War Tunnels and Yajishan Temple Loop
A long walk through the Pinggu District countryside, starting with a look at a restored tunnel warfare site, and finishing with the steep stairclimb to see the temples at Yajishan.
On this hike we’ve joined two shorter trails to make a good long hill-walking trail that will show you both ancient and more recent history, and you’ll get a good workout along the way!
The more recent history comes first, with a visit to a restored tunnel warfare site, dug out in the late 1940s. The ancient history comes at the end, with a look at the temples at Yajishan, some of which date back to the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD). In between: a good long walk through the hills with a few big climbs over ridges.
The rural districts and counties of Beijing contain many interesting places that you could drive right past without noticing. One of the places we’ll visit on this trip is even harder to spot—a system of tunnels built under a village in the 1940s for use as part of a guerilla warfare strategy. We’ll stop for a 30–40 minute look about the war tunnels, not far from where we’ll begin the hike.
In Chinese territory occupied by Japanese forces it was common practice for local inhabitants to be conscripted to work for the Japanese. As well as searching villages for people who could be forced to work, grain and other supplies were also found and taken away.
In the autumn of 1938, Communist party soldiers came to the village and began to organise the villagers – arming them, and training them in guerilla warfare.
The first phase of tunnel digging began as a way to hide stores of grain or rice, and sometimes people.
As the holes became larger, the villagers started to make tunnels between holes, and eventually the tunnel system grew to a length of 11km.
The tunnels began as simple holes in the ground, and were extended over the course of seven years to form a full tunnel system that featured meeting rooms, gas traps, and storage space for water, food, and munitions.
The tunnels joined many of the houses in the village, and some of the hidden entrances and exits – underneath beds, below grinding stones, inside animal pens – have been restored for visitors to use.
At the site of the tunnels, we’ll first visit the Exhibition Hall for an introduction to the historical background of the tunnels. Then we’ll head underground to explore the restored section, a 650-metre stretch of tunnels that has been enlarged and had lights added.
In the rolling hills nearby the tunnels there are several old trails between villages. Sometimes we follow the trail that finishes at ‘Gold Mountain’ Village, a small settlement named for the wildcat gold mines in the surrounding hills, but today we’re going to make the hike longer by finishing at Yajishan.
Our hike starts at the entrance of a small village, and we’ll take a short stroll through its streets before following a field trail that leads out into the hills.
The trail leads up and over a ridgeline, and this is the first big climb of the whole hike.
Because there’s a lack of water in the area, the hills above the villages are not actively farmed, and all that grows on them are thorn trees and tall, wavy grass. The grass is nice to walk through, particularly in the spots where it has grown hip-high; the thorns not so much!
We’ll make our way down the other side of the ridge and head for a mostly-deserted village, where we’ll stop to eat our lunch.
Back in 2004, there were only around 40 people living in the village. Since then, the population has dropped further – young people would move out, looking for work in the city, leaving only the elderly.
There were plans to build villas and an equestrian facility by the village, but in the end only a few villas were built.
After our lunch break we’ll head on through the hills, walking through valleys and meadows on the way up and over the ridge to ‘Gold Mountain’ Village. Our bus will meet us there, and then we’ll be on our way back to Beijing after a nice day out in the countryside.
The temples at Yajishan
Note: in some of the photos you’ll see shots from the temple fair. The fair is only once a year … and this year it’s already been.
Our trail through the hills brings us to the foot of the steep stairs that lead up to the temples at the top of the mountain. On the way up to the top, we’ll catch our breath by stopping to look about the various temples and shrines either side of the stairs. After a look about the temple right at the top, we’ll take a walk through the hills behind the temples to complete the circuit.
The first temple is at the foot of the mountain and was originally built in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644 AD). This temple was destroyed by the Japanese army during the war, and since been rebuilt.
There are another two temples at the top of the mountain – one built during the Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD), and the other built during the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911 AD). Both of these temples had to be rebuilt after the war as well. Right now only one of them is open to visitors, but it looks very impressive perched on top of a peak.
The Qing Dynasty temple has quite an interesting story. It was used by Qing royalty, and the funds for its construction were raised by an old lady who lived in the nearby area. The old lady also helped out in the construction of the temple. There is a shrine to her in the temple, as well as records of visits by Qing Emperors.
The temples here are a popular religious attraction for people in the Pinggu district. It is quite common to see people burning incense, and sometimes it’s possible to see a full religious ceremony.
In one of the temples on the way up, there are two side halls with dioramas of Daoist hell, complete with horse-headed guards carrying axes and models that depict the several hundred ways that you will be tortured if you are not a good Daoist.
Yaji Mountain is named for its similarity to a hairstyle that was popular for young girls a long time ago. If you see the mountain from the right angle (and use a little imagination) you will be able to see the resemblance – think of the mountain as the head, and the two temples at the top of the mountain as the two cute pigtails sticking out from either side.
After we’ve looked about the temples, we’ll follow an old trail that will take us around the back of the mountain, walking a path that winds through the peaks. We’ll stop for a break at a nice lookout point and then follow steps down past the hotel and out on to the flat land at the foot of the mountain.
What to bring on this hike
- Lunch and snacks to eat
- Warm clothes, gloves, and a hat
- Good hiking boots or comfortable shoes for walking around
- (Click here to read our full What to Bring on a Hike list)
Reasons you might not enjoy this hike
- The stairs up to the temple on top are rather steep, making it a fairly tough climb!
- The old trail around the back of the mountain was blocked off for a while and hasn’t seen much maintenance recently. It may be overgrown in places, and we may need to skirt what’s left of the fence the construction workers used to block the trail.