On this two-day trip to Yu County in Hebei Province you’ll walk the streets of well-preserved Yuxian Ancient City, visiting the pavilions and pagodas, as well as visiting Jimingyi, the remnants of a Ming Dynasty postal relay center. And, on the first evening, we’ll take in a performance that includes Da Shu Hua, a 300-year old local tradition that translates as ‘making a tree of flaming flowers’ and results in molten iron being flung against the city walls in lieu of a fireworks display!
On the second day of the trip we'll spend the morning watching a rowdy and colourful street parade before picking up on our regular itinerary.
Note: we’ll be outside quite a bit, and the weather is sure to be freezing - bring all the warm clothes you’ve got, and then bring a few extra layers just in case!
Yu County and Zhangjiakou
Yu County is part of the larger Zhangjiakou prefecture-level city in Hebei Province. Zhangjiakou is right on the main route to Beijing from the northwest, and has been the site of fortifications and wars since ancient times – notably, the Badger’s Mount Campaign in which Genghis Khan won a huge battle against the Jin Dynasty in 1211. Zhangjiakou used to be known as Kalgan, which is a transliteration of its name in Mongolian: The Gate.
Yuxian Ancient City
There’s been a town at Yuxian since the Southern and Northern Dynasties period (386-589), with the area at the time being under the control of the Northern Zhou Dynasty (557-581). The ancient city was rebuilt in 1377, during the Ming Dynasty, and a lot of that construction remains and is well-preserved—some say it’s the closest best-preserved ancient city to Beijing.
The key sights in the Yuxian Ancient City are the Jade Emperor Pavilion, the Nan’an Pagoda (Liao Dynasty, 907-1125), and the Buddha temple.
But perhaps the best part of Yuxian, during the Chinese New Year festival, is how lively it gets, with the streets packed with people and performances all over.
Close by to Yuxian is Nuanquan Town, notable for a site named Xigubao, or the West Castle. The castle was around 67,000 square metres in size and surrounded by high walls of rammed earth. Key parts of the walls were strengthened with brick, and the structure followed a defensive pattern known as The Urn, whereby attacking enemies could be trapped between inner and outer gates ‘like turtles in an urn.’
As well as the castle, Nuanquan is famous for a tradition of papercutting – on our scouting trip, we picked up some really good ones!
Da Shu Hua: Fireworks of Molten Iron
Throwing ladles-full of molten iron against tall brick walls creates a fireworks-like sparkle that looks like the canopy of a leafy tree. The dashuhua (making a tree of flaming flowers) performance has been a local tradition in Nuanquan Town for over 300 years, said to have come about because of the many blacksmiths of the town.
These days, it’s done part of a performance that includes a song and dance routine that illustrates a local legend that culminates with swords being melted down to revive a maiden who’d given her life in order to make the swords better, on the advice of a magician.
Whether there are magicians about or not, it’s still a spectacular sight, and the performance is likely to be attended by quite a crowd. For obvious reasons, it’s an outdoor show, and at night, so we’ll need to wrap up warmly so we don’t freeze before all the action. The performance lasts for approximately an hour, and the splashing about of the molten iron should take up 15 minutes of that hour.
Lantern Festival street performances
On the second day of the trip we'll be able to get right amongst the action, as the Lantern Festival street parade is set to pass near our hotel. The parade and performance is one of the main reasons we've scheduled this visit, and it's sure to be fun! Click through the photos above to get an idea of what we might see.
Jimingyi Ancient Town was a fortified postal relay or staging station, built and used during the Ming Dynasty. The extremely tall and thick walls have a total length of just under two kilometers, and were constructed in the same manner as some of the Great Wall: rammed earth in the middle, with an outer layer of bricks.
In the past, this must have been a very important place: as well as the huge walls, other fortifications include large gates topped by towers, towers on each corner of the main walls, and more outside. Inside the walls, there are five main streets that divided the city into planned and orderly sections - administration in the middle, stables and barns at the north, and other areas for accommodation.
We’ll stay a night in a 4-star hotel. Each room at the hotel has a private shower and bathroom, and towels and bedding are provided. You’ll be sharing a room with another hiker. If you'd like a room to yourself, it can be arranged at an extra cost of 185 RMB, if a room is available—usually not a problem!
Main meals and drinks, plus water to drink during the hikes, are included in the price of the hike. We'll be eating Chinese food at restaurants in the towns. Breakfast on the second day is at the hotel. Bring some snacks and some spending money to buy extras. Please let us know if you have any special dietary requirements or food allergies.
What to bring on this trip
- Lots of warm clothes: hat, thick gloves and socks, scarf, thermal layers, and thick outer layers.
- Passport / ID card.
- Wash bag and toothbrush.
- Snacks to eat between meals.
- Cameras, phones, chargers.
- Anything you can’t do without (personal medication, chocolate).
Reasons you might not enjoy this trip
- It's not a hiking trip – mostly sightseeing and a lot of walking around with just a wee bit of hiking.
- It's likely to be very cold out there while we're walking about!
08:00 – Bus leaves from Liangmaqiao pickup point.
08:30 – Bus departs from Lido Hotel Starbucks.
12:30 – Arrive at Yuxian and check in to hotel. (est.)
13:00 – Lunch.
14:00 – Explore the streets, temples, and fortifications of Nuanquan Town.
19:00 – Local folk performance and Dashuhua show.
21:00 – Return to hotel for dinner after the show.
07:00 – Breakfast at the hotel restaurant.
09:30 – Check out of the hotel, get ready to go out for the street show.
10:00 – Free time to see the street show.
12:00 – Restaurant lunch
13:00 – Drive to the north gate of the old town, start the walk through town to the south gate.
13:30 – Visit Chenghuang Temple and the Temple of the City God, and take a look at the city walls, walk on to the south gate.
14:40 – Arrive at the south gate, begin the drive to Jimingyi.
15:30 – Sightseeing walk around Jimingyi.
16:15 – Depart from Jimingyi.
19:00 – Arrive at the Lido Hotel.
19:30 – Arrive at the Liangmaqiao subway.
All times approximate, our return to Beijing could be later if traffic is bad!