A Gazetteer of the North Road Listing Main Points of Interest
Ya'an city is located approximately 130 kilometers southwest of the capital of Sichuan province, Chengdu . “Ya'an city” is both the name of a small city and the technical designation of an administrative unit equivalent to a county (xian) which encompasses the north road. The city of Ya'an lies at the center of the county while two main arteries extend to the north and to the south. The north road and its six townships including Xiakou village is the focus of this monograph.
Ya'an is located in the chain of mountains that border the Tibetan plateau on the plateau's eastern side, although its people are, for the most part, Han Chinese. Ya'an is located in a sub- grouping of mountains called the Qionglai range which lies to the west of the Chengdu plain. The mountains here are still small (under 3000 meters) and the county has a fair amount of paddy land. In a topographic view Ya'an appears as a small bowl of paddy land just within the curtain of mountains marking the beginning of the Himalayan range extending into Tibet . In fact one of the two most important old roads to Lhasa passed through Ya'an. Even now the main highway from Chengdu to Lhasa built in the 1990s goes through here.
Although the mountains here are not very high by Himalayan standards, the topography is very steep and there is lots of water. It rains frequently and most days are cloudy. In the fall and winter the rains are gentle, in the summer there are more sunny days but the rain falls harder when it comes. Winter temperatures hover below 40 degrees fahrenheit, but rarely go below freezing; summer is hot. Even with the steep slopes, many of the largest mountains on the North Road have been cultivated right to their highest elevation. People generally live in hamlets and towns, but sometimes houses are also spread out and relatively isolated. There are many homes and hamlets on the north road that still have no paved access and are accessible only by motorbike, tractor, and/or foot. While trees dot the landscape, there is little significant natural mixed forest. What forest remains is found only in the remoter areas, especially on the very steep mountain tops and in the Bifeng nature reserve. There is also a significant amount of agroforestry with fir plantations, medicinal tree plantings, bamboo, and small amount of fruit-bearing trees. A 1981 Government report states that Ya'an County encompasses an area of 106,060 hectares. Of this area, roughly 40% is farmland, 50% is forest land, 3% is water, and 7% is paved while 82% of the total is classified as mountain land. The County ranges from 520 to 2,630 meters above sea level, with a yearly average rainfall of 1805 mm, and a shortage of sunshine, averaging 1005 hours a year. The frost-free period is over 300 days. Since 1997, the ratio of cropland to agroforestry has been strongly influenced by new policies aimed at intensive reafforestation: former cropland is being converted into bamboo and mixed agroforestry uses at a rapid rate.
In the 1980s, the city of Ya'an had a population of 100,000 people, while the rest of the county had approximately 200,000 registered citizens. Important industries in the post-liberation period (after 1949) include paper and paper pulp, a car factory now defunct, leather craft--particularly shoes, and dairy production. Agriculture in this region has been primarily aimed at subsistence, with the main crops being corn, soy, wheat, and rapeseed. In the past, tea, opium, and indigo have been grown as cash crops; of these, tea endures. In recent times, beginning in the late nineties with the opening of the new highway from Chengdu which reduced a six hour journey to one and a half hours, Ya'an's tourist economy has become increasingly important. Bifengxia, an ecological park on the North road of Ya'an county has become a premier tourist development, one of the most famous models of new development in Southwest China .
Ya'an was an important frontier location where the Han and Manchu rulers met the many minority peoples of the mountain highlands. Because of its location as a gateway to Tibet , it played an important historical role in trade between the lowlands and Tibet . It was known before liberation as the place where Tea going to Tibet was exchanged for Tibetan horses. Indeed, tea is an important and famous crop in Ya'an. Mengding mountain at the edge of the county was the first place in China to send Tea to the emperor and from this root, the custom of drinking green tea is said to have spread across China . The tea sent to Tibet was not the fine green leaves but the more stemmy portions of the plant used in making Tibetan Yak butter tea, a vital part of the traditional Tibetan herdsman's diet filling the nutritional gap which results from not cultivating and eating vegetables.
Until 1952, Ya'an was the capital of Xikang province at which time, Xikang was folded into Sichuan province. Ya'an had important historical significance for the Communist Party in that the Zhang Guotao division of the Red Army passed through here on the Long March in 1935 and set up a Soviet that lasted six months in Zhongli. A legacy of its former capital status, the provincial agricultural university, Sichuan Nongye Daxue , is (still) located in Ya'an.
Center City Ya'an
Ya'an city is a former garrison town known as a key location for the tea trade that sent green tea into the mountains for the Tibetan people and recieved horses for the army in exchange. Until 1952 it was the captial of Xikang province and continues to be the capital of Ya'an municipality (shi) a large area which includes eight counties and many minority peoples, including the tibetan autonomous district of Yaoji. Ya'an is a university town and the Provincial Agriculural University that is located here has some 21,000 students. While not as prosperous as most cities of its size in the region, it is undergoing a thorough modernization project which is upgrading local roads, replacing old wood houses with modern tile apartment blocks, and the contruction of a dam that will create a lake where now lies a river, in the center of town. As the capital of the eight county municipality, with a population of 1.5 million and an area of 15,000 square kilometers, it is the administrative center for government-led efforts to enlarge the tourism and hydropower economies of the region. Because of its abundance of water, the municipality is already a main supplier of energy to the province, and many dams are still under construction.
The city itself marks the co-joining of no less than four rivers. The Qingyi river is the most important and with its brisk current and broad riverbanks, divides the city in two. As recently as the fifties, there was but one foot bridge crossing the Qingyi river and much ferry boat traffic. Now there are three bridges in the center of town and one at the periphery and ferry boats are no longer used. A second river, the Minshan river has been diverted and so no longer reaches the city. The third river is the Zhougong river comes from the south. The fourth river is the Longxi river; it comes from the north and is paralleled by the north road.
Just to the south of the what is now considered Ya'an city, is the township of Duo Yun . This was a Han dynasty encampment with a 2000 year history. To the north east of the city, on a mountain top beside the old road to Chengdu , is Jinfeng Si, an important Buddhist temple dating from the Ming Dynasty which was venerated by both Han and Tibetan Buddhist officials.
In the 1990s, Ya'an architecture was a mix of Qing dynasty, republican, and socialist period buildings. At that time, much of the old city remained and was made almost entirely of traditional wood joinery and paneling. An old city wall dating from the 7 th century was torn down in the early 1950s. The heart of the old city was on the south bank, a crescent of land between the river and a small hill to the south west of town. Before liberation the old city was dominated by a series of temples which backed up to this hill. After liberation, all but the one oldest temple were torn down and schools and government offices were built on their sites. There is still a nice wooded path running along that hillside where one can look down on the old section and see across the new city . During the 1990s, the roads in town were widened and most of the old architecture torn down and replaced by modern brick buildings. A handful of important monuments and buildings remain. The one remaining old temple, which dates from the 15 th century, is vacant and in danger of falling down.
Ya'an City Main Points of Interest
Hebei township is that part of Ya'an which lies north of the Qingyi river. It is basically an urban township contiguous with Ya'an City proper.
Qipan is somewhat more rural that Hebei , but still has a larger portion of suburban type businesses than any of the townships further north. It is here that the new highway connecting Chengdu to Tibet lets off those whose destination is either Ya'an City or the popular tourist site of Bifeng Gorge. As a result, there are many small shops and businesses here catering to those travellers--a large gas station, tourist merchandise outlets, repair shops etc. Once removed from the north road, however, there is still plenty of farmland in this township consisting of mostly paddy land. The farmers here, however, have lost farm land to highway construction. In the seventies, an aircraft parts factory was built on hilly land to the east of the north road and several thousand people from outside locations came to live and work in its compounds, but in 2003 that factory moved and left its buildings for the most part empty. Occasionally farmers from other locations who have lost their land due to government sponsored development projects have been resettled here but it has little to offer such people, having neither farm land nor a town associated with it .
Qipan Main Points of Interest
The township of Longxi incorporates eight villages including the administrative village of Xiakou , the epicenter of this ethnography. Its steep mountainous terrain has meant that it has tended to be among the poorest townships in Ya'an County. The hamlet of Longxi, sometimes refered to by its old name of "Taiping" is the seat of professional bureaucrats and contains a total staff of forty or more individuals. The administration is led by a township head, his deputy and a party secretary. It is here that public meetings are held, credit is made available, special programs are administered, and general policies implemented. The township of Longxi has a credit cooperative, a women's federation office that ecoordinates the activities of the village representatives, a small security force of a few private unarmed citizens, a forestry representative, accountants, cashiers, an office which purchases grain, a veterinary station, a middle school, a small hospital, and several very small township enterprises owned by the township government-- at one point these included a feed mill and a small fruit drink company. The officials who work in the township include both local people and people from outside, although the highest positions tend to be filled by educated individuals from Ya'an or other townships. The township also has a dozen or more private restaurants and tea houses, many of which aim to cater to the new clientele traveling to Bifeng Gorge Nature Park . It also has some small convenience stores, barbers, mechanics, and a blacksmith. While most townships also feature an occasional market, the periodic market in Longxi ceased to exist after the public road to Ya'an was improved in the 1960s. Since then, locals either go to Ya'an or the markets in the Zhongli district. Also, as a result of its proximity to Ya'an, Longxi has a longer history of officials who live in and commute from Ya'an City.
Xiakou village is officially made up of four teams. In 1992 it included 458 people in 106 families and 759 mu of arable land (45 hectares). By local tradition, however, only three of these teams are called Xiakou; the fourth team is called Qian Jia mountain. Team two is located on the east bank and team three is located on the west bank of a small river that parallels the motor road to Ya'an; they are close together yet made quite distinct by the presence of the river. Team one consists of the houses of families scattered on the eastern slope above team two, although recently residents of team one have begun to move their houses into the team two hamlet. To walk to the houses on Qian Jia mountain from the river takes forty minutes of very steep climbing. In 2001 Bifeng Gorge park built a road that comes relatively close to the village, and now this is the way most locals come and go to this village, although it routes them through Xiali. This study focuses primarily on the thirty-some families in team two but uses the name "Xiakou" following local custom.
Longxi Township Main Points of Interest
Xiali township begins in the gorge that connects the upper and lower valleys which make up the route of the North road, and thus is first township of the upper valley. As one emerges from this gorge at the north end, a new road leads off to the left which goes to the famed Bifeng Gorge resort park. This park was created with the cooperation of the Xiali township government and now a new hamlet with private businesses and a school has sprung up on this side road where one enters the tourist site. Just above where this road splits off but on the main spur of the north road is the dam creating Huanglong lake (Huanglong Shuiku ). Built in the 70s for the purposes of generating electricity, it also is the site of a small hamlet of Huanglong with private businesses. Before one reaches Xiali on the North Road , another road leads off to the right. This road travels through a smaller valley with some important local tourist sites--Qianfoyan, and the Red Bean tree. It is also significant that this valley creates a pass to the town of Mingshan in Mingshan county. An old seat of wealth and power, Mingshan is also the location of the famous "cradle of tea culture"-- Mengding Mountain . The township seat of Xiali, still larger than Bifeng and Huanglong, is the location of the government and traditional periodic markets, as well as having a sprawling business center. It is in the flat paddy land of the upper valley and the township as a whole has done well as a result of the tourist resort and other entrepreneurial ventures in the field of animal husbandry, particularly cows--both meat and dairy.
Xiali was once known as Luocun--"Net Village ". An old myth tells how here the monkey in the Journey to the West left a net spanning the top of the gorge which made the whole of the upper valley into a giant lake.
Bifeng Gorge (nature park)
Between Longxi and Xiali, the north road runs along a steep gorge carved out by the Longxi river. About half way along this gorge, a smaller gorge adjoins it from the west and extends all the way to the escarpment that divides this valley from Lushan. This smaller gorge, once called orchid gulch, is more wild, having more mixed forest and many natural waterfalls--wildlands preserved by their inaccessibility. In the late nineties, Xiali township sought to capitalize on the natural beauty of this area by developing a nature park. Several years into this project, the “development rights” were sold to a large and wealthy Chongqing company called the Wanguang Group ltd. They have build a first class resort on the site, and it has grown to be one of the top tourist resorts in Sichuan , catering primarily to wealthy urban Chinese. It has extensive trails throughout the gorge, a safari style zoo, the largest enclosed aviary in Asia , a stunning welcome center, numerous inns, restauraunts and tea houses and hawkers. It has a minority performance hall, bunjee jumping, a new panda breeding center, and it frequently plays host to attention-getting special events. The finer points of this development scheme are addressed in the essay on ecotourism.
Xiali Township Main Points of Interest
Population, tian di
By the time one reaches Zhongli, the valley has widened to its broadest size, with several kilometers of paddy land to the left before one reaches the steep escarpment that divides this county from that of Lushan to the west. On the right, however, the terrain is still steep and foreboding. Homes in the valley to the west tend to be spread out, although there are some concentrated hamlets. There are many large new houses created with the profits of lucrative independent dairy farming for which this is one of the most successful areas in the county. At the west end of the valley there is a pass leading over the mountain to Lushan, an important county town with a long history. When travel was predominatly by foot, Zhongli was an important crossroads center marking a point where travellers from Mingshan, Lushan (and Baoxing beyond), Shangli (and Baima Chuan, Qionglai and Chengdu beyond) and Ya'an might meet. It is the largest of the three "li" villages of the valley (Xiali, Zhongli, and Shangli). Its modern center extends beyond the main strip on the north road to include several side streets and is home to some larger factories. In the Republican period its periodic market was famously filled with men with guns, players, it seems, in the opium trade that thrived between Ya'an and Baoxing. In 1935 Zhanguoo Tao's division on the long march passed through this valley and set up a Soviet whose physical headquarters were in Zhongli but whose influence spread from Taiping to Shangli.
Zhongli Township Main Points of Interest
Shangli, at the end of the north road, is rich in cultural artifacts and has a beautiful landscape. It is rich in paddy land, although the “mountain paddy” of the upland valley does not produce nearly as much as paddy in the Sichuan basin (approximately 2/3). The town of Shangli differs from Xiali and Zhongli in its spatial arrangements. Many Chinese towns, especially the more recent ones, consist of buildings that line the main road and beyond these single rows of buildings the land reverts to farm land. Shangli lies mainly off the main road across the river from the road. It is a beautiful old town that has stone paved streets and many qing dynasty buildings. It looks out on a line of dramatic small hills known as the eight arhats which adds to its auspicious feng-shui. It clearly was a home to many wealthy families in the old society, most importantly the various branches of the Han family. Such concentration of wealth assured that Shangli has some of the finest Qing dynasty infrastructure in the region. An old Han family house now serves as the offices for the township government. A new City God shrine has been erected on the old site of a Guanyin temple on a cliff overhanging the town but little remains of its once abundant temples. Shangli still has one of the last remaining water powered grain mills in the region. The most famous site in the village is the "Two fairy bridge" a beautiful arched stone bridge constructed in the early Qing dynasty .Lately the town has become a tourist destination and is now preserved--although we note that many of the fine furnishings that could have been seen in the town ten years ago have now been sold to shoe stores and restauraunts in Ya'an. Entrepreneureul residents of the township are, nevertheless, capitalizing on the new tourism with the opening of restauraunts, guest houses, and by charging admission to see the wealthier homes and tour the most elaborate tombs. In 2004 development rights were sold to a Shanghai movie company and many citizens were relocated downstream a few hunded yards and the towns main primary school was demolished to make way for a new tourist center. This project was frought with troubles, however, and it is unclear to us how they will be resolved.
In the higher mountains beyond Shangli lies some of the most natural landcapes remaining on the north road. Up in these hills is also located the village of Jianganglin , a remote village that has for generations specialized in the cultivation of high value bamboo. Lately they have drilled for and found natural gas here.
The township has several special sites that are noted by the culture bureau in Ya'an. Southernmost is the Han family big square, an old Qing dynasty landlord home. One of these homes is right on the north road, and a second home belonging to another branch of the same family, and the home of an important local Qing official, lays a short ways off. Continuing north one passes a large paifang , a stone monument to a chaste widow built in the Qing. Just before one comes into view of the town of Shangli one passes a zhiku on the left, a stone tower built for the incineration of paper which contained written words. Some kilometers past Shangli, there is an old Ming dynasty stone ox carved out of an outcrop on a hill. Finally there is the important site of White Horse Spring whose central pool has been a site of note since the Song dynasty.
Baima Chuan (White Horse Spring)
Just before arriving at White Horse Spring one passes some old
walled graveyards that again clearly indicate that there were some
substantial families in this area during the Qing dynasty. Nearby
an open stone edifice surrounds a spring on the left. In this first
pool, one can see the special character of this spring for which
it is reknown--the periodic appearance of bubbles and a rise and
fall of its waters. Proceeding a little way further on the North
Road , one reaches the gate of the White Horse Spring temple area.
The gate is a moon gate and has two very old stone lions to guard
it. Within the gate one first sees a series of walled pools with stone bridges
and many stone tablets. An old x, likely Ming dynasty, has seens from the journey
to the West. Stone carvings include a variety of animals on the bridges and
dragons overlooking the pools. Of particular note is the stone dragon in the
main pool which is carved out of a natural outcrop in the pool. Stairs lead
down to the waters and people gather here to watch the bubbles and the rise
and fall. Some years ago (1991) there was a rare Wawa fish in this pool, a
very primaeval species, that is endgangered. It was thought to have been stolen
to eat and there has been no return sightings here since then.
Shangli Township Main Points of Interest
Based on the Chinese concept of Gazetteer—a chronicle of local places and events-this is a essay is a geography of the north road organized by township. The gazetteer entries describe salient features of each township and link to key points within the township. Along with the individual pages dedicated to particular key points, this page provides the textual background to the interactive gazetteer map.