Fenghuang, praised as “the Most Beautiful Town of China” by famous New Zealand writer Rewi Alley, is a small county renowned for its natural beauty, rich history and culture as well as colorful ethnic customs, located at south Xiangxi Autonomous Prefecture of Hunan province, China. Fenghuang means Phoenix in Chinese. Phoenix is a mythical sacred firebird in Chinese mythology representing good omen and longevity. Fenghuang town is given the name after Fenghuang Mountain which resembles Phoenix situated 50 miles away from it.
Fenghuang is embraced by green mountains, with Tuo Jiang River running through its heart. Rowboat is one of the main means of transportation. Tourists also can take a rowboat to ramble the county and enjoy the natural beauty. Unique wooden houses constructed on stilts are built along the riverbank. This kind of house is called Diaojiaolou (Chinese for building with hanging legs). The design keeps the buildings safe from the spring floods. It is easy to discover the beauty of Fenghuang lies in its primitive simplicity. Fenghuang people still live a very simple life despite the other places of China are under the onset of modernization. Women are usually seen washing their clothes by the river, wearing traditional Chinese leaf or bamboo hat. Men are fond of wearing ancient Chinese waistcoat, fishing in the river. Stone bridges, winding flagstone paths, wooden waterwheels and beautiful Miao ethic girls and Tujia ethic girls in their traditional costumes always remind people of the scenes in Chinese painting and old Chinese films.
Fenghuang County is divided into two districts: New Town and Ancient Town. Fenghuang Ancient Town’s history can be dated back to Spring and Autumn Periods (770 BC to 476BC). The presenting Fenghuang Ancient Town was built in the 43 year of the Reign of Emperor Kangxi of Qing Dunasty (1704), where the ancient buildings in distinct Qing Dynasty style are well preserved. Fairly long history endows it with over 300 culture heritages, such as Huang Si Qiao Castle, the best preserved stone castle built in Tang Dynasty (year 687); the meandering Xiangxi Border Walls, which was built during Ming Dynasty, is praised highly as China’s Southern Great Wall; and the flagstone paths paved during Ming and Qing Dynasties. Besides, there are famous ancient buildings including Longevity Palace, Chao Yang Palace and Heavenly King Temple.
Fenghuang County is the hometown of renowned Chinese writer Shen Congwen, whose masterpiece The Border Town written in 1934, describing a sentimental love story in Fenghuang County is known to every family and won Fenghuang a national-wide fame. He is highly respected by local people, and his former residence is one of the popular attraction spots of Fenghuang.
Fenghuang is also an ethnic minority group area, and Miao ethnic minority takes the predominance in number. Exploring Shanjiang Miao Village, where the Miao customs, living style and festivals are kept intact, can be an impressive and interesting experience.
Huang Si Qiao Castle
Huang Si QiaoCastle, about 24 kilometers west of Fenghuang, is the best preserved stone castle of China. Its ancient name was Feiyang Castle, built during the year 687 of Tang Dynasty for military use. It was the outpost of governments of past dynasties to prevent Miao ethnic people from rebelling. Miao people were forced to retreat in the deep of mountain area and their population was sharply decreased.
The castle was built by bluestones, among which, the biggest is over 1000 kilograms, and the smallest is over 500 kilograms. These bluestones were connected by the mixture of steamed sticky rice and calcareousness, which made the building integrated and firm. The city wall of the castle is 5.6 meters high, 2.9 meters thick and 2.4 meters wide taking an area of 2900 square meters.
The city wall has three city gates, namely Heyu Gate, Shicheng Gate and Riguang Gate, each with a ten-meter-high city tower in distinct Qing-dynasty style. Besides, there are 300 arrow battlements and two stretch-out emplacements.
South Great Wall
Great Wall, one of the World Culture Heritage sites in China and the representative architecture of China, is wildly known to be built for separating the central China from the north ethnic minorities. While seldom people know there is a section of Great Wall built in Hunan province during Ming Dynasty to present one south China ethnic minority group: Miao people from rebelling. This Great Wall is named Xiangxi Border Great Wall, also called South Great Wall.
With largest part passing though Fenghuang County, South Great Wall is about 190 kilometers long. It was might because that Miao Ethnic Minority group was not that formidable as North minorities, the South Great Wall was sixth of the Great Wall in length. As one of the great ancient architecture on Chinese history, South Great Wall was firstly built in the year 33 of the reign of Emperor Jiajing of Ming Dynasty (1554 AD) and finished in the year 3 of the reign of Emperor Tianqi of Ming Dynasty (1622 AD). It was ever ruined during Ming Dynasty and rebuilt during Qing Dynasty. The wall is 3 meters high, two meters wide at the bottom and one meter wide on the top, twisting and winding along hill crests, gorges, and rivers. There are totally over 1300 battlements, passes, fortresses, emplacements and city gates, over 800 located in Fenghuang County.
It is a cultural and historical and military treasure really worth a tour.
The Longevity Palace, located at the bank of Tuojiang River in Shawan Scenic Area, outside the East City Gate of Fenghuang. It is harmoniously integrate with the surrounding mountains and river, which reminds tourist of traditional Chinese painting. Its red external wall is obvious among the green landscape. It is also called Jiangxi (one province of China) Assembly Hall, built by Jiangxi businessmen in Fenghuang during the year 20 of the reign of Emperor Qianlong of Qing Dynasty (year 1755).
Taking an area of over 4000 square meters, Longevity Palace was a marvelous and delicately- designed ancient Chinese building complex, composed of more than 20 halls, mansions, chambers, pavilions and an ancient stage. During the past hundreds of years, some of the buildings were demolished or wrecked. Now, it has become Fenghuang Folk Custom Museum. The displays are very interesting, including various aspects of the county’s minorities, mainly about Miao ethnic group and Tujia ethnic group, such as the traditional dresses, ornaments and customs from the two minority groups; paintings and calligraphies and sculpture works of Chinese famous painter and sculptor Huang Yongyu, who brought national even world fame to this outlying county Fenghuang.
Shanjiang Miao Village
Shanjiang Miao Village, located at a valley called Miaoren Valley, 20 kilometers northwest of Fenghuang County, which has kept intact its unique Miao ethnic folklore.
Miaoren Valley is a hiking heaven for tourists, featured green mountains, limpid alpine lakes where tourists can row a boat, grotesque gorge, elegant waterfalls and dam in Miao ethnic style. Shanjiang Miao Village is built along the mountain slope of Miaoren Valley. Miao people there are still living primitive and simple life. Maintaining the old customs, Miao people will hold a welcoming ceremony for tourist on the way. During the welcoming ceremony, Miao people stand in lines, wearing their full costumes, greeting tourist by presenting them a cup of "block-the-way" wine. Miao girls will sing a "block-the-way" song, the words of which is mainly about their happiness to welcome a friend coming from afar.
Miao people’s costumes and their silver ornament are attractive; especially the girls’ are feast to tourists’ eyes. Miao girls usually wear robes of bright blue with loose sleeves and dark blue trousers, and cuffs embroidered with colorful laces for the womenfolk. They wrap their head with dark blue cloth, embellished with silver headdresses and silver neckwear.
Every family has their own blockhouse distinguishes Shanjiang Miao Village with other Miao villages, which endows the village with strong defensive function in military. The village was usually attracted by the central government during the past dynasties, therefore the Miao people had to build blockhouse to protect themselves. The blockhouse is a two-storey building with the first floor built by stone and the second floor made by mud. There narrow windows on the four walls of the blockhouse used for overlooking and shooting, Besides, there is a defensive wall built around the village, which is 4 to 5 meters high. Now it is a peaceful little village, while the building in blockhouse style has become its distinct feature, telling the passing history.
Visiting Shanjiang Miao Village during traditional Miao Festival will be an impressive and unforgettable tour. Tourists can appreciate Miao songs and dance and Miao traditional activities. The popular festivals are April Fair Festival, the Valentines’ Day of Miao ethnic people (held at the eighth day of the fourth month of Chinese lunar calendar); June Fair Festival, the folk song concert of Miao people (held at the sixth day of the sixth month of Chinese lunar calendar).
The Former Residence of Shen Congwen
Shen Congwen, the famous Chinese writer has brought national and even world fame to Fenghuang County. Every Fenghuang people admire him. The Former Residence of Shen Congwen is located 10# zhongying Street, Fenghuang, where Sheng Congwen was born at December 28, 1902.
It is a representative south Shiheyuan (quadrangle—a compound with houses around a square courtyard). It was a brick made bungalow built by Shen Hongfu, the grandfather of Shen Congwen (who was ever appointed as the prefect of Guizhou provincein )in 1866. Possessing distinct Xiangxi architecture feature during Qing Dynasty, the Former Residence of Shen Congwen consists of 11 chambers with delicately-carved windows and a courtyard paved with red bricks.
The Former Residence of Shen Congwen was listed as the key culture relic under provincial protection in 1991. Displaying the calligraphy work, manuscript and the portrait of Shen Congwen has become one of the most popular cultural landscapes of Fenghuang.
Tuo Jiang River
Tuo Jiang River, the biggest river within the county, is one of the branches of Wushui River. Originating from Nanshan Gorge of Dusha, Kuhe, it flows through Fenghuang County from west to east, passing nine counties and towns including La’ershan and Fenghuang County, and then plunges into Wushui River. It is 131 kilometers in length, among which 96.9 kilometers is in Fenghuang County, with the drainage are of 732.42 square kilometers.
Tuo Jiang River is the Monther River of Fenghuang County, feeding the Fenghuang people from generations to generations. A glide on Tuo Jiang River in a Wupeng Boat (an ancient styled shed boat in strong Xiangxi flavor), listening to the folk labor song of the boatman, appreciating the hundred-year-long unique houses built on stilts along the riverbank is a impressive and peaceful experience. As rowing ahead, passing through the Hong Bridge (an ancient Chinese bridge in Miao ethnic style), famous attractions of Fenghuang County are turning up one flowing another: Longevity Palace, Wanming Tower, Tuocui Building……
The ancient city wall along the south bank of the Tuo Jiang River is built by mauve stones and sands, which is elegant and marvelous. There are two ancient city towers in distinct Qing Dynasty style constructed at the east part and the north part of the city wall respectively. The river water is limpid and shallow in the areas approaching to the city wall where float grass can be seen flickering in the green waves. Everything is in an air of leisure and tranquility. It is an ideal destination for relaxation and holiday-spending.