Home > Haidian District: Western Hills Ecology Tour

Haidian District: Western Hills Ecology Tour

2016-09-01 14:22:43Share:

  As times change, the face of the Western Hills are of Haidian district has changed along with them, creating countless breathtaking scenery. In these scenery, you don’t have to search for poetry because the poetry will find you. Surrounded by beauty in all directions, the colors of the Western Hills dance, combine and interact like a vast, bright, unique painting. We enjoy the Western Hills by climbing hills, crossing rivers and visiting temples and rural farms.

HAIDIAN DISTRICT BEIJING

 

  Hills & forest parks

 

  Starting from the north, the first hill is Fenghuangling (Phoenix Hill). Regarded as a mini-Huangshan Mountain, Fenghuangling has picturesque peaks and rocks, forest and holy springs that promise wild and meaningful fun. Climbing slowly, the visitor encounters more than 40 views on three routes: south, central and north.

 

  The south route centers on Huangpu Garden, one of the eight water gardens built during the reign of Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) Emperor Zhangzong (1168-1208) in west Beijing, and features the biggest pagoda on stones in Beijing: the Diamond Pagoda. En route are also China’s oldest stone Buddha statues dating back to the Northern Wei Dynasty (368-534), the beautiful Lüzu Cave and a heritage site for the ancient incense route that pilgrims once took north to Miaofeng Mountain.

Haidian District: Western Hills Ecology Tour

 

  The central route begins with the ancient Dragon Spring Temple (Longquan Temple). Along the route is Shade Pavilion (Yinliang Pavilion), a legendary place for preserving longevity in the ancient, oriental way. There are big inscriptions of “Fenghuangling” on a cliff.

 

  The northern route has a high ladder as dangerous as Huashan Mountain, a deep and mysterious ape cave, a holy spring and waterfall. Fenghuangling attracts tourists for its natural scenery and historical meaning.

 

  South of Fenghuangling is Yangtai Mountain, a natural attraction since ancient times. In the Jin Dynasty, there were three of the Western Hills’ eight water gardens here: Jin, Xiang and Qing with Jinshan, Fayun and Dajue temples respectively. Along the ancient Miaofeng Mountain incense route are a number of attractions and scenic landscapes. Climbing Yangtai Mountain in the early morning guarantees a beautiful sunrise view. Walking by the clear springs of these gardens is to enjoy the relaxing natural melody of water.

Haidian District: Western Hills Ecology Tour

 

  Continue walking to Jiu Feng (Eagle Peak), one of 72 military camps during the Liao Dynasty (916-1125). Two huge, ancient trees grow on a steep peak: towering pine plus dragon feet and phoenix head pine tree. The trees seem to touch the sky like two imposing eagles, hence the names. A footpath opens up through the stones and with stones piled up either side, the route winds up the south side of the mountain. Downhill is Xiufeng Temple, built during the reign of Emperor Zhengde (1511) in the Ming Dynasty. Inside the temple is Jiu Feng seismic station, the first modern seismic monitoring station in China. Leaving the temple, next up is Xiangtang Temple, a 120-room temple jointly funded by eunuchs in the ninth year of Qing Dynasty Emperor Xianfeng (1859). Apricot trees surround the temple with beautiful scenery.

 

  Along the ancient Miaofeng Mountain incense route are a number of attractions and scenic landscapes. Climbing Yangtai Mountain in the early morning guarantees a beautiful sunrise view. Walking by the clear springs of these gardens is to enjoy the relaxing natural melody of water.

squarrel animal wild

 

  Complete this route in the northwest of Beijing Botanical Garden at Baiwangshan Forest Park. Baiwangshan Mountain, 210 meters in altitude, is one of the most easterly ridges of Taihang Mountain. Ming Dynasty poet Jiang Yikui wrote that people could see the ridge from 100 li, hence its name of Bai Wang (Hundred View). Folklore has it that General Yang Liulang of the Northern Song Dynasty fought soldiers from the Liao Dynasty at the foot of the mountain. His mother surnamed She went up the mountain to see and support his fight. This was how the mountain came to be named Wang’er (Looking at Son) Mountain. Today, walking into the forest park, it is hard to imagine the vicissitudes of that ancient battlefield. The tall trees and red leaves create a new, more joyous, ambiance.

 

  Western Hills National Forest Park is a comprehensive scenic area, stretching from Moshi Kou in southerly Shijingshan district up to the Wenquan village in Haidian district in the north, from Wenyi Gonglu in the east to Jun Zhuang and Yongding River Valley. It runs across Haidian, Shijingshan and Mentougou districts, and is divided into five scenic areas: Changhua, Baiwang, Jingfu, Lingyun and Beiling.

 

  Most of the scenery was planted under the auspices of the Beijing Western Hills experimental forest farm including Chinese red pine, evergreen cypress, locust and common smoketree. The park boasts many species of animals and plants, and is abundant in natural and manmade scenery like the red leaves of the Western Hills, the sunny Western Hills after snow, the Jingtai Ming Dynasty Mausoleum, the tomb for the seven concubines of Ming Dynasty Emperor Wanli and villages and watchtowers from the Qing Dynasty Plain Blue Banner and Plain White Banner Manchu groups.

 

  Cao Xueqin, The Dream of the Red Chamber and the Western Hills

 

  Arguably the most famous resident of the Western Hills is Cao Xueqin, author of The Dream of the Red Chamber. The beautiful village of Huangye sits at the foot of Wan’an Mountain in the Western Hills. This northern Chinese village has South China features and it is widely believed that a certain literary giant lived here more than 300 years ago.

Haidian District: Western Hills Ecology Tour

 

  In the sixth year of Qing Dynasty Emperor Yongzheng’s reign, the government searched Cao’s family home and seized all their property. The 13-year-old Cao followed his family into the capital city. At the beginning he lived in the Chongwenmen area, but later moved to Huangye where he led the life of an idle Manchu. During his 30-year stay, Cao wrote The Dream of the Red Chamber. He was buried in the mountains.

 

  Although Cao is long gone, the culture of his great work is rooted in thousands of households here.

 

  In today’s Baijiatuan, the brook and the ditch have disappeared. West of Shibanqiao (Stone Slab Bridge) lie some houses that are certainly unrelated to Cao. It is poignant standing here by the bridge, thinking of the last years of Cao when he lived on porridge, was too poor for wine and sold paintings to make a living as he struggled to complete a masterpiece of global literature.

haidian

 

  “Redology,” the study of the culture associated with The Dream of the Red Chamber, is an important subject in Chinese literary culture and this area of the Western Hills attracts increasing numbers of experts, scholars and tourists.

 

  Since the 1950s, scholars have been coming to research here, hoping to agree on a specific address where Cao used to reside. Well-known redologists like Wu Enyu, Wu Shichang, Chen Erdong, Zhou Ruchang, Luo Jinglan, Xia Chengdao and Zhong Jingwen have made many trips to many corners of the hills. Beijing urban myths have it that Cao stayed in countless locations about the capital city including Suanshikou in Chongwenmenwai, the south bank of Houhai Lake in Shichahai, the “water room” at the north end of Dafengxiang Hutong, Sleeping Buddha Temple at Dongbianmennei (where the artist Qi Baishi visited, painted and inscribed a poem in his honor) and Jiuxingbu Jie in Xicheng district. None of these popular theories are confirmed by any historic records. Three documented locations are Youyizongxue (Right-wing School) in Shihu Hutong of Xidan, Huaiyuan (the Scholar Tree Garden) in Xibianmen and Baijiatuan near hot springs in Haidian district. Another quite controversial location is Yard 39 of Zhengbaiqi village in the Western Hills, the current location of the Cao Xueqin Memorial.

 

  In 1971, the owner of this old house surnamed Shu was repairing a wall when he discovered a poem etched into it. One of those poems was believed to be a pair of couplets given to Cao by his good friend E Bi, which read “Wealth is far away and poverty is near, and it’s rare to make friends depending on courtesy; keep distant with relatives and friends, and it’s common to separate over wealth.” Even though the poem was later identified as irrelevant to Cao, it is still a mecca for acolytes of The Dream of the Red Chamber, and so later developed into the Cao Xueqin Memorial.

 

  When it comes to historical accuracy, Baijiatuan is more specifically documented as Cao’s former residence than Yard 39. One semi-official article cites Cao moving to Baijiatuan. This article also depicts a homeless blind old lady surnamed Bai receiving medical help from Cao. His treatment helped her see a little light. The old lady told Cao she had a space with a few trees by her family cemetery and asked him to build a house there for her. Cao built four small rooms, including one for the old lady. Today that house is west of a brook in a relatively remote area of the village. Cao moved in here in the 23rd year of Emperor Qianlong (1758) and spent his last six years writing The Dream of the Red Chamber.

 

  Baijiatuan at that time abounded with water and grass. It’s right by the hill and fits the environment depicted by the novel. Prince Yi often visited here in the early years of Emperor Yongzheng’s reign as some irrigation construction was underway upon his orders. He also often went hunting here. Loving the sweet spring water and thick green trees, Yi elected to build a villa here but before it was completed, he died of an illness. The house was used as an ancestral hall: the Xianwang Memorial Temple. During the Cultural Revolution, it was converted into a middle school. After Cao’s house was finished, brothers Guo Min and Guo Cheng tried to visit a few times but never found him at home. They just found four small, simple dirt rooms, clean and well-looked after.

 

  In today’s Baijiatuan, the brook and the ditch have disappeared. West of Shibanqiao (Stone Slab Bridge) lie some houses that are certainly unrelated to Cao. It is poignant standing here by the bridge, thinking of the last years of Cao when he lived on porridge, was too poor for wine and sold paintings to make a living as he struggled to complete a masterpiece of global literature.

 

  Searching for Buddhist subtleties at ancient temples

 

  Ancient poems count between 370 and 500 temples on the Western Hills. The oldest include Yong’an and Doulü temples built in the Tang Dynasty and today’s Biyun and Sleeping Buddha temples on Fragrant Hill. Dajue Temple was built in the Liao Dynasty. In the Ming Dynasty when Buddhism was being recklessly hyped, more than 100 temples were built about the Western Hills. In the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Qianlong ordered the building of many large Tibetan Buddhist imperial temples in order to foster unity. These temples had many influential, eminent monks of a high status who were well trained in Buddhist philosophy. Some were bestowed the title of guoshi (nation teacher) by the emperor and advised him on religious and national issues. Almost all the well-known temples outside the imperial gardens were imperial temples, built or rebuilt during the reigns of emperors Kangxi, Yongzheng and Qianlong.

Haidian District: Western Hills Ecology Tour

 

  There are many temples in the area including Longquan on Fenghuangling Hill, Dajue, Jinshan and Fayun temples on Yangtai Mountain, Biyun on Fragrant Hill, Sleeping Buddha Temple on the south side of Shouniu Mountain, Xiufeng Temple at the foot of Jiufeng (Eagle Peak), Yangshanqi and Dayun temples on Miaofeng Mountain and Guanyu Temple in the village of Che’er.

 

  First built in the early years of Emperor Yingli during the Liao Dynasty more than a thousand years ago, Longquan Temple sits at the foot of Fenghuangling Hill. On top of the hill is a large hall where people offer incense while Sanfo, Xuanwu and Xianren caves are used for closed-door exercises. Longquan today has invited Master Xuecheng, vice president and secretary-general of the China Buddhism Association, to manage its affairs, and has organized four ceremonies. Visitors to Longquan not only admire the ancient architecture, but also experience an authentic Buddhist aura. Nearby are the historic remains of Dajue, Shangfang and Huangjin temples, Miaofeng Convent and Chaoyang Cave, allowing us a glimpse into just how popular Buddhism once was in the Western Hills back then.

 

  Visitors to Longquan not only admire the ancient architecture, but also experience an authentic Buddhist aura. Nearby are the historic remains of Dajue, Shangfang and Huangjin temples, Miaofeng Convent and Chaoyang Cave, allowing us a glimpse into just how popular Buddhism once was in the Western Hills back then.

 

  Originally called Qingshui Temple, it was renamed Lingquan, later Dajue after rebuilding in the Ming Dynasty. There are 160 ancient trees, including 1,000 year-old gingko, 300-year-old magnolia and pine trees. The temple is surrounded by hills, with a plain in front and terraced hills and trees out back. Clear spring water runs down through gaps in the stones all year round.

 

  Dajue Temple

 

  Dajue Temple, also known as Dajuechan, is a 1,000-year-old temple, famous for its clear spring, magnolia and ancient trees. The temple was built in the Liao Dynasty, one of the Eight Water Gardens during the reign of Jin Dynasty Emperor zhangzong. Originally called Qingshui Temple, it was renamed Lingquan, later Dajue after rebuilding in the Ming Dynasty. There are 160 ancient trees, including 1,000 year-old gingko, 300-year-old magnolia and pine trees. The temple is surrounded by hills, with a plain in front and terraced hills and trees out back. Clear spring water runs down through gaps in the stones all year round. Some magnolia trees were moved from Sichuan province on the orders of Emperor Qianlong who favored their strong fragrance, large petals and flourishing blossom. The trees are about 300 years old, the oldest among the capital’s magnolias. Another tall, old tree, dubbed the “gingko king”, takes six people to encircle its trunk with their arms, while its shade covers half the yard. It’s said the king is 1,000 years old.

Haidian District: Western Hills Ecology Tour

 

  In 1997, Minghui Teahouse was established with tea parlors set up in Qiyun Xuan, Siyi Tang, the north and south wings of the yard. Side rooms, tables and lounge chairs were also placed in the yards. The heady scent of tea, flowers and trees dominate Dajue today. The temple scenery changes with the seasons, with the ancient magnolia and 1,000-year old gingko always a popular backdrop. More than 10 meters tall, one magnolia tree is said to have been moved from Sichuan by Chan Buddhist Master Jialing during the reign of Emperor Qianlong more than 300 years ago. The canopy of this fragrant tree is vast, with flowers as big as a fist. They blossom around Tomb-sweeping Festival and last till Grain Rain, the sixth solar term, making this a great place to visit in spring. Hundred-year-old gingko trees stand either side of Wuliangshou Hall. Emperor Qianlong wrote a poem in praise of the 25-meter-tall male north tree, also known as gingko king, that at 7.5 meters in diameter is said to have been planted during the Liao Dynasty more than 900 years ago. Every autumn its leaves turn yellow, either hanging on the tree or falling to the ground in a thick carpet, creating a much-loved scene for tourists.

 

  Built on a hill where its buildings advance step by step to form six courtyards, Biyun Temple is one of the better-known Fragrant Hill temples. Two exquisitely carved, mighty stone lions have guarded the gate since the Ming Dynasty. On both sides of the gate are cornerstones for flags. The gold inscription on the blue horizontal sign reads “Biyun Temple,” written by Emperor Qianlong in four languages: Han, Mongolian, Manchurian and Tibetan.

 

  Opposite Biyun is the small, unique Guanyu Temple east of the village of Che’er. Three ancient pine trees mark the spot: one close to the road is 20 meters high and 3.5 meters in perimeter. It is said to have been planted in the Liao Dynasty more than 1,000 years ago, making it the oldest Chinese pine in Beijing. One of its main branches stretches to the road and it looks like it’s greeting guests from afar. It’s also called “guest-greeting pine” and “holy pine” by local villagers.

 

  Walk around the ancient architecture of the Western Hills, feel the pulse of history in the gaps between stone and brick, and know your visit could not be more meaningful.

 

  Culture on show in large courtyards

 

  The Western Hills aren’t just the backbone of a dragon. They are the framework for a whole culture. As a nation reliant on agriculture, the Chinese, more particularly Chinese scholars, have long tended to fix their gaze upon the idyllic life among the mountains and rivers. The Western Hills have called out to many a scholar stuck in Beijing. Some savored that idyll so much they even moved there. One of the best-known scholars of the Qing Dynasty chose to live alone in the hills. Nalan Xingde and his poetry were revered in his time and remain highly rated today. His father Nalan Mingzhu was a powerful minister during the reign of Qing Dynasty Emperor Kangxi, but the son tired of the sound and fury of capricious court officials. Lacking in the traditional political ambitions, Xingde yearned for the peaceful life. He had Lushui Pavilion built near Yuquan Mountain where he entertained friends by the water, wrote poems, researched and read historic books. Most of his best works were written in the Western Hills.

Haidian District: Western Hills Ecology Tour

 

  Lin Huiyin was recuperating from illness with her husband Liang Sicheng in the Western Hills when she found a greater calling. Lin’s academic research resulted first in the article “A Record on Architecture in Beijing’s Suburbs”. Later as she recovered in Shuangqing Villa, Lin felt inspired by her environment to pen a series of poems that included “Peach Blossom and Red Leaves”. From then on, she was a poet and Lin went on to become a respected member of the New Moon School of poetry.

 

  Peking Opera artist Cheng Yanqiu left his footprints all over the soil of the Western Hills. In March 1943, he resided in a rural house at Qinglongqiao in Haidian district, abandoning his art in favor of farming. He prepared himself for a life of solitude in the Western Hills. As a great artist, he was still enthusiastic about returning to the stage, but chose rural pursuits during war. After Japan’s surrender, Cheng returned to perform on stage. Thus his quiet time in the hills proved a temporary, not permanent, arrangement.

 

  The Western Hills suit a certain lifestyle and have attracted many notable people. It’s difficult to guess exactly how many gardens have been built here for the successful and the well-heeled, but surviving houses include Qing Dynasty official Zhang Zhidong’s residence on the north of Baimixiejie, Tonglinge House on the south campus of the Communist Party’s Central Party School, Peking Opera artist Mei Lanfang’s Fragrant Rain Pavilion, Dr Jean Jerome Augustin Bussiere’s garden and Lejia Garden owned by the boss of the Tongrentang medicine company.

 

  The Western Hills offer a certain anonymity, mystery and solitude. Its hills and waters reach into people’s hearts. Their charms are irresistible to both Chinese and foreigners. They speak of a shared human spiritual bond beyond words, time and culture.

 

  Tombs of notables

 

  Famous people dug gardens, residences and finally, their own graves in the Western Hills. As Chinese attach enormous importance to the notion of feng shui, it is hardly surprising that the Western Hills boasts many a notable tomb.

Haidian District: Western Hills Ecology Tour

 

  The most well-known is Qiwang Tomb (the Seventh Prince Tomb), for Yi Huan, or Prince Chun, father of Emperor Guangxu. The foot of Yangtai Mountain peak has been a sacred Buddhist location since the Tang Dynasty. From low to high, walking up more than 100 stone steps, there is a stone monument inscribed with Prince Chun’s biography. Behind it lies a stone arch bridge, then a cemetery. North of the old dead graveyard is new living habitation.

 

  Out from Qiwang Tomb, head downhill to the base of the mountain for Jiuwang Tomb, the tomb for Yi Hui, Prince Fu, the ninth prince and ninth son of Emperor Daoguang, uncle of Emperor Guangxu. Jiuwang and Qiwang tombs are the best preserved and highest-ranking tombs from the Qing Dynasty. Jiuwang looks very much like Qiwang, only slightly bigger. It is said that this tombstone was meant for the seventh prince, but the craftsmen failed to lift it to its intended location. Thus the more weighty tombstone got given to the ninth prince – who actually ranked lower. The tombstone for the seventh prince is significantly smaller.

 

  Walk southeast past these two tombs to the tomb of Liang Qichao amid a gingko and pine tree park in the east of Beijing Botanical Garden. The tomb is not just for Liang but also Liang’s family. Beside Liang, his two wives, younger brother and three sons are all buried here. The tomb garden rests against the Western Hills, facing south, fenced by a low stone wall and covered by pine trees. It was designed and built by the architect Liang Sicheng, son of Liang Qichao. The garden expresses his philosophy about harmony of human and environment. This graveyard is not at all depressing. It’s more like stepping into a garden.

 

  Out of Beijing Botanical Garden, go southwest to the tomb of Tong Linge at Lanzhangou, the foot of Fragrant Hill. General Tong Linge, an anti-Japanese war martyr, is buried here under the crescent-shaped cement dome. The graveyard faces north with a white marble tombstone in front. The tomb has become an important base for youthful patriotic education. At the foot of Fragrant Hill is also the tomb for the reputed educator Xiong Xiling from Republican-era China. The graveyard faces southeast, fenced by a stone wall and granite gate. The original yard was heavily damaged during the Cultural Revolution, but was gradually restored in the 1990s. Look closely for stele fragments scattered about the yard.

 

  Go up the slope and after Biyun Temple is the memorial for Sun Yat-sen and a tomb containing the personal effects of the deceased – minus the corpse of Sun himself. In the center of the memorial is a white marble statute of Sun, and on the left and right of the walls are white marble inscriptions of a letter Sun Yat-sen once addressed to the former Soviet union            . The north of the main hall displays a steel coffin with a glass lid given by the Soviet union             on March 30, 1925 and his handwritten documents and books.

 

  It’s hard to imagine how many tombs there are in the Western Hills. They include Ma Lianliang, Mei Lanfang, Li Dazhao, Duan Qirui, Liu Bannong and Liu Tianhua. “The tombs of famous people cluster at the Western Hills as it’s considered to have very good feng shui,” says Western Hills cultural scholar Zhang Baozhang. “Every village has tombs. Wan’an and Futian were the two best public graveyards at the end of the Qing Dynasty and at the beginning of the Republic of China where mostly scholars, ministers and warlords were buried.”

 

  Visiting the graveyards helps one appreciate more about the historic importance of the Western Hills.

 

  Village folk customs & lifestyle

 

  Thanks to improving technology, the rice today is of a higher quality and productivity. The planting area gradually expanded to Sijiqing, Yongfeng, Wenquan and Bei’anhe villages, Sujiatuo and Dongbeiwang farms. Traveling here in harvest season is ripe with fun opportunities in the village of Simafang and towns of Daoxiang and Shangzhuang, where there are the largest concentrations of rice paddies in west Beijing.

Haidian District: Western Hills Ecology Tour

 

  West Beijing rice paddies

 

  According to written records, Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong brought Zijingu rice seeds back from South China to try planting in west Beijing. The harvest was exclusively for imperial use and so the rice was called “imperial rice”. Even today, that rice is still planted in Haidian district’s Dongde Temple, Liulang village, Manzi village, Heilongtan and Ximafang. The round rice looks crystalline and tastes soft when cooked. Thanks to improving technology, the rice today is of a higher quality and productivity. The planting area gradually expanded to Sijiqing, Yongfeng, Wenquan and Bei’anhe villages, Sujiatuo and Dongbeiwang farms. Traveling here in harvest season is ripe with fun opportunities in the village of Simafang and towns of Daoxiang and Shangzhuang, where there are the largest concentrations of rice paddies in west Beijing. The farm harvests 133 hectares and with 90 percent green cover in the area, the negative oxygen ion count hits 20,000: a beautiful, natural oxygen bar. The farm offers accommodation, food and beverages, fishing, entertainment, fruit picking, planting, sightseeing and agricultural education. Most people come here not for the rice, but for one simple reason: fun.

 

  Daoxiang Lake

 

  Daoxiang Lake Park in Sujiatuo is the first rural nature park set up and funded by peasants in west Beijing. It’s surrounded in three directions by hills. Schools of fish can be seen when tourists take a boat. Green reeds flourish while egrets, loriots, turtledoves stage singing contests as beautiful as Baiyang Lake itself. Brush away the floating duckweed and find snails as big as chestnuts ready for fishing, cooking and eating.

 

  Guanjialing folk village

 

  The village of Guanjialing sits in the rural tourism zone of Daxishan, Haidian district, with beautiful natural scenery. Villagers’ houses are quite well preserved and offer tourists a quiet, natural and beautiful feeling, especially in spring with apricot blossoms. The natural beauty here is showcased by Longtan Valley and Binghugou. At Longtan Valley with clear spring water for four seasons, tourists can appreciate peach blossoms in spring, lilies in summer, red leaves in autumn and snow and silver mountains in winter.

The Imperial Gardens