Hebei province may be less well known as a Chinese travel destination due to its proximity to Beijing, the international metropolis and capital of several ancient regimes. Hebei, however, boasts rich tourist attractions: it has 278 historic sites under national protection, ranking foremost in the country.
Over 5,000 years ago the Yellow Emperor defeated rival tribe leaders the Yan Emperor and Chiyou, in what is today’s Hebei, uniting the region and establishing Chinese civilization. During the Spring and Autumn and the Warring States periods (770-221 BC) Hebei seated the Yan and Zhao states, bequeathing a large trove of precious cultural relics still evident to this day. By the Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, Beijing was established as the capital, and neighboring Hebei played an important role in protecting it.
Besides historic sites, Hebei also boasts attractive natural scenery. It is the only province with all the geographic features of Chinese topography – beaches, plains, lakes, hilly land, mountains and plateaus. The various landforms endow Hebei with distinctive and changing natural scenery through different seasons. The most popular tourist attractions for both domestic and international travelers are the Great Wall, the Chengde Mountain Resort and its surrounding temple complex, Shanhaiguan Pass, and Zhangjiakou’s Ski Resort.
The Best of the Great Wall
The Great Wall is the pride and symbol of the Chinese nation, as well as one of the world’s miracles of ancient architecture. It has been 2,000 years since the construction of the Great Wall began. Today it extends for over 5,000 kilometers through central and northern China.
For Great Wall enthusiasts, the best choice is to go to Hebei because about 2,000 kilometers of the ancient fortification wind through this province. The Great Wall starts from Shanhaiguan in Hebei in the east, and ends in the west at Jiayuguan in Gansu province. Many of its most renowned sections are in Hebei, including the Jinshanling and Panjiakou Great Wall in Chengde City, Luowenyu Great Wall in Tangshan City, Jiaoshan, Jiumenkou and Shanhaiguan Great Wall in Qinhuangdao City. These are the best preserved and most representative sections of the colossal construction. Hebei also has several Great Wall museums and the Temple of Lady Mengjiang (a legendary figure whose husband, soon after their marriage, was taken away to build the defense works there, and died of overwork), where visitors acquire a deeper understanding of the culture of the Great Wall.
The 10.5-kilometer Jinshanling Great Wall on the border of Luanping County in Hebei province and Miyun County in Beijing is considered the quintessence of the formation. It is the best-preserved section, built during the Ming Dynasty, and features the most complex structure.
The Jinshanling Great Wall has a distinctive defense system because its builders drew on the experience of previous wars and battles to modify the old design. The section was equipped with a beacon-fire alarm system, lookout towers and passes. Some of the military features here are of the sort rarely seen in other sections of the Great Wall. The lookout towers, for instance, are of various shapes – square, circular, L-shaped or long and narrow. The arrow towers have three, four or five arrow slits. Standing at the top of an arrow tower and gazing afar, you can see how the Great Wall connects the mountains and towers, offering grand and imposing vistas.
Another section of the Great Wall that thrills visitors is the Panjiakou Underwater Great Wall, 60 kilometers northwest of the county seat of Qianxi in Hebei. In the Ming Dynasty it was part of the defense against Mongolians, at the Jizhen garrison. As time passed with changing water levels, a part of the Great Wall became submerged in the Panjiakou Reservoir, while the rest still remains above the surface, scaling up the mountain westward. The submerged walls and towers, visible from above the water, resemble a swimming dragon. The two parts form a rare and wonderful panorama that blends ancient military architecture and lake and mountain views.