Important Vestiges of a Legendary Culture

Text by: José Manuel Serrano Esparza

Peking Wall. Just watch the huge defensive tower in the foreground and the caravan of
camels in the background. 1906

The always fascinating China has contributed one of the most important cultures in the History of Humanity for thousands of years and has been an special allure for a lot of travellers and tourists who have diachronically visited it with the highest curiosity and interest.

The history of China has always been very influenced by its geography. China is like a huge oasis, surrounded by natural barriers everywhere. In the east and south we have the Pacific Ocean, the Tibetan Plateau being in the west and finally about 1,600 km of desert in the north.
There have always been access routes, but speaking in relative terms, the Chinese geography has traditionally imposed a noteworthy degree of self-sufficiency and isolation from outer influences.
Of paramount importance in the genesis and development of this impressive culture was the august Yangtse river, fountain of life and of a continual commercial and artistic activity since the oldest times. It starts to flow in the Tibetan Plateau and is nourished by a great many tributaries, while it flows through its rich plains and during the summer floods period it bears twice more the water volume than Mississippi river at its maximum annual level.
On the south of the middle course of the Yangtse, the land is plentiful and productive, but the valleys made up by the river are narrow and you´re constantly in touch with hills and mountains. And where it was possible, such hills were transformed into rice fields terraces.
Besides, China has been an epicenter of utterly important and very ancient philosophical and thought trends, as Taoism, Confucionism, Buddhism and so forth.
It also possesses a very old cuisine, with thousands of different recipes and a very high level and ancient natural medicine, complemented by fairly deep knowledge on Acupunture.
A lot of trading routes crossed through its vast geography, especially the silk one and China was always a great worldly producer and exporter of tea, with epicentre in the town of Hankou and manufacture of three types of tea: "Lao cha"(big or normal tea), "Jin zhuan"(brick tea) and "Mi zhuan"(black tea of bohea of lesser size). The two first were green tea varieties that were shipped to Central Asia and Eastern Siberia and the third one was mainly sold in Siberia.
Tea became very consubstantial to the great Chinese civilization, to such extent that tea bricks with official stamp were often used in a wide range of trade transactions (one of them, almost intact, can be watched currently at the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid).
It was also relevant the "hookah" tobacco of Lanzhou (administrative capital of Gansu province), which was exported to every area in China.
And equally very considerable was the development of theatre, with classic tragedies, commedies and vaudevilles.
Historically, in the beginning, China stood out by its Neolithic cultural stage of Yang-shao.
Later on, appeared the Bronze Age and the Shang Order(about from 1766 to 1122 BC) and successively different dynasties, being relevant amongst them the Chou Kings, the Han Empire, the Mongolian Yüan Dynasty, the Ming Dynasty, the Sung Dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, etc, during which the country was in the hands of Chinese, Mongols and Manchu people.
The enormous social, political, economic and warlike convulsions happened in China during the first 50 years of XX century (Boxer Rebellion in 1900, proclamation of the Chinese Republic by Sun Yat-Sen, seizure of power by Chiang Kai-Shek and fight against Mao Tse Tung´s communists, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and later utter war against Japan until 1945 and specially the Civil War that broke again between Nationalists and Communists in 1946, with victory of Mao Tse Tung´s troops and the instauration in 1946 of the Popular Republic of China) were all events that charged a high toll both in human lives and serious damages to the architectonic and traditional cultural heritage of the millenary classic China.
To it all we must add up the unceasing erosive effect of the wind, with its abrasive winds, water, thunderbolts, earthquakes, etc.
Notwithstanding, the huge richness and diversity of glorious vestiges, has made possible the survival of authentic wonders of the classic China. Amongst them we must undeline:

Suspension bridge in Guan xian (Province of Sichuan). 1908

Great Chinese Wall (Wan Li Chang chen). 1907

Temple of Heaven (Tian tan). Annual enclosure of prayers and sacrifices. Peking. 1908

Terra-cotta warriors from Chin period found in Xian. 1974

Temple of the South Heavenly Door (Nantianmen) on the summit of Tai shan (Province of Shandong). A typical example of monastery on top of a mountain of difficult access and stairs carved on the rock. 1906

Commemorative pailous in the way between Luzhour and Ziliujing (Province of Sichuan). 1908

Pagoda of the Temple of the Dragon Beauty (Longhuata).
Shangai. 1908

Tomb in the Province of Guangxi. 1908

Taoist monastery in Chengdu, capital of the Province of Sichuan. 1908

It was built in XV Century and it was an imposing fortress with hundreds of defensive towers, sixteen access doors and a bridged moat.
Historically, it was famous because of the tremendous siege by Ghengis Khan in1215 and a recreation in the shape of a colossal kit which appeared in some scenes of the movie ´55 Days at Peking´, shot in 1963.
On the other hand, Peking Wall was constantly crossed by big caravans of camels and merchants coming from the most remote boundaries and was one of the compulsory stops within the Silk Route.
Currently, only a little part of the city walls that completely surrounded the city exists, with only a few corner towers and some important doors being standing.
But until Second World War, Peking Wall remained intact in a high percentage of its layout.

They were originally elements from the Hindu Buddist temples, that became into elegant gardens of buildings in China. In the same way, usually they built pagodas on top of the hills, because they thought that on doing so it would improve the "feng shi"(literally "wind and water") or the natural luck of the zone, avoiding floods and similar disasters. Some of the pagodas were visible from many kilometres distance, noticeably enhancing the landscape.

It´s about 5,000 km long. It extends across both China and Western Mongolia. It was constructed in 214 as a stronghold against the hordes of brabaric nomads. Originally built with battered sand, the Great Wall was reinforced with brick during Ming Dynasty(1368-1644).
Fortified doors stood on the roads and towers with battlements protected the garrisons stationed in the Wall. Its width was such that six horsemen could ride in line between the merlons.
Of grandiose aspect, it´s a compulsory visit for tourists. It´s the only human construction visible from the spaceships.

Its construction began in 1420, near the south wall of the "Outer City" of Peking. It was here where the Ming and Qing Emperors arrived during the Moon New year to inform the Heaven about the previous year events and to pray in order that there were good crops the following year. The corridors were circular and were covered with navy blue glazed tiles, since blue is the colour of heaven. The fenced and walled enclosures were surrounded by regular rows of pines and special grass to feed the cattle that had to be sacrificed to the Heaven.
You can observe a series of marble platform where the Emperor made the sacrifices, and on the upper area, there were a number of great beauty bronze thuribles.
The Emperor, considered the "Son of the God", arrived in a big cart pulled by elephants and the Temple of Heaven doors were only officially opened once a year for this event.

Entrance to the Temple of Li Bing and Erlang in Guan xian
(Province of Sichuan).1909

Monastery next to a river in Yibin (Province of Sichuan). 1907

Tomb in Fuzhou (Province of Fujian). 1908

Buddhist library at the Xiangtongsi Monastery in Wutai shan (Province of Shanxi). 1907

Great Hall of Prayers in Wutai shan (Province of Shanxi). 1908

Stairs of access to the Temple of the Sacred Hill in Qinling shan (Province of Shaanxi). 1909

Guests house in the garden of a monastery in Qinling shan (Province of Shaanxi). 1909

Silversmith´s in a street of Shangai. 1906

Bell of the Temple of Confucius in Wan xian (Province of Sichuan). 1908

Stage for theatre plays in the temple of Zhang Fei in Wan xian (Province of Sichuan). 1908

There are monasteries in high and steep mountainous zones of difficult access, usually wrought on the very rock, above all the elevated access stairs.
Specially abundant are the ones being in Wutai Shan (Provincia de Shanxi), considered sacred from very ancient times in the classical China.
Such temples were ascetic reclusion centers, where the monks were tought iron discipline, literature, spirituality and very different martial arts.
The temples on the mountain areas of Hua shan and Qinling shan (Shaanxi Province) and those inside big caves in Qincheng shan (Sichuan Province) and Mian shan (Shanxi Province) also stand out.

Built to honor the relatives, famous characters, etc. They are symbolic structures, made in wood or stone, accolading traditional virtues. Featuring legendary artistic beauty, they were all over China, being outstanding for its quantity Guangxi and Sichuan provinces above all.

They were very important, because the family was and is currently the cornerstone of Chinese society. They honored their forebears in altars and the temple also served as a social meeting place and as a haven centre for needy people.
It´s very usual the location of relatives tombs on hills and mountains slopes in the outskirts of towns and villages, in the same way as it goes on happening for instance in modern Korea.
Among the tombs of the classical China we must underline those in Ya´an (Sichuan Province), Fuzhou (Fujian Province), Guangzhou (Guangdong Province), the ones all over Duangxi Province and the Tombs of the Emperors of Manchu Dynasty in Beijing.

One of the cultural bulwarks of the classical China, because from very old times there is an extraordinary classic Chinese literature with a very comprehensive vocabulary and a vast number of semantic shades (overwhelmingly exceeding the modern Mandarin or Cantonese), that is only mastered by some learned monks and sages.

Familiar tomb in Ya´an (province of Sichuan). 1908

Tombs of monks in the Monastery of the Golden Dome in Ya´an (Province of Sichuan). 1908

Pagoda of Balizhuang, in the outskirts of Peking. 1908

Bronze lions at the entrance of the Temple of the Great Misericord in Taiyuan (Province of Shanxi). 1907

Stairs of access to a monastery in Wutai shan (Province of Shanxi). 1906

Great Pagoda of the Sacred Relics in Wutai shan (Province of Shanxi). 1906

Close-up of the upper area of a terra-cotta warrior of Xian from Chin period. 1974

Photographs commentaries.

a)Peking City Wall. 1910. It can be watched the enormous defensive tower and the camels caravan in the background.

b)Suspension bridge in Guan xian (Sichuan Province). 1908.

c)Great Wall of China ("Wan Li chang cheng").

d)Temple of Heaven ("Tian Tan"). Annual enclosure for prayers and sacrifices. Peking. 1908.

f)Temple of the South celestial Door("nantianmen") on the summit of Tai shan. (Shandong province). 1906. A rich example of a monastery on top of a mountain of difficult access and stairs wrought on the very rock.

g)Terracotta warriors of Chin Period, discovered in Xian in 1974.

h)Commemorative Pailous on the road between Luzhour and Ziliujing. 1908 (Sichuan Province).

i)Pagoda of the Temple of the Dragon Beauty ("Longhuata"). Shangai. 1908.

© Copyright Text by: José Manuel Serrano Esparza