderful, from your choice of ingredients. The tiny fried shrimps and small fried fish with chilli are particularly good. If you haven’t been to Guizhou, Fenghuang is a good place to try Miao dishes, especially the hot and sour chicken, or hot and sour fish.

Moreover, there is (was???) one excellent restaurant just off the old main street run by a friendly young couple. It is recognizable by the huge selection of fresh vegetables outside and the cured meats hanging in the front window (See Photo). They do a great sweet and sour cat fish as well as  good vegetarian dishes. Lastly, in the  modern town there is a night market that has a good selection of snacks and local specialities.

Zigong / Salt and Dinosaour City

Zigong: A Gem.

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As you approach Zigong, sculptures and posters of dinosaurs announce that you’re arriving in “Dinosaur City”, as the city is known by the Chinese. Zigong is a pleasant modern city, built along the banks of the Fuxi River that has so far managed to maintain large areas of traditional and interesting architecture, despite its recent development and prosperity.

Besides Dinosaurs, Zigong has an abundance of sites, and is definitely worth spending a couple of days. The city owes its prosperity not so much to dinosaurs, as to salt and, in particular, the important role this product played during Imperial times. The salt mining techniques developed at Zigong were among the most sophisticated in the ancient world. They included building precision drills,…….

For more go to: HolaChina: Your Gateway to China

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Finding Fenghuang

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It was one of those early evenings in small-town China in 2001; we’d already eaten and the after dinner entertainment options were conspicuous by their absence. The only fall-back was to retire to our room with a few beers and watch CCTV9, the mildly interesting English Language Channel. We tuned in to “Around China”, a cultural and travel programme dedicated to the promotion of traditional and/or exotic aspects of Chinese culture. On the programme, they were discussing a type of opera that was only found in a remote town in Hunan Province whose name I hadn’t caught. We were immediately drawn to the screen, wondering: “where is this stunning place with covered bridges, ancient houses on stilts and pagodas?” At the end of the clip I managed to catch its name, ‘Fenghuang’. Grabbing the guidebook I tried to find it, but there was no such town. We decided to look for more information about this elusive Fenghuang, so that if one day the opportunity arose, we could visit it.

This opportunity eventually came in 2003……

For More go to: HolaChina: Your Gateway to China

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