Take a trip through time


A cyclist rides on the city wall of Xi'an in Shaanxi province. (He Rong/For China Daily)

Efforts have been made to breathe new life into the country's historical heritage and bring the positive results to the traveling public.

Meng Wei is still reminiscing on his debut in the 2021 City Wall Marathon, which took place on the ancient city wall of Xi'an, capital of northwestern China's Shaanxi province.

He joined 4,000 other runners in the event, which started in 1993 and exposes runners to the ancient charm of the city, which, for 13 dynasties and empires, was once the country's capital.

"As a local, it wouldn't feel right for me not to join such a big event on my doorstep," Meng says.

The city wall of Xi'an is an extension of the prior Tang Dynasty (618-907) structure. The project started in 1370 and was completed in 1378.

The rectangular construction runs more than 4 kilometers from east to west and about 3 km from north to south.

The city wall was in a wretched state 40 years ago, when weeds ran wild on top of the wall and rubbish piled up against it at the bottom.

The local authority has worked to repair the city wall over the years and continues to explore preventive protection methods.

Supervision has been arranged at more than 8,000 points along the wall to identify any potential risks, says Yang Jin, director of the city wall's management committee.

"Corresponding engineering measures will be taken to remove or curb any problems we find," Yang says.

The committee has also worked on renovating the city moat and developing a historical and cultural block nearby to turn the city wall area into a tourist getaway.

Visitors can tour a historical museum, a temple and an academy of classical learning to savor the value of those cultural relics.


The ancient town of Pingyao, in Shanxi province, boasts densely clustered old buildings. The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has rated Pingyao as the best-preserved ancient county in China. (Zhan Youbing/For China Daily)

They are also able to see displays of local intangible cultural heritage, including paper-cut and shadow puppet play, as well as enjoying fashionable cafes and shops selling creative and trendy products.

In Sixian county, East China's Anhui province, vast verdant fields spread as far as the eye can see from the banks of a section of the ancient Grand Canal, interrupted only by a wooden pavilion and a stone bridge that spans the waterway.

It was one of the sections that was granted UNESCO World Heritage status in June 2014.

The Sixian section has survived the test of time, thanks to its natural geographical advantage and continuous protection by the population along its banks.

Yu Chao was born and bred on the banks of that original stretch of the canal and has witnessed significant changes in his neighborhood.

"My family used to live in the thatch- and tile-roofed dwellings among the farmlands along the canal," the 35-year-old says.

The area was plagued by litter, and pigs and fowl were left to run loose on the farmland, he recalls.

But, the canal somehow managed to avoid man-made pollution, and Yu says that, as a child, he would watch fish swimming in the water.

"Perhaps we, as locals, understood the importance of the waterway to our livelihoods," Yu says.

As soon as the site's historical value was realized in the 2000s, the wanton disregard for the surrounding environment stopped and the county's administrators have worked hard to improve it. Shanties have been relocated, and sewage systems have been put in place, says Wang Yongle, an official with the county's publicity department. Personnel have been assigned to regularly maintain the canal's environment.


Picturesque Lugu Lake in Lijiang, Yunnan province. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Rural output and animal husbandry have been scientifically managed, and polluting farms have given way to scenic green belts designed for sightseers and tourists.

Local authorities have focused on the protection, inheritance and use of Grand Canal culture.

Since 2019, archaeological exploration has been carried out along the full 28 km stretch to better understand the canal's conditions.

The county invested more than 1 billion yuan ($157 million) in developing a cluster of 10 cultural facilities in the Grand Canal area, including the Sui-Tang, or the Sui (581-618) and Tang dynasties, canal and a museum of local family traditions, as well as a library and a theater.

The cluster covers an area of 30,000 square meters and provides sightseeing, intangible cultural heritage and performances, as well as social education.

Sixian is also planning a national-level Grand Canal park that will highlight the features of the Sui-Tang Grand Canal sections, as well as archaeological findings, Wang says.

In Lijiang, southwestern China's Yunnan province, the local authority has been trying to instill the bustling commercial areas with a strong cultural presence.

Li Junxing has received local government funding and support in restoring his family's residence, which was built in 1875. So far, the residence has become a museum where visitors can see the distinct features of ethnic Naxi architecture.

In late January, President Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of preserving cultural relics and upholding cultural confidence during his visit to Shanxi province's Pingyao county, which is famed for its well-preserved urban planning and architecture from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

The ancient county sits in Jinzhong city, which is half an hour away from the provincial capital of Taiyuan by high-speed train.

Densely clustered ancient buildings, viewed from the top of the Pingyao ancient city wall, can easily take one's breath away.

The intact wall runs for approximately 6 km, and it takes up to two hours to walk the full circle and enjoy a bird's eye view of the old town.


A section of the ancient Grand Canal is turned into a tourist spot in Huai'an, Jiangsu province. (Zhou Changguo/For China Daily)

The UNESCO World Heritage Committee has rated Pingyao as the best-preserved ancient county in China and an outstanding example of ethnic Han cities of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The committee held that the county offers a complete picture of cultural, social, economic and religious development in ancient times.

There are roughly 4,000 well-preserved residences in the historical area. More than a decade ago, most of them were "too shabby for the eye to see", recalls Fan Dongshan, a local resident.

In 2012, Pingyao came up with a protection and repair subsidy plan for traditional folk residences. The government offered two-thirds of the renovation costs while the owners covered the rest.

Fan signed up and received a funding of 170,000 yuan for his Qing Dynasty property.

To date, more than 1,000 local residences have been restored, benefiting more than 900 local people.

During the Spring Festival holiday, the ancient county received more than 340,000 tourist visits.

They can drop into ancient government offices, banks and temples, and imagine how their ancestors would go about their daily lives.

When night falls, red lanterns hanging from the eaves are lit, while bars and restaurants bustle with revellers.

As someone who left his home for a place with better conditions, Fan is quite content with his life at the moment.

The upgrade of local infrastructure and a strong cultural vibe have greatly spiced up his life.

"It's cozy just to stay in and sip tea in the courtyard," he says.

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