I first experienced ancient Qingyan Town on a sunny summer afternoon. As the sun slowly slipped over the horizon, bathing the town in a glowing orange, everyone I met seemed slightly sluggish, and I started feeling a bit in slow-motion myself. While roaming aimlessly amidst the archaic stone houses, my focus was pulled to sunflowers frequently emerging from walls along with weeds peeking out of cracks. The drowsy silence was only interrupted by chirps of sparrows gliding through the pristine sky.
Qingyan is less than 30 kilometers from Guiyang, capital of China’s southwestern Guizhou Province which is always a destination of China travel deals, and modern transportation from Guiyang is convenient. Travelers often make a stop in Huaxi to try their famous rice noodles, and from there Qingyan is only 10 minutes by car. Centuries ago, during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Qingyan was only a border fort, and its residents were only a few dozen soldiers. When the men gazed longingly toward their hometowns to the north, their view was blocked by the steep green cliffs of Dajiang Hill. The fort’s name became Qingyan, which literally means “green cliff.”
Over the years, the fort transformed into a bustling town populated by a variety of transient merchants, stationed soldiers, and immigrants from other inland areas. Before long, many were settling down permanently in the town, some because they fell in love with the land, and others because they sought a better life. These people became the ancestors of those who now call Qingyan home.
Guizhou’s first ever zhuangyuan (meaning “Top Scholar,” a title conferred to the highest scorer on the imperial examination), Zhao Yijiong, was born in Qingyan during the reign of Emperor Xianfeng of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). At 29, Zhao traveled the long distance to the capital for the highest imperial examination, which led to impressing Emperor Guangxu with his distinguished literary abilities enough to earn the title of zhuangyuan. Despite his unprecedented fame in literary circles nationwide and especially in Guizhou, Zhao was not quite so successful in his official career. After retiring, he returned to his hometown and served as a teacher until his death at the age of 49. Today, his former residence is still well-preserved in Qingyan. Surrounded by courtyards shaded by laurel trees and filled with stone stairs covered with moss, the once-private mansion has been converted into a tourist destination where visitors can tour the house and even stay the night for their top China tours.
An important commercial hub of Guizhou, Qingyan attracted a considerable population of foreign missionaries by the mid-19th century. Nowadays, a stroll in the town can lead visitors past many religious structures, including not only Buddhist and Taoist temples, but also Christian cathedrals.
The town retains its original layout from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Lining its stone-paved streets are countless shops, many of which preserved authentic wood or stone counters to display local products, crafts, and ethnic costumes and accessories. Typically, teahouses and restaurants are decorated with traditional wood signs, which fuel the nostalgic aura. They are complemented by plentiful memorial archways, of which the most famous is for Zhao Lilun, a villager who is thought to have lived for 102 years. Its stone-carved lions were highly praised by Liu Haisu, a prominent Chinese artist.
Qingyan features many tofu workshops that still use manpowered stone mills. In one workshop, an elderly woman was pushing a stone mill, as white soybean juice dripped from it. The hospitable shopkeeper treated me to a bowl of fresh tofu. The delicious treat stimulated my appetite, so I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around town tasting local snacks such as rose candy, pear wine, rose wine, and salted pork.
Visitors to the ancient town will encounter dogs sleeping in streets, roadside fortune tellers eager to reveal the future, elderly artisans crafting wood barrels, and local women embroidering butterflies, as they haggle with peddlers about the prices of never-before-seen foods and vegetables or crash a local wedding (strangers are often welcomed to take part in the feast). Most tourists who have China tour packages feel lucky enough to visit leave with a spiritual comfort from experiencing a completely different way of life.
At dusk, I turned back from outside the ancient town’s south gate to marvel at the gate tower glowing magnificently in the rays of the setting sun. A stone wall stretched from the tower and disappeared below the horizon. A plaque on the gate tower reading “Guang Ding Gate” gradually disappeared into the encroaching darkness.
As black settled over the land, frogs in paddy fields began to sing. On their way home, farmers passed through the gate with hands clasped behind their backs. A shepherd led his flock with a flute, and the melodic whistle inspired birds to hover over the woods.
Qingyan was just one stop on my journey across southwestern China. Throughout my life, I have visited many other ancient towns, but in my memory, none rival the peacefulness and tranquility of Qingyan.
China Travel Tips
How to Get There:
The ancient town of Qingyan is about 29 kilometers south of urban Guiyang. A bus leaves downtown Guiyang for Qingyan every five minutes, and a single-trip ticket is only 10 yuan. Tourists can also take a taxi, which costs about 100 yuan.
Where to Stay:
Visitors are recommended to spend a couple of days traveling around Qingyan. The town’s plentiful hotels are affordable, with a standard room rates at about
20-30 yuan per night.
What to Eat:
Qingyan is particularly notable for its local foods. Traditional snacks feature no exotic ingredients, but rather only locally grown grains and household livestock. Thanks to the superb cooking techniques developed by of local chefs, the native snacks are popular with both locals and tourists. Along with famous local snacks such as fried tofu balls and sticky rice porridge, Qingyan is also noted for sugared pork and fish in sour soup. Additionally, wild vegetable dishes are often seen on local dining tables.
By comparision with the towns along Silk Road tour, you will feel a great difference.
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