The city of Zhaoqing lies about 85 kilometers, as the crow flies, almost due west of the capital city of Guangzhou, along the banks of the Xi ("West") River. The city spans some 15,000 square kilometers (1,500,000 hectares, or 3,706,580 acres), and is situated at the western extremity of a ring of mountains that form an abbreviated horseshoe just north of the delta area in which the city of Guangzhou lies. Below this abbreviated horseshoe lies the justly famous (famous for its aqua- and agriculture) Pearl River Delta. The Pearl River (aka Zhu River) itself is a short river that empties into the Pearl River Estuary, being formed by the confluences of the Dong River (which flows in from the east, dong meaning "east"), Bei River (which flows in from the north via a valley that cuts through the mountains, bei meaning "north") and Xi River (which flows in from the west, xi, as indicated, meaning "west") in the immediate vicinity of the city of Guangzhou.
Lying at the southern extremity of the western arc of this horseshoe of mountains, Zhaoqing is, not surprisingly, characterized by mountains and hills, which describes some 80% of the city's land mass. Given the city's position relative to this overall topographic picture, the mid- to northerly part of the city is accordingly mountainous - much of it in the form of a karst landscape - while the south-southeasterly part of the city is characterized by a plain.
There are a number of ethnic groups living in Zhaoqing alongside the majority Han Chinese ethnic group. These include the Chuang, Dong, Hui, Li, Man, Miao, Tujia and Yao ethnic minorities, as well as the Hakka, who are a sub-culture within the Han Chinese ethnic majority, but are today considered a unique ethnic minority, given the fact that they have preserved a large portion of their traditional customs, in much the same way that the 54 other Chinese ethnic minorities have maintained their cultural unqiueness.
A Brief History
The founding date of the present-day city of Zhaoqing cannot be established with certainty, a fact that in itself lends credence to the claim that indirect historical mention of the city-to-be of Zhaoqing places its existence within the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty period (had the city been founded much later, it's exact founding date would more likely have been recorded by historians). According to this indirect historical mention, the present-day city of Zhaoqing, as part of the Nanyue ("Southern Yue") Kingdom was known as Gaoyao County. Nanyue Kingdom, formed during the Qin Dynasty, comprised a large area of southern China including parts of Guangdong, Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces, as well as much of present-day Vietnam.
This same geographical area would later be termed the birthplace of the Lingnan Culture, when significant numbers of Han Chinese, including members of the Han Chinese sub-culture, the Hakka, would arrive in the area as refugees from the warring that was taking place farther north. The Lingnan area would later be referred to as the Five Ridges area, or the place where the Central Plains culture (i.e., the Han Chinese culture) met the Five Ridges culture (i.e., the culture of the Baiyue ("Hundred Yue") people), a reference to the first large-scale migration of Han Chinese peoples to Nanyue Kingdom that took place during the troubled Jin (CE 265-420) Dynasty, i.e., during the Western Jin (CE 265-316) and Eastern Jin (CE 317-420) Dynasties (the second such migration would take place during the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty).
During the Sui (CE 581-617) Dynasty, Gaoyao County's name was changed to Duanzhou, when the city became an important military and administrative center. The city would retain this name until CE 1118, when it was given its present name of Zhaoqing (meaning "beginning of auspiciousness") by Emperor Huizong, who reigned during the period CE 1100-1125, i.e., during the Northern Song (CE 960-1127) Dynasty.
Throughout much of the Ming (CE 1368-1644) and the early part of the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty, Zhaoqing served as the seat of power for the governorship of the area corresponding to present-day Guangdong and Guangxi Provinces. During the Ming Dynasty reign (CE 1572-1620) of Emperor Shenzong (aka the Wanli Emperor), a Jesuit mission was established in the area as part of the Wanli Emperor's efforts to embrace international cultural exchange. However, the relationship between the Ming Dynasty and the ever-encroaching Western countries was stormy - in fact, almost schizophrenic, where Ming emperors would alternately embrace and repulse Western influence.
This hot-cold relationship was most prevalent in the stormy reception that the first Jesuit mission in China received...
The Italian Jesuit priest, Michele Ruggieri (1543-1607), together with a dozen or so other Jesuit priests, including Ruggieri's protegé, Matteo Ricci, sailed from Lisbon, Portugal, arriving in the Portuguese trading post of Macau in 1579. The Portuguese trading post at Macau had evolved over time, where the Portuguese traders were eventually given permission to not only construct warehouses on land for the purpose of trade (while they were required to sleep on board their ships), but were eventually permitted to also construct living quarters, etc. (for which they paid an annual fee of 500 taels (38 grams, or 1 1/3 ounces) of silver), although the Portuguese had no legal jurisdiction over their trading post until the middle of the 19th century, when legal jurisdiction of the trading post cum colony was eventually transferred to Portugal as part of the outcome of the Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860) that resulted in trade and territorial concessions to a number of foreign powers, including Portugal, under the so-called Unequal Treaties.
In Macau, the Jesuits set up a mission, but their real aim, as Christian missionaries, was to venture beyond the confines of the Portuguese trading post into "mainland China", a move which would require the permission of the Governor General of Guangdong and Guangxi, in Zhaoqing. After several broken agreements (the Governor General seemed to be of two minds regarding this venture, since, on the one hand he wished to demonstrate openness while on the other hand he dearly wanted to preserve Buddhism as China's preeminent religious culture), the Jesuits were granted permission to set up a mission in Zhaoqing. However, after some years, the Jesuits were expelled from Zhaoqing by the Governor General amid bizarre controversies where Ricci was accused of what one today would call human trafficking - specifically, of selling Chinese children into slavery in Maccau - while Ruggeri was accused of having raped the wife of a Chinese Catholic convert (the Jesuit order was part of the Catholic Church). The Italians suspected other motives...
When the Jesuit mission was expelled from Zhaoqing, it had to abandon its beautiful, European style buildings (think: villas) for which the Governor General had offered a token sum, but which the Jesuits declined to receive, preferring instead to see their property confiscated. While enroute back to Macau, the Jesuits received a message from the Governor General declaring that it was not the Governor General's intention to expel the Jesuits either from the city of Zhaoqing or from mainland China, insisting that the Jesuits were free to set up a mission elsewhere in the province if they so desired. Ruggeri sent back a petition asking for permission to set up a mission in the city of Shaozhao (present-day Shaoguan), which permission was granted.
In Shaozhao, and away from the watchful eye of the Governor General (who was perhaps happy to have moved his residence into the former Jesuit mission in Zhaoqing), the Jesuit mission prospered, and under the leadership of Matteo Ricci, who had become very adept at Chinese, it spread to Beijing, Nanchang and Nanjing. Ricci stayed on in China until 1579, while Ruggeri, who had journeyed to Rome in 1578, ostensibly temporarily, never returned.
The two Jesuit priests, while Italians by birth and upbringing, nevertheless authored the first Chinese-Portuguese dictionary, and Ricci, who was an excellent mathematician and cartographer, drew up the first world map in the Chinese language. Ricci is further credited with having introduced Western concepts into the Chinese language, creating sinicized versions of these words, the same Chinese words that are in currency today to describe these concepts. At the same time, Ricci, after his return to Europe in 1579, became a tireless advocate for "all things Chinese" (Ricci, to his credit, happily made a distinction between the Chinese people in general and any particular local leader). However, the Jesuit missions in China continued. In the 1860s, or toward the end of the last Imperial Chinese dynasty, the Qing Dynasty, the first Jesuit mission in China was finally officially honored when a Ricci Memorial Centre was established in Zhaoqing.
The city of Zhaoqing would come to play an important role in the anti-Manchu resistance movement that spawned the Southern Ming (CE 1644- 1662) Dynasty, which represented a rather short-lived attempt to preserve and eventually fully reinstate the Ming Dynasty. This effort was valiantly pursued by a number of Han Chinese princes who called themselves emperors (though historians generally refer to them as "pretenders" (to the throne)). Since they were constantly on the retreat - meaning that their territory was constantly shrinking - there is a great deal of overlap between their respective periods of rule, such that one might simultaneously have two such "ruling" emperors for a few years: as soon as one "princedom" came under massive attack, a new one would sprout up from a rear-guard position, and as soon as the first was defeated, the second came under massive attack, giving rise to a third from yet another rear-guard position, and so on and so forth.
Zhaoqing was the capital of the last of the Southern Ming Dynasty "pretenders", Emperor Yongli, who served during the period 1646-1662. After having been routed from Zhaoqing in 1662, which marked the end of the Southern Ming Dynasty, Zhu Youlang (the dethroned Emperor Yongli) retreated to the "Wild West" of the then China, the area around the border between Guizhou and Yunnan Provinces, and from there he retreated further into present-day Myanmar (aka Burma).
Curiously, the Jesuits remained loyal to the Southern Ming Dynasty - their immediate patrons in Lingnan - and two Jesuits in particular, Andreas Koffler and Michal Boym, remained at Emperor Yongli's court in Zhaoqing until their presence there threatened to compromise the Jesuit mission in Lingnan, if not in all of mainland China.
Like numerous other, uniquely beautiful Chinese cities, the city of Zhaoqing has had the honor of being the temporary home, or visiting place, of many members of the Chinese literati down through the centuries. For example, the famous Tang (CE 618-907) Dynasty writer, Li Yong spent time in Zhaoqing, as did another Tang Dynasty celebrity, Master Rong Rui, the Japanese monk who studied in Zhaoqing, in addition to Bao Zheng, a highly praised Song Dynasty public official who served during the reign (CE 1022-1063) of Emperor Renzong. An uncompromising man of principle, Bao Zheng is revered by the Chinese people to this day as the very symbol of justice. His life was fictionalized in numerous literary works - often as an honest, thoroughly incorruptible judge - from the serious to the more popular genres.
Other known Chinese personalities who left their mark on the city of Zhaoqing include: Hui Neng (or simply Huineng, as it is most commonly written), the 6th master of the Ch'an Sect of Buddhism; Dr Sun Zhongshan, better known as Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the George Washington of post-Imperial China (Dr. Sun was, more than any other military strategist during the period, instrumental in bringing down the Qing Dynasty and ushering in the Republic of China (1912-1949)); Ye Ting, the famous general of the 1926 Northern Expeditionary Army, part of the Republic of China's military effort (wherein the Chinese Communist Party played a major role - Ye himself became a member of the CCP just prior to leading the Northern Expeditionary Army) to reign in the warlords and other rebels in the north; and of course the two aforementioned, illustrious Jesuit priests.
Understandably, the city of Zhaoqing is rich in natural, cultural and historical sites of interest to the visitor. These include: the remnants of the Ancient (Song Dynasty) City Wall, one of Zhaoqing's landmarks; the River Observatory; the Happiness Pagoda; Liqiao Tower; Piyun Tower; the Plum Nunnery; Qingyun Temple; Bao Zheng ("Judge Bao") Memorial Temple; Butterfly Valley; Heiding Rock Nature Reserve; Zhenshan Hill in Sihui (to learn more about Zhenshan Hill, click here); and Xiannv ("Fairy") Lake. In addition, Xinghu ("Star") Lake Scenic Area - Guangdong Province's most popular tourist venue, which includes the Qixingyan ("Seven Star Crags") site (to learn more about Seven Star Crags, click here) - and Dinghu Mountain, foremost among Guangdong Province's Four Famous Mountains (to learn more about Dinghu Mountain, click here), are two sites that offer some of the most beautiful landscapes in all of southern China.
In nearby Deqing, Fengkai, Huaiji, and Guangning Counties can be found the Panlong Gorge Touring Area, Mount Long ("Dragon Mountain"), Yanyan ("Swallow") Crag (to learn more about Swallow Crag, click here), and the Bamboo Forest areas, respectively. Also in Deqing is the Deqing Yuecheng Dragon Mother Temple as well as Xue Palace (the oldest, preserved Confucian temple in China - to learn more about Xue Palace, click here), and Fengkai also boasts a National Geological Park.
Zhaoqing is famous for its handicrafts such as the ancient Duanxi Inkslab and stationary industry, Zhaoqing straw (bamboo) mats, ivory carvings, handicraft items in sandalwood, black wood furniture, and the city's Nine Dragons Treasure Tripod articles in jade. Some of the most abundant produce of Zhaoqing include the common orange, Qian Shi (the Gorgon Fruit, aka Fox Nut or Euryale Ferox) and Ba Ji (aka Morinda Root), as well as numerous medicinal herbs and fresh spices.
The weather of Zhaoqing is of the subtropical monsoon type, with a distinct rainy season from April to September, though the rains tend to be restricted to certain periods of the day and naturally do not occur everywhere at once, though if one is visiting the area during the period, adequate rain gear is advised. The average annual temperature is a comfortable 22 degrees Celsius.
The city of Zhaoqing, its ancient ramparts aside, is a busy, rapidly expanding, modern metropolis with many new streets sprouting shopping malls that house interesting boutiques, cafés and restaurants. Some of the local food specialties include Zhaoqing Sticky Rice Dumplings, Guangning Bamboo Shoots, Guangning Bamboo Wine, Sweet Tangerine Dessert and Deqing Mandarin Orange Dessert.
Should you tire of the standard sightseeing venues that Greater Zhaoqing has to offer, then an unhurried, unplanned drive through nearby Xijiang Valley, replete with pristine forests and crystal-clear streams, will easily convince you that Zhaoqing and its environs is one of the most beautiful places in Guangdong Province.