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Unearthing the history and natural beauty of an ancient city

Jianglang Mountain in Quzhou has three peaks that form the shape of a “W.” — Wang Rongjiang

Jianglang Mountain in Quzhou has three peaks that form the shape of a “W.” — Wang Rongjiang

QUZHOU IS a place that has lots to offer travelers who love to unearth the historical, cultural and social structures of an ancient city.

At the west end of Zhejiang Province, the scenery of Quzhou is quite different from that of the rest of the area.

Geographically, the city has a unique, steep landform that can’t be found elsewhere, thus providing essential tourist resources.

Located on the boundary of Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi and Anhui provinces, Quzhou has been a significant hub of transport for more than 1,800 years. People from both the north and south gathered here, bringing cultures from all over the country.

The term “Danxia landform” may not sound familiar to many people, as it is only found in southeast, southwest and northwest China. The landform, according to World Heritage Center of UNESCO, “consists of a red bed characterized by steep cliffs.”

Danxia landform looks quite like karst topography, but as the Danxia rocks are sandstones and conglomerates, unlike karst which is formed by limestones, Danxia is also called “pseudo-karst” landform.

Jianglang Mountain in Quzhou is of typical Danxia landform. The most recognizable landmarks of the mountain are three peaks from north to south. It was inscribed onto the World Heritage List in August 2010.

The three peaks form the shape of a “W,” and people could walk on the underside of the peaks. As the steeps are very close to each other, visitors can see above them a very thin slit of sky. Such a “slit of sky” can be found in many Chinese mountains, but this one here is said to be the longest in the country.

Climbing the mountain is no easy task. As the peaks are almost straight up and down, from time to time people need to use both hands and feet to go up.

“Many people gave up halfway,” said Liang Guan, a tourist. “But you need to know that the best scenery is always waiting for those who stick out to the end. I saw how the clouds shrouded around the peaks, and the scenery will stay with me for a long time.”

It is widely known that the hometown of Confucius is Qufu, Shandong Province, but not many people know that the master had a family temple in Quzhou, which is usually called the “Southern Clan.”

The temple, now on Xinqiao Street, is one of the only two family temples of Confucius. Built by Kong Duanyou (1078-1132), a descendant of Confucius, the temple was the result of a war during the later years of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127).

At that time, the invasion of the Jurchens’ army forced Emperor Zhao Gou to abandon the capital city Bianliang (today’s Kaifeng in Henan Province) and flee to the south. Also fearful of the Jurchens, Kong and his wife left Shandong for Quzhou with the statues of Confucius and started a new temple there.

After that, the temple was relocated three times, and has been in its current location since 1520.

In the last 700 years, the temple has been destroyed several times during wars. The last time came during the 1940s, when the intruding Japanese army ransacked the ancient musical instruments and sacrificial vessels in the temple. 

Since then, restorations have been carried out on the temple, making it a tourist attraction and a place to study Confucianism. The layout of the structure, however, has never changed.

The temple, occupying around 13,330 square meters, is divided into three parts: the temple, the residence and the garden. There are four grand gates in front of the building, representing that the teachings of Confucius spread far and wide.

Near the gates there is a stele, on which an order given by the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722) is inscribed: “All civil officials must come out of their sedan, and all military officials get down from the horse when arriving here.” 

The order showed how ancient Chinese dynasties worshiped Confucius, even when the royal families were not Han people.

If the family temple of Confucius displayed the history of Quzhou, the root sculpture museum displays the efforts and achievements of modern artists.

In Kaihua County of Quzhou, the museum demonstrates Buddhist culture through root carving, bonsai and rockeries.

Xu Guqing, 51, is the main contributor of the root-carving masterpieces. He started his career as an artist in 1991, after working as a hooper, repairing barrels, for years. 

Xu never had a teacher. He was inspired by a poster his father had brought home to decorate the house for the Spring Festival, on which a root-carving sculpture drew his attention.

He was fascinated by the art form, and on the second day he went into the mountain to dig big roots to have a try.

After that, he bought many books on carving, oil painting and art theories and started teaching himself. No one around him believed that he would succeed, but today the museum proves them wrong.

Under Xu’s hands, no matter how a root was shaped, he could refine, carve and detail Buddhist statues, animals and mythical creatures. His work “500 Arhats” is claimed to be the largest root carving work in the world.

“Before visiting, I thought it was a place for old people,” said a tourist with an online name Curry’s Daddy. “But I was amazed by the view upon entering the museum. The works were so gorgeous and it was really an eye-opener.”

If you go

How to get there:

It’s about two and a half hours by high-speed train from Shanghai to Quzhou. From the downtown (at the RT-MART sumpermarket) there’s sightseeing bus going directly to Jianglang Mountain (100 yuan).

To get to the Confucian temple, you can take Bus No. 1 in the city center, while Bus No. 3 can reach the root museum (1 Genbo Rd, Chengguan Town, Kaihua County).

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