Weifang Travel Guide
The city of Weifang, a prefecture-level city in Shandong Province, lies at the base of the Shandong Peninsula, i.e., it lies on an imaginary border between Shandong Peninsula and the mainland itself. Put slightly differently, if one were to draw a line between the most westward (landward) point of Haizhou Bay on the south side of the peninsula and the corresponding point of Laizhou Bay on the north side of the peninsula, then Weifang would lie very close to this line. Weifang is an old city with a distinguished cultural history, even if its historical origin is hard to pin down.* A number of very famous personages lived and worked in Weifang for a time. These include:
Kong Rong (warlord, poet, etc.); Fan Zhongyan (literary figure, politician, military strategist and chancellor of all of China during the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty); Ouyang Xiu (essayist, poet, historian and man of many other parts who lived during the Song Dynasty); Su Dongpo (real name: Su Shi, a Song Dynasty writer, calligrapher, poet, pharmacologist, painter, statesman and jack of all trades); and Zheng Banqiao (real name Zheng Xie), a man of humble origins who rose to the position of magistrate in Shandong Province, but who never forgot his humble origins. Zheng Banqiao was dismissed ostensibly for having used public funds to build a shelter for the homeless, but in reality because he refused to kotow to a system of authority that did little to help ordinary people. Zheng Banqiao was later rehabilitated by Emperor Qianlong of the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty, becoming the court painter and calligrapher. Zheng Banqiao was posthumously venerated as one of the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, the name given to a group of Qing Dynasty Chinese painters who rejected orthodoxy in favor of alternative, more direct (more natural) and more individualistic modes of expression.
Marco Polo visited Weifang during his Song Dynasty visit to China (he was in China from roughly 1270-94), and brought back a curious item from the city, an item that had existed in China since BCE 450, albeit in a somewhat more primitive version: the kite (the first paper kite could only have been constructed after the invention of paper, which, in China, occurred in CE 105 (to learn more about this ground-breaking Chinese invention (what had theretofore been called paper, i.e., Egyptian papyrus, was to Chinese paper as Neanderthal was to Cro Magnon!), and a few more such inventions, click here). Marco Polo's Chinese kite was most probably a paper kite, but of a type of paper that was quite fibrous and thus strong, which meant that it could be made thin. To further increase its durability, this type of paper was often coated with a thin layer of glutinous tung oil (aka Chinawood oil, from the euphorbiaceous tree, Aleurites fordii, found throughout central Asia).
According to Marco Polo's travel journal, the famous traveler witnessed the flying of a manned kite in China in 1282. About 700 years later, the city of Weifang finally decided to put 2 and 2 together and come up with a celebration of the kite with the introduction of the annual International Kite Festival, the first of which festivals was held in 1984 (a shame it wasn't in 1982, eh?). Moreover, Weifang is home to the International Kite Association.
The city of Weifang has made itself felt in other spheres, such as in the sphere of textiles. So successful was Weifang's textile industry in ancient times that inside China it was called the 'Suzhou of the North', a reference to the fact that the city of Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, was so famous for its textile production that it was dubbed the 'Venice of the East'. But Weifang is also famous for other handicrafts such as stone carving, wood engraving, handmade copper, lacquer work, embroidery, and its rag dolls.
Memorable scenic sites in Weifang include: Mount Yi, which has 29 (!) peaks, Mount Yunmen, the site of many Taoist and Buddhist shrines, Old Dragon Lake, which has numerous natural springs, and - not least - Shihu Garden, aka the Ding Family Garden, located at No. 49 Hujiapaifang Street in the Weicheng District of Weifang (to read more about Shihu Garden, click here).
While enjoying the sites of Weifang, don't forget to try the local fare. The city's most famous dish, "Gangzitou", is made using, among other ingredients, hardened blocks of flour. Also not to be missed is the "Mutton Feast", a dish served in all regular restaurants and which consists of dozens of dishes cooked from various mutton cuts, some unique, including the sheep's vicera (the "soft" organs such as the heart, liver, kidney, brain, etc.).
* According to just about every website that profiles the city of Weifang, the following historical personages are supposed to stem from (be born in) the city, which, the story goes, was founded first as a county about 2000 years ago:
1) Emperor Shun, of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors (BCE 2852-2205) Period, or the pre-Xia Dynasty period (the latter being the first historically recorded ruling period in China, though there was surely a ruling period or two prior to recorded history... ),
2) Yan Ying, of the Spring and Autumn (BCE 770-476) Period of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty (the second period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty was the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period, you will recall),
3) Zheng Xuan, Confucian scholar and student of Ma Rong (a famous commentator, or prototype literary critic, i.e., a person who writes commentaries on other people's works) who lived during the Eastern Han (BCE 25-220) Dynasty period, and
4) Jia Simiao, a famous agriculturist of the Northern Wei (CE 534-549) Dynasty of the Northern Dynasties (CE 386-588) Period.
My online research reveals the following:
Re: 1) Emperor Shun of the period in question is said to be born in the city of Yaoxu, at least one of which cities is located in Shanxi Province (there may be several such cities, but since Emperor Shun's capital also lay in Shanxi Province ...). Alas, this Emperor Shun lived about 4000 years ago. I note however that there exists an Emperor Shun of the Eastern Han Dynasty, whose real name was Liu Bao, and who ruled from CE 125-144, roughly 2000 years ago.
Re: 2) There is no verifiable historical record of such a personage.
Re: 3) Such a person does in fact exist in the historical record. Interestingly, he lived during the same period, roughly, as the Emperor Shun (Liu Bao) of the Eastern Han Dynasty, or about 2000 years ago.
Re: 4) No such personage exists, or rather, sources indicate that "Jia Simiao" is only another name for Jia Zheng, a character in the novel attributed to Cao Xueqin (1724-1763), A Dream of Red Mansions.
Summa summarum, of all these references, two points seem to emerge - and merge: that of "2000 years ago" and the fact that several of the personages, even if the wrong version was perhaps referenced (viz., Emperor Shun), stem from the Eastern Han (BCE 25-220) Dynasty period, or about 2000 years ago, give or take a few years.
The best that one can say of Weifang, therefore, is that it is an old city with a distinguished cultural history, even if its historical origin is hard to pin down; it would not be helpful to repeat the same inaccurate nonsense that is published elsewhere, and which seems to stem from a single source.
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