Shanxi Province, situated in the northern part of China, in the middle reaches of the Yellow River valley, borders Hebei to the east, Henan to the south, Shaanxi to the west, and Inner Mongolia to the north. Shanxi got its name due to its location to the west of Taihang Mountain Range. The province is also called Jin for short since the ducal state of Jin existed here during the Spring and Autumn Period. The mountainous Shanxi will meet virtually all your China travel expectations, and throw in a few surprises.
Must-Sees in Shanxi
The long history of Shanxi has provided the province with a large number of cultural relics and historic sites. So far, the Ancient City of Pingyao, the Yungang Grottoes and Mount Wutai have been listed on the World Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. They are three of the Shanxi must-sees.
The Ancient City of Pingyao in central Shanxi, with a history of more than 2,700 years, is perhaps China’s best-preserved ancient walled city. Pingyao is famous for its well-preserved city walls, its largely intact Ming- and Qing-dynasty architecture, and the former banks. Pingyao is the place where you can experience the old style of life. Even today, there are still over 20,000 people living in this ancient city.
The Yungang Grottoes is one of the three most famous ancient Buddhist sculptural sites of China, the other two being the Mogao Caves in Gansu Province and the Longmen Grottoes in Henan Province. The 45 caves in Yungang Grottoes include some 252 niches with about 51,000 statues. They are an outstanding example of the Chinese stone carvings from the 5th and 6th centuries.
Mount Wutai, the home of Manjusri (the Bodhisattva of Wisdom), is one of the Four Sacred Mountains of Buddhism in China. Mount Wutai is known for its time-honored history in temple establishment and its large scale. The first Buddhist temple appeared in the mountain area approximately 1,900 years ago in the Eastern Han Dynasty. In the Tang Dynasty when Buddhism reached its zenith, there were as many as over 360 temples in Wutai Mountain (but now only 41 of them exist). Apart from its reputation in religion, Mount Wutai is also a notable place as a summer resort.
Shanxi also has many other unique landscape and scenic attractions.
Mount Hengshan, one of China’s five great mountains, is noted for its beautiful natural scenery. Mount Hengshan is also a major Taoist site.
The Hukou Waterfall on the most spectacular section of the Yellow River is the biggest yellow waterfall in the world as well as the second largest waterfall in China
Shanxi – A Museum of the Ancient Chinese Architecture
Shanxi has preserved not only large quantities of ancient temples, monasteries and religious grottoes but also ancient city walls and grand mansions. Many of these ancient structures were built before the Liao and Song dynasties and nowadays they have become so precious that Shanxi is often called the “Museum of the Ancient Chinese Architecture”.
The Hanging Temple, built more than 1,500 years ago, is famous for its location on a sheer precipice of Mount Hengshan. It is also the only existing temple with the combination of three Chinese traditional religions: Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism.
The Sakyamuni Pagoda of Fogong Temple in Yingxian County (or commonly known as Yingxian Wooden Pagoda) is both the oldest and tallest fully wooden pagoda in China. Amazingly, the pagoda was originally constructed without any metal nails; its support beams are connected by clever interlocking wooden brackets.
The Great Buddha Hall of Nanchan Temple and the Great East Hall of Foguang Temple at Mount Wutai, both of which were built in the Tang Dynasty, are two oldest surviving timber buildings in China.
The garden-style Jinci Temple is the most prominent temple complex in Shanxi, famous for its architecture, sculpture and natural scenery. The highlight of this Buddhist temple complex is the Hall of the Holy Mother, a magnificent wooden structure with eight dragons twining their way up the first row of pillars.
The Qiao Family Compound, one of the best preserved folk houses of the Qing Dynasty, represents the typical style of folk residential houses in the north of China.
Business Culture of Jin
The merchants from Shanxi (usually called “Jin merchants”), the most powerful and prominent merchant guilds during the Ming and Qing dynasties, held an important role in the financial realm in China. Jin merchants traveled to very part of China and even abroad for business. In the late Qing Dynasty, they created a new financial institution called “piaohao” or draft bank, which was initially small banking industry that provided services like money transfers and transactions, deposits, loans, and so on. The first draft bank in China’s history, Rishengchang, was established in Pingyao. Later, this financial exchange network was extended to all parts of China.
Today, the luxurious residences left by the Jin merchants remain intact and have become popular tourist attractions, such as the Qiao Family Compound and the Chang Family Compound.
You should try the noodles when travelling in Shanxi. With a 2,000 years history of making dishes from flour and dough, Shanxi is known as the home of the Chinese noodles. The region boasts nearly 300 traditional noodle dishes, among which the most renowned is daoxiaomian (literally knife-sliced noodles).
Shanxi’s local specialties include grapes, walnuts, dates, and so on. But the most famous local products are vinegar and liquor, both with high reputation all over the country.