Situated in beautiful Hunan province, is the exquisite Fenghuang Ancient Town. Sometimes referred to as Phoenix Ancient Town (“Fenghuang” means phoenix in Chinese), this incredibly well-preserved site has a rich history spanning centuries. Regarded by many as the most beautiful town in all of China, Fenghuang was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tentative List in 2008. As a wonderful example of Chinese villages prior to modernization, Fenghuang Ancient Town is a must-see attraction that cannot be missed.
- Located in the southwest portion of Hunan province, the ancient town was a strategic gateway connecting both Hunan and Guizhou provinces.
- Fenghuang Ancient Town was first constructed in 1704, and covers a total area of 1.8 km.
- The site is comprised of dozens of ancient alleyways, 20 streets, and over 200 well-preserved traditional dwellings.
- The town site is a gathering place for Tujia and Miao ethnic minorities, and has a total population of over 350,000.
History Of Fenghuang Ancient Town
The site were Fenghuang Ancient Town is located was once a hinterland of sorts. The remote area was surrounded by mountains, and populated by nomadic peoples. In 686, during the reign of Empress Wu (624-705 AD) of the Zhou dynasty, the area was united and deemed Weiyang County. In 1204 during the Song dynasty, a settlement was erected complete with earthen structures at the site of Fenghuang.
By the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644) brick structures replaced the earthen ones, and the ancient town was fully formed.
Because of its advantageous geographical location as a connection between both Hunan and Guizhou provinces, Fenghuang was considered an important military stronghold. Throughout the remainder of the Ming and into the early Qing dynasty, the ancient town was made into a military and political epicenter of the region.
In 1700, during the reign of the Kangxi Emperor (1654-1722) of the Qing dynasty, the military commander of Yuanzhou was transferred to Zhengan, which was part of the Hu-Guang Prefecture. By 1703, the office was transferred to Fenghuang, thus becoming the seat of power for government-appointed officials such as governors.
In 1715, a stone wall was erected and the town itself, was expanded with numerous construction projects being implemented. Various government and administrative buildings were erected, in addition to schools and the Temple of Literature. As the town began to increasingly flourish, more shops, ancestral temples, and halls likewise were built.
Culture Of Fenghuang Ancient Town
Because of the exceptional preservation of Fenghuang Ancient Town, it has tremendous cultural significance. The site offers a unique glimpse into traditional architecture and design of towns throughout Chinese history. It also is an excellent example of an ancient, military defense system, what for the strategic location.
With a rich history spanning nearly 1,400 years, there are numerous unique and well-preserved structures and gardens at the site. Most of the distinctive residential buildings, gardens, and pagodas date from the late Ming and early Qing dynasties. Some of the highlights located within Fenghuang Ancient Town include Huang Si Qiao Castle, Fenghuang Ancient City Museum, Chao Yang Palace, Wengchen Pavilion, Tian Wang Temple, and the tomb of Shen Congwen.
Born in Fenghuang, Shen Congwen (1902-1988) was widely regarded as one of the greatest modern writers in China. A member of the Miao ethnic minority, he was prose and fiction were world-renowned. In fact, he was slated to be awarded the esteemed Nobel Prize in Literature in 1988, but passed away before being awarded the prize.
Today, the Miao ethnic minority are the main inhabitants of the ancient town. Visitors will be delighted by the friendly, open nature of the Miao, in addition to their extraordinary traditional garments. The Miao are renowned for their incredibly crafted silver ornaments and handcrafted garments. In addition, Miao traditional cuisine is unlike anything else found in China.
- When visiting Fenghuang Ancient Town, be sure to sample the Miao delicacy of pickled red peppers, which can be found at many small family-run establishments.
- There is no admission fee to visit the ancient town, however, visitors will need to purchase a ticket if they wish to visit scenic spots.
- If time permits, take a boat cruise along the Tuojiang River.
- The best time to visit Fenghuang Ancient Town is between April and October. The region is quite cold during the months of November to March.