Yu County Fortresses and Walled Towns, 2013/02
See the sights we saw on two Chinese New Year visits to Yu County, three hours' drive northwest of Beijing City.
During Chinese New Year we arranged two very special overnight trips to Yu County in Hebei Province, heading out first on the 12th, and then again on the 23rd for the Lantern Festival.
Yu County is home to ancient pagodas, temples, pavilions, and large gates and plaques inside fortified walled towns that preserve traces of the Zhou, Liao, Yuan, Ming, and Qing Dynasties, as well as Da Shu Hua, a 300-year old local tradition that translates as ‘Beating Trees into Flowers’ and results in molten iron being flung against the city walls in lieu of a fireworks display.
One the first day, we visited Xi Castle, a well-preserved ancient barracks, walked around Nuanquan 'Warm Spring' Town, where there's a spring at a constant 16°C temperature year-round, and spent plenty of time looking about old houses made of rammed earth, watching performances of traditional dances, paper-cutting, and lantern-making.
On the evening of the first day we watched the Da Shu Hua performance—we'd heard it was spectacular, and it was! We'd seen photos, but it's the sort of thing you need to see in person to appreciate fully.
On the second day we headed to the ancient town of Yuxian and inspected all the historical artifacts, including a 900-year-old pagoda and some well-preserved ancient architecture located. There was a lot going on during Chinese New Year, and we got right into the good mood shared by the local people. In the afternoon, we arrived at another small town that used to be one of the main postal relay centers in northern of China, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In that town we also found temples with 480-year-old frescos, and enjoyed visits to local people’s family houses, a particular highlight.