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Zhaoqing: A city of history

(chinadaily.com.cn) Update:2018-12-25
With the clear Xinghu Lake, grand Dinghu Mountain, and fantastic Qixing Cave, Zhaoqing is a city of many interesting sites in western Guangdong province of South China.

While most people only know the city as a tourism destination with charming landscape, few know of its ancient name - Duanzhou, a name full of historical and cultural heritage.

Duanzhou has been used since the city was shaped 900 years ago.

Emperor Shenzong (1048-85) of the Song Dynasty (960-1279) granted his son Zhao Ji (1082-1135) the title of King of Duan and bestowed Duanzhou to him.

As soon as Zhao Ji took the throne and became Emperor Huizong, he changed Duanzhou's name into Zhaoqing, meaning "inception of good luck" in Chinese, which has remained until today.

There are many historical relics preserved in the old city. One of the two districts of the city is named as Duanzhou District, where the ancient city wall still stands.

Ancient city wall

Located on the Songcheng Road, the 700-metre-long city wall was first built as an earthen wall in ancient times.

"The function of the wall was to protect Duanzhou's yamen (government office) and the city from outside attack," said Feng Yonghao, a native of Zhaoqing, who has been studying the culture and history of Zhaoqing for 40 years. He was once in charge of the city wall's renovation in 1978.

According to Feng, the earthen wall was replaced by a brick one in 1113, and Piyun Tower was constructed at the top of the wall to overlook the situation outside Duanzhou. The wall had been well preserved for almost 1,000 years until 1924, when endless turmoils and wars destroyed many parts.

In 1978, the local government started to rebuild and maintain it.

"We had to spend a lot of time studying the history records," said Feng, who created the draft rebuilding plans. In order to collect relative historical books, he travelled extensively to Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing.

"Although having gone through a large scale of reconstruction in the 1970s, the city wall constructed in the Song Dynasty has been well preserved. It has maintained its original appearance till today. This is rare in China," said Feng.

According to Feng, an integral part of the city wall, Piyun Tower is often surrounded by clouds, so that it was named Piyun, meaning "cloud-covered" in Chinese.

The present Piyun Tower, 19.3 metres in height, was renovated in 1989.

Since the two historical sites, the Piyun Tower and the city wall, opened to the public in 1990, they have attracted a large number of visitors.

"The Piyun Tower shows various styles of ancient Chinese architecture," he said.

Ancestral Temple

When visiting Zhaoqing, people may hear a lot about Bao Zheng (999-1062), known as Bao Gong, a figure of justice and integrity in China.

Bao was an outstanding official and statesman in the Song Dynasty.

He was born into a scholarly family in Luzhou, now Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui Province. At the age of 29, Bao passed the imperial examinations and qualified as a Jinshi (a successful candidate in the national examination).

Bao was appointed magistrate of the county. But as filial duty was regarded as a highly valued virtue in China, Bao resigned his position and went home to care for his old and weak parents for 10 years.

After his parents died he was appointed in 1040 to be the head of Duanzhou by Emperor Renzong (1010-63).

Bao's reputation as a capable and hard-working official grew with each case he tackled, until three years later, he was promoted to work in Bianliang, today's Kaifeng of Central China's Henan Province, which was the capital of the Song Dynasty.

The people of Duanzhou were so grateful to Bao, they built the Bao Gong Ancestral Temple for him in the east of Duanzhou, near the ancient city wall.

But the original ancestral temple has been destroyed with the passage of time.

In 2000, the local government constructed a new Bao Gong Ancestral Temple in the western part of the city to commemorate the great statesman.

"Although it is not the original address, it was where Bao Zheng landed with his boat and went ashore to Duanzhou," said a local tour guide.

Behind the grand gateway of the temple, the tablet of the front gate carries the words "Zhengqi Changcun," meaning "justice lives forever" in Chinese, standing for Bao Zheng's upright personality.

Inside the ancestral temple is a grand court arrayed in ancient Chinese style.

A gold-gilded Bao Zheng statue sits in front of the central wall in the court. Standing at both sides are his guards.

Outside the court, local people often burn joss sticks to worship Bao Gong.

"Most of us admire Bao Gong very much," a local visitor surnamed Du said.

Bao Gong's noble mind offers them guidance to be upright men, says Du.

"We also believe worshipping Bao Gong will bring us fortune," he said.

The caretaker said the temple attracts a much larger number of worshipers at weekends or holidays.

"Through Bao Zheng's administration, Duanzhou was well-regulated during the three years, and residents lived and worked in peace and contentment," wrote Tan Wosen, a local writer, in his novel about Bao's experience in Duanzhou which was published in early 1980s.

Duanzhou is famous for ink slabs called Duanyan.

Tan said when Bao Zheng left Duanzhou, the incorruptible man did not take away a cent from the city.

Duanzhou's residents gave him an ink slab as a souvenir, but Bao threw it into the river when he boarded his boat.

Nowadays, people in Zhaoqing still take delight in talking about Bao.