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Shanxi in the Eyes of International Friends——Exploring the Magnificent Architecture of Shanxi

By Sheila Sofian | | Updated: 2016-11-08 15:10

Shanxi province has probably rarely been heard of by most people. Many foreigners may only know China's most famous architectural feats such as the Great Wall, the Forbidden City in Beijing or the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor in Xi'an. But Shanxi offers an intriguing insight into Chinese history, culture, architecture, sculpture, carving and other arts, which produces the saying: 'Look at Shanxi and you can find thousands of years of civilization'.

I came to China for the first time in 2006 and joined a summer camp trip to visit many wonderful places. Ever since this first trip to China as a teenager, it's been one of my favorite places to travel to. There are a lot of reasons why I love China - the history, the architecture, the traditions - but mostly, I love it because I have always felt awed and amazed by the ancient cultures and the modern life in China.

Although I have traveled to many amazing places in China before, I had never had the chance to visit Shanxi before. I have seen many amazing photographs of China's most famous Buddhist sites and would like to visit all of them one day. Many of them are located in Shanxi province, such as Wutai Mountain, Yungang Grottoes, the Hanging Temple. Therefore, I was so excited when I got this opportunity to take part in the 'Shanxi in the Eyes of International Friends' trip, organized by China Daily and the Shanxi Tourism Bureau.

I began my journey to discover the beauty of Shanxi by visiting Jointed Fen Bridge which is located in the city of Taiyuan, capital of North China's Shanxi Province. The amazing view from the pedestrian bridge at dusk was greatly appreciated by our group, who were mostly foreigners. All of us took out our cameras and mobile phones to capture the beautiful scenery and the unique architecture of the bridge.

The next day we were heading to Datong city, to visit the second largest city of Shanxi. As the capital of Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-534), Datong city is known as one of the historic and cultural cities in China. The Grottoes and the Hanging Temple were the highlights of the visit to Datong, as they are treasures of traditional Chinese art.

Yungang Grottoes, one of the symbols of Datong, is an example of the great intelligence of ancient Shanxi people. These ancient Chinese Buddhist sculptures of rock-cut architecture are located on the southern ridge of the Wuzhou Mountains, 16 kilometers west of Datong city. In 2001, Datong Yungang Grottoes was listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site and has been named as a 5A-class (the highest grade) national tourist attraction in 2007 by China's National Tourism Administration. As one of the largest grottoes in China, this site is composed of 45 main caves, 252 niches (for a statue of Buddha) of different sizes and more than 50,000 Buddhist sculptures that are as magnificently carved as they are solemn. Among the remaining statues, the biggest one measures 17 meters, while the smallest is only two centimeters in height. The statues represent the development of art and architecture and the outstanding achievements of the Buddhist cave art of ancient China in the 5th and 6th centuries.

The other marvelous architectural site is the Hanging Temple. It was a very beautiful day, although a bit cold, when we went to visit the temple. The temperature dropped as we approached the temple, and some of us were freezing. The Hanging Temple was built into the side of a cliff (about 50 meters above the ground) near Heng Mountain in Hunyuan County. The temple seemed very high on the cliff and very risky to get to, but was actually completely safe, and the views from above were incredible. As one of the main tourist attractions and historical sites in the Datong area, the Hanging Temple, also known as the Hanging Monastery, was built 1500 years ago, during the Northern Wei Dynasty (AD 386-557). This unique temple is the only one remaining that combines Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism in China. There are 40 pavilions and halls in the temple, which contain about 80 sculptures made of copper, iron, clay and stone. The Hanging Temple appears to be supported by the wooden pillars that are inserted into the chiseled holes in the cliff, but actually it was built without the support of the wooden pillars. The pillars were added later to make visitors feel safe when they climb up the temple, they are moveable and the temple would be very safe even without the pillars. The architecture of the Hanging Temple shows the smart and skillful building techniques of the ancient Chinese people.

During our trip, we also strolled around the other scenic spots and historic sites of Datong which included the Nine-Dragon Screen, the wooden tower of Yingxian County, Yanmen Pass, Desheng Fort village and many other attractive places on the north side of Shanxi.

An inspirational quote about travel that inspired me a lot was: "The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page". For me, it means that you will get nowhere and will have a limited view of the world by staying in the same place for your whole life. Traveling and going to a new place is the best way to broaden your mind and to learn about others. The Shanxi trip was a unique opportunity to explore some of the world's art and architecture. Traveling to Shanxi was worth every minute because it gave me beautiful memories of China's stunning ancient scenery and its amazing culture.

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