Category: Lijiang.

About Old Town of Lijiang

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Assessment of the World Heritage Committee:

Cleverly integrating the economy, strategically important places and rugged terrain, the Old Town of Lijiang perfectly preserved and reproduced its style of primitive simplicity. The buildings in the old town experienced the induction of the dynasties and have seen much of the changes. The old town enjoys a wide spread reputation because it has integrated the cultural characteristics of various ethnic groups. Lijiang has an old water supply system which is a crisscross, exquisite and unique system and still plays a role up to today.

The old town of Lijiang

Chinese Name: Li Jiang Gu Cheng

English Name: the Old Town of Lijiang

Code: 200-017

According to cultural and natural heritage selection criteria C (II) (IV), the Old Town of Lijiang was included in the World Heritage List in December 1997.

Lijiang Naxi Autonomous County is located in northwestern Yunnan Province in China, with the geographical coordinates 26°34′ and 27°26′ N and 99°23′ and 100°32′ E. The county covers an area of 7,648 square kilometers and has a population of 329,000. More than 10 nationalities including the Naxi, Han, Bai, Yi and Tibetan live here. Among them, the Naxi nationality has a population of 184,000, accounting for 57 percent of the total population. The terrain of Lijiang City slopes from northwest to southeast, showing a descending ladder-shape. The highest point is the Shanzi Peak of Mt. Yulong, which is 3,396 meters high, and the lowest point is the Jinsha River valley, which is 1,219 meters deep. The altitude difference between the highest point and lowest point is 4,337 meters. The Old Town of Lijiang lies on the plateau at the foot of Mt. Yulong, which is 2,400 meters above sea level, with a total area of 3.8 square kilometers.

The area has experienced a long process to form the Old Town of Lijiang. According to archaeological discoveries, long before the Qin and Han dynasties, Lijiang had traces of ancient human activities. The Naxi nationality is the major nationality that lives in Lijiang County and even in Lijiang City. As for the origins of the Naxi nationality, experts have different views. Currently, most experts agree on the “viewpoint of integration,” namely that the Naxi nationality living in Lijiang was formed by the combination of aboriginals and the descendants of the Qiang ethnic minority who moved southwards from the northwest Hehuang District in ancient times. Lijiang has a long history.

The Old Town of Lijiang

However, it is still unknown when the Old Town of Lijiang was established. There are two views about the origin of the old town—one is that it appeared in late Song Dynasty and early Yuan Dynasty with 700 to 800 years of history, and the other is that it was established in the early Tang Dynasty with 1,200 to 1,300 years of history. The old town is located in the vital transportation line between Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet. It was the hub of national culture and economic exchanges between the Han, Tibetan, Bai and Naxi ethnic groups since ancient times, and an important military strategic center of the southern Silk Road and the Ancient Tea Horse Road, playing a key role in the long history.

In the Ming and Qing dynasties, the old town became the prefectural city of Lijiang. In the Hongwu Year of the Ming Dynasty, an official whose surname was Mu had largely constructed and extended the old town according to the construction model of the Forbidden City in Beijing. However, it suffered great damage during the uprising led by Du Wenxiu from the Hui ethnic group during the Xianfeng and Tongzhi Year of the Qing Dynasty. After restoration in the periods of the late Qing Dynasty, the Republic of China period and the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the layout of the old town still retains the construction layout of the Ming and Qing dynasties up to today. The south of the town had an old government office in feudal China and palaces and gardens were established around it. The northern part of the town has a commercial street, with Sifang Street as the center and four main streets extending to the distance in a radiation-shape. The commercial shops are all on the streets. The east town is where the liquid officials handled the public affairs in ancient times and has preserved the Civilization Gateway, the Confucius Temple and the temple enshrining and worshipping Guan Yu.

The design and construction of the Old Town of Lijiang had imitated and absorbed the architectural form of the Forbidden City in Beijing and also gave consideration to the actual situation and local residents’ psychological and behavioral characteristics, integrating the essence of Han, Bai, Yi and Tibetan nationalities with unique style of Naxi nationality. To the Naxi people, east is the direction the sun rises and represents light and life and therefore the residential buildings were built with their backs to the west and facing east. The Naxi also believed that mountains are where the Gods live while water symbolizes veins linking with their ancestors. Therefore, mountains, springs and surrounding forests were worshipped and protected by them. This has all given the Naxi ethnic group a pleasant environment and the feature of peaceful coexistence of human and God. The Old Town of Lijiang has typically reflected the traditional design ideas of the Naxi ethnic group.

The old town of Lijiang

The location selection of the old town had placed full consideration to topography, landforms, direction, orientation, climate and source of water. The old town is located in the center of Lijiang, facing the sun. It backs on Mt. Xiangshan and Mt. Jinhong in the north and the Monkey Mountain in the west, with the mountains blocking the wind from the north and west in winter. With mountains as the base of the city, the city has a varied space layout. The old town is linked with the wide flat ground in the east and south sides, enjoying enough sunlight. The entire city has a layout where its back is to the northwest and faces the southeast. The Yuhe River originating from the Black Dragon Pool is cut into three branches at the boundary of the city and flows to the inner city. After being separated uniformly, it will flow throughout the city as its domestic source of water, forming dozens of waterways and constituting the basic skeleton of the city.

The Old Town of Lijiang shows a unique water alley layout by using water. Due to the introduction of the water element, the construction of the city cannot be completely in accordance with the construction methods used in central China but adopted a free urban space layout. There is no orderly road network and strict urban axis. All the streets and buildings in the old town are near the mountains and by the river, forming a radiation-shaped system with Sifang Street as the center and four main streets, namely Xinhua Street, Wuyi Street, Qiyi Street and Huangshan Road, as the skeleton. The location of Sifang Street had been where the Lotus Pool was and afterwards, it was filled to build the street by the official Mu according to the shape of his seal. The street has been prosperous for centuries and its name implies a meaning of “having shocking rights.”

The old town of Lijiang

The water systems in the Old Town of Lijiang are usually small in size. According to their external forms, they can be divided into three types: branch water system, flat surface water system and dot water system. The branch water system means the network of Jade River. The Jade River originates from the Black Dragon Pool, and when it reaches the Jade Dragon Bridge in the north of the Town, it is divided into three branches: Eastern River, Middle River and Western River. Then, the three branches are divided into many even smaller branches, forming a branch-shaped water system. The flat surface system includes the Black Dragon Pool and White-Horse Dragon Pool. The former one is at the foot of the Elephant Mountain, to north of the county seat, where the spring water sprays out from the cracks of the mountain and joins together so that this pool forms. This pool is the source of the Jade River and can regulate the flow of the water system of Jade River. The latter pool is at the southern foot of the Jade Lion Mountain and also called the “Lion Milk Spring.” The dot water system means wells and small pounds. The most typical form of this system is the “three-eye well.” The water in the upper eye is for drinking, in the middle for washing vegetable, and in the lower for washing clothes. In the Old Town of Lijiang, the main street is on the riverside and many small alleyways are also close to water channels. Over 300 old stone bridges harmoniously coexist with the river water, green trees, ancient alleyways and old house, making this plateau water town a place with high value in aesthetics.

The bridges are the structural joints that connect the water systems and street systems of the Old Town of Lijiang. As one of the oldest architectural types of the town, they link all the ground and water surfaces of the town. On the water system of the Jade River, there are 354 bridges. This means 93 bridges per square kilometer in average. The shapes of the bridges are various, and the renowned bridges include the Suocui Bridge, Big Stone Bridge, Wanqian Bridge, South Gate Bridge, Horse Saddle Bridge and Renshou Bridge, all of which were built in the Ming and Qing dynasties (14th century to 19 century A. D.). Of them, the most distinctive is the Big Stone Bridge which is located 100 meters to the east of the Sifang Street. The ancient bridges are not only important transportation facilities but also markets and places where people communicate in the Old Town. They have abundant cultural content.

The old town of Lijiang

Another special characteristic of the Old Town of Lijiang is its unique-style folk houses, which absorbed and digested the excellent architectural traditions of the Central Plains and the Bai and Tibetan nationalities, and made bold innovations in many aspects such as overall design and construction skills. The common form of the folk houses is the courtyard house, which usually include three major rooms, a courtyard, a central hall, two side rooms and an individual gate tower. Based on this common form, many more complicated folk house forms of various plain layouts have also been generated, such as the “Two-House Corner,” “Three Houses with One Screen Wall,” “Four-House Five-Yard Quad,” “Double Front-Back Courtyard,” “Double Courtyard with One Gate” and “Combination of Courtyards.” Of them, the “Four-House Five-Yard Quad” form is a traditional cultural heritage of the Naxi nationality. Of this form, the four houses on the four sides surround the central yard, and there are four small individual yards on the four connecting places of the four houses. The big yard in the center is the public place for the families to hold various activities. The four small yards are supplementary spaces for ventilation and getting sunshine. If it is possible, the people of Lijiang would draw water into their courtyards, or let water flow around their houses, or build their houses on the waterside, making their folk houses have both the northern “quad” features and the southern water town features. In terms of external styling and structural design, the folk houses of Lijiang absorbed the architectural skills of the Central Plains and Tibetan and Bai nationalities, and many unique local architectural skills, such as the distinctive mud-stone walls, unique-style roofs, small blue tile and wooden structure, have already formed.

What needs to be mentioned is that the residents of the Old Town usually love planting flowers and bonsais. They not only plant flowers in their courtyards to make their home beautiful, but also plant flowers and trees in front of their gates, on the riversides and around the wells, making the Old Town gain the compliment of “the town fully filled with green trees and colorful flowers.”

The old town of Lijiang

It is interesting that unlike China’s traditional cities surrounded by defense walls, the Old Town of Lijiang had no walls historically. It was said there were two reasons behind it. One was that the headmen, rulers of ancient Naxi ethnic group had a surname of Mu (Chinese character of 木), if their name was surrounded by Chinese character of “口,” their surname would become Chinese character of “困 (being besieged),” which was considered a strict taboo, forcing the headmen not to build walls. The second reason was that the mountains surrounding the old town formed natural “walls” and the gateways on the strategic passes leading to the outside played the role of defense. There once was a wall in the old town. After the government officials of Lijiang replaced headmen to rule the old town in 1723 or the first year of Yongzheng emperor of the Qing Dynasty, the officials built a wall there. The scope of the wall was limited only to the areas surrounding the government office and excluded the areas such as headmen’s offices and Sifang Street. The wall collapsed during an earthquake and is now all gone. The place names such as Nanmenpo (slope near the north gate), Nanmenqiao (a bridge near the south gate) are the only marks of the wall.

There are a few residential architectural complexes outside the Old Town of Lijiang. The Baisha Residential Architectural Complex, located 8 kilometers north of the old town, was once Lijiang’s political, economic and cultural center during the Song and Yuan dynasties from 10th to 14th centuries. The architectural complex is distributed on the axis of a south-north area. There is a trapezoidal plaza in the middle of the architectural complex with a stream of spring water following into the plaza from the north and four unique lanes leading to the outside. The formation and development of the Baisha Residential Architectural Complex laid a foundation for the layout of the Old Town of Lijiang.

The Shu River residential buildings, four kilometers away from the northwestern of the old town of Lijiang, is a small market surrounding the city. The residential houses are arranged in a picturesque disorder which is very similar with Sifang Street of Lijiang. The Qinglong Bridge constructed during Ming Dynasty (from 1368 to 1644), the largest stone arch bridge in Lijiang, was constructed above the Qinglong River flowing across the buildings.

The Tusi government office was located in southern Lijiang in ancient times and was surrounded by palaces and animal farms. The government office of the Tusi Mushi in the old town was constructed during the Yuan Dynasty (from 1271 to 1368) and became the Old Town Museum after being reconstructed in 1998. The government office covers an area of 46 mu and contains a total of 62 rooms. There are also 11 horizontal inscribed boards granted by emperors from different ages, reflecting the history of the Mushi family.

Most streets of the old town of Lijiang were constructed beside mountains and rivers and laid with red rubble rock. Therefore, the streets will not be muddy during the rainy season and will not be dusty during the dry season. The patterns on the stones are natural and elegant, making the streets complement the environment of the entire town. Sifang Street in the center of the old town is the representative of Lijiang’s old streets.

Authenticity and completeness

The distribution of the town, forms of folk houses, architectural materials, technological decorations, construction technology and environment of the Old Town of Lijiang all maintained the traditional styles. Roads and river systems have remained unchanged, calcirudyte pavement, stone arch bridges, wooden bridges, and commerce and trade plazas in Sifang Street are handed down from generation to generation. The folk houses are still repaired and constructed by traditional technologies and materials. The local government has tried their best to protect the features of the Old Town and strictly control and guide all construction. The Old Town of Lijiang is created by common people and will continue to be built. As a settlement, the appendages or “new buildings,” which deviate from the original form and structure in part of the Old Town, will be gradually demolished or reformed in order to promote the artistic and historical value of the Old Town.

Heritage value

The Old Town of Lijiang is a historic city that has a high comprehensive and overall value. It has a long history and combines features of water regions and mountain cities. As an ethnic city with a long history, the general distribution of the Old Town, projects and architecture all absorb the characteristics of the Han, Bai, Yi and Tibetan nationalities, at the same time, they also show the unique styles of the Naxi nationality. They are precious heritage relics for studying the construction, architecture and cultural history of Chinese cities. The policy that the town’s construction should adhere to respect nature, seek practical results, advocate openness and compatibility reflects mankind’s creativity and progressive significance in the cities and towns under specific historical conditions.

The Old Town of Lijiang has a rich traditional national culture, reflects the prosperity and development of the Naxi nationality and is an important historical material for studying the development of human culture. The Old Town of Lijiang has gradually become the economic and cultural center of northwest Yunnan and provided a good environment for the development of national culture. The Naxi nationality has produced a glorious national culture with other minorities who live here. Whether the streets, memorial archways in the square, water system, bridge or decorations of dwellings, gardens, couplets, steles, inscriptions as well as block stones, they all reflect the cultural accomplishments and aesthetic interests of the Naxi nationality and the cultural connotation, artistic conception and romantic charm of local religions, aesthetics and culture. Furthermore, they also showed the deep and abundant historical culture and some traditional culture and arts, especially the Dongba culture that has abundant connotations and Baisha Murals, also left brilliant works in human civilization.

Source: CNTV

Category: Lijiang
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