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Yangjiajie Scenic Area, the fourth subsection of Wulingyuan Scenic area (it was actually created last, after the three other subsections of Wulingyuan came into existence), is located northwest of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park and southwest of Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve – and borders on both of these subsections of Wulingyuan.* If Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve and Suoxi Valley Nature Reserve – i.e., the first three subsections of Wulingyuan Scenic area to be established – form a horizontally-oriented triangle that points eastward, with Suoxi Valley in the east, Zhangjiajie in the southwest and Tianzi Mountain in the northwest, then Yangjiajie Scenic Area lies just outside the base, or westward boundary, of this horizontally-oriented triangle, and roughly midway – on a north-south axis – in between Zhangjiajie and Tianzi Mountain.
A Brief History
Just as much of the area around the city of Zhangjiajie is associated with the Zhang Family, the area around present-day Yangjiajie near the southwestern foothills of Tianzi Mountain is linked to the Yang Family, a family of aristocrats who rose to power and fame during the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty. Three generations of Yangs, most of whom served the state either in civil administration or as military leaders (especially the latter), left their mark on this area, which was named by posterity in honor of the family.
Many of the scenic sites in Yangjiajie – which translates to "Yang family homeland" – bear either a direct or an indirect relation to the Yang family. The Yang Family continued to expand in the area through the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty and well into the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty. Indeed, the Yang lineage thrives to this day in the Yangjiajie area, and the tombs of Yang ancestors are well looked-after by currently living Yang descendants.
For example, the scenic site, Liulang Wan (Liulang Bay, except that it is a bay only in a figurative sense) is named after the sixth son, Yang Yanzhao, of one of the Yang ancestors, Yang Ye (liu means "sixth" while lang means "young man", or "son"). Qilang Wan is similarly a reference to the seventh son. The scenic site Zongbao is named after the son of Yang Yanzhao. Tianbo Fu, or Tianbo Mansion, is the family mansion of the Yang Family.
The Yangs achieved such a high level of prominence during the Song Dynasty that they have today become popular soap opera personnages on Chinese TV, in much the same way that the samurai tradition became a popular TV soap opera theme in Japan when, after WWII, Japan emerged as a major economic player, or in much the same way that the many fascinating characters of the 14th century Chinese historical novel, Romance of the Three Kingdoms by Lou Guanzhong, in recent years became the inspiration for countless cinema films, tv series and even video games the world over.
Yangjiajie Scenic Area is also the smallest of the four subsections of Wulingyuan, spanning only about 35 square kilometers, but since it consists of over a hundred individual scenic sites, it is no wonder that Yangjiajie is considered the most impressive – even if not the most frequented to date (it lies somewhat apart compared to the other areas) – of all of the subsections of Wulingyuan.
Of Yangjiajie's hundred or so attractions, three stand out, though precious little information is available on them in English: Xiangzhi Brook (note that Xiang is a shortened form of the old name for "Hunan Province", Huxiang (one spoke, for example, of Huxiang Culture, and today one speaks still of Xiang Cuisine, meaning "Hunan Cuisine", Xiang Opera, etc.), while the suffix -zhi corresponds to "-er" as in the "er" of "New Yorker", so putting it all together, Xiangzhi means "Hunaner", though the language of ancient Xiang, which also extends to parts of present-day Jiangxi and Sichuan Provinces (the latter, when present-day Chongqing Municipality belonged to Sichuan), is called "Hunanese"... and note that Mao Zedong was himself a Hunaner who spoke Hunanese), Longquan Xia ("Dragon Spring Gorge") – and note that Longquan Waterfall, said to be a very odd waterfall indeed, is located in the gorge of the same name – and finally, Baihou Gu ("Hundred Monkey Valley").
Generally speaking, Yangjiajie is denser in its structure than the other subsections of Wulingyuan Scenic Area. There are also plenty of sheer cliff faces here, and in its details, Yangjiajie is as jagged as elsewhere in Wulingyuan. What there is less of here are the freestanding obelisks found in abundance elsewhere in Wulingyuan. But perhaps this is simply because the erosion process in Yangjiajie hasn't reached the same stage as elsewhere in Wulingyuan. In Yangjiajie, the upper parts of the massive blocks tend to end in multiple, stubby minarets, as it were (in a few million years, when most of the freestanding obelisks of Zhangjiajie National Forest Park will have crumbled to dust and oversized bricks, the landscape of Yangjiajie may well have progressed to the stage where Zhangjiajie National Forest Park finds itself today).
The flora of Yangjiajie is also denser and greener, perhaps because it grows on richer soil, though the heavy mists found both here and elsewhere in Wulingyuan contribute greatly to the lush foliage. Here are many streams, waterfalls and gullies, often lined with sheer cliffs. Like Suoxi Valley, Yangjiajie is an interesting break from the typical block-and-obelisk landscape of the other subsections of Wulingyuan Scenic Area.
Xiangzhi Brook is a meandering stream that flows through a deep gully lined with densely-packed shrubs and trees; Long quan Gorge presents a more barren landscape with a valley walled by high and low cliffs, all in a jumble and some at bizarre angles, as if this had once been some kind of natural defense – a gigantic wall of sorts – that was badly damaged by an earthquake or a similar epic catastrophe, while Baihou Valley, full of tall trees and meandering streams, is home to large flocks of macaque monkeys and egrets, cranes and numerous smaller birds as well as ground animals. There are many ancient trees in Baihou Valley, as well as rare flowers that blossom in season.
Longquan Gorge is also home to Longquan Waterfall, as indicated. It is called the oddest waterfall in the world, mainly because of the way the water falls over the high cliff, Fei Xie. Longquan Waterfall spills down the cliff face in two stages, the first at about 55 meters, where it lands in a trough just behind a row of jagged rocks, causing the water to spurt in three distinctly divided but ever-changing streams – left, right and center – up and over the jagged rocks, creating an effect that is said to resemble the scaly back of a writhing dragon (yes, even this feature of Longquan Waterfall has a scenic site name, namely, Shek Pik, or "Stone Peaks", where Pik is borrowed from the Russian, which in turn is an English bastardization (!) with both a literal and a figurative sense... eg., Russian for "rush hour", or "peak traffic hour", is "час пик"/"chas pik").
In the second stage, the waterfall drops another 25 meters, spreading out in this second fall into a 15-meter-broad "curtain" that is partly composed of the fine mists that were produced by the violent, first-stage contact with the jagged stones, and splashes into the jade-green pool below. On either side of the second stage of the waterfall, thanks surely to the curtain of mists, grows a thick carpet of ivy – said to be the densest ivy growth anywhere in China – that flowers in five different colors, making the waterfall not only unique, but uniquely beautiful.
Other renowned scenic sites in Yangjiajie Scenic Area include Twisted Mouth Cave and Ghost-Feared Fortress – the latter so named because even a ghost, it is said, would fear the steepness of this peak, though once at the top, the intrepid climber is rewarded with some pretty fantastic vistas – as well as Sister's Gully, One Hundred Li Slope (a li corresponds to 500 meters today, though during the Song Dynasty (if the name stems from that far back, which is doubtful), it would have corresponded to 2/3, circa, of that length, or 333 meters) and Mati Rock. Twisted Mouth Cave is reputed to have once been the hideout of bandits from the late Qing Dynasty – early Republic of China (1912-1949) period.
Besides the Yang Family, there are numerous enclaves of minority groups who live in the rather fertile Yangjiajie area, including the Tujia, the Miao and the Bai. Tours to Yangjiajie often include visits to these ethnic enclaves where the visitor has the opportunity to observe firsthand the distinctive dress and customs, generally with song and dance performances, of these various ethnic groups.
Like most of the other subsections of Wulingyuan Scenic Area, Yangjiajie Scenic Area has four priceless treasures that are not to be missed: the ever-present mists; the brightly rose-colored skyline, both at dusk and at dawn; the full moon at night – when Yangjiajie is perhaps at its most hauntingly beautiful; and Yangjiajie dressed in winter snow. Since it is difficult to manage all four of these in the same season, you really should visit Yangjiajie Scenic Area both during the summer and again during the winter, shouldn't you?
* Some insist that the Yangjiajie subsection of Wulingyuan Scenic Area is the most impressive, while many say that, as regards individual scenic sites within the entire Wulingyuan complex, the Yuanjiajie Scenic Area subsection of the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park subsection (thus making Yuanjiajie a sub-subsection) is the most spectacular of all (it is here where the South Pillar of Heaven/ Avatar Hallelujah Mountain is located). Still, Yangjiajie Scenic Area is said to be the most beautiful and most inviting of the four main subsections of Wulingyuan to wander about in. There is also something about the massiveness, the solidity, of Yangjiajie Scenic Area that is gratifying to experience and which provides a welcome interlude to the typical block-and-obelisk landscape that one observes in many of the other subsections of Wulingyuan.