The ancient town of Jianshui (建水) in southeast Yunnan province, on the way to the Hani rice terraces of Yuanyang (元阳) is definitely worth a stop. I already wrote about what to do in Jianshui (read ‘7 Things to do in Jianshui‘). Here is a short guide to the main attractions in the Jianshui countryside and how to get there.
Take a yellow mini-van
The best way to explore Jianshui’s countryside is by taking a yellow mini-van (mianbao che) that wait by the round-about in front of the KFC. Walk to the end of Hanlin Jie. When you reach the new part of town, cross the avenue and walk up the street towards the Lin’an hotel. You will see the yellow mini-van opposite of the KFC.
The mini-van run between Jianshui and the Yellow-Dragon temple (黄龙寺). They are frequent, leave once they are full and they all stop by the Double-Dragon bridge (the fare is 5 RMB).
If you want to go to Tuanshan and the other sites, you will have to hire a driver. You can do that after visiting the Yellow-Dragon temple which is less expensive or directly in Jianshui.
The Double-Dragon Bridge (双龙桥)
Situated at the confluence of the Lujiang (泸江河) and the Tachong (塌冲河) rivers which merge into one river, the Nanpan River (南盘江), the bridge had only three arches. When the Tachong River changed course, fourteen arches were added.
Since the two rivers meanders in the plains like two dragons, locals have called it the “double dragon bridge” (双龙桥). With the ongoing drought, you may not see much water.
- Read the article about the Double-Dragon bridge
Yellow Dragon Temple (黄龙寺)
Ten kilometres west from the Double-Dragon Bridge, the foundation of the Yellow Dragon Temple during the Ming dynasty is steeped in folk lore.
According to a local legend, the countryside around Jianshui was once a desolate land on which no crop grew. One day, a yellow dragon appeared in the sky and with it lighting and thunder. It rained for days and once the sky cleared up, the countryside had become fertile land.
To commemorate the apparition of the Yellow Dragon, local officials built a temple behind a pool, the Yellow Dragon pool, that had formed after the deluge. A pool still exist and a driver told me that a one-eyed fish, the offspring of the yellow dragon, still swims in it.
The temple gate at the bottom of the hill was recently renovated. Climb up the stairs to access the temple which actually consists of several temples which dominate the plains. Surrounded by forested hills, the temples are quiet and they have feel that you dont get into city temples.
Tuanshan Village (团山村)
Tuanshan (团山) is located just a few kilometres west of the Yellow Dragon Temple. Originally built by the Yi ethnic minority (彝族) it has become a predominantly Han Chinese village during the Ming dynasty when a merchant from Jiangxi province named Zhang, enchanted by the scenery, decided to settle in the area.
The village has preserved most of the ancient Ming and Qing style architecture. The cobblestone streets of Tuanshan (团山) are lined with courtyard gates that open on ancient mansions, lineage temples, and garden.
The village is still an off-the-tourist-trail destination for those who want to admire ancient architecture in rural Yunnan province. However, Tuanshan (团山) is a historical village and with the development of tourism in China, we may see changes in the future.
- Read the article about Tuanshan, a piece of Ming history in the Yunnan countryside
The Xianghui Bridge train station (乡会桥火车站)
Next to Tuanshan, you will see abandoned rail tracks. They are vestiges of an old railway line built by the French in the 19th century and that linked Shiping (another off-the beaten track ancient city with well-preserved Ming – Qing era buildings) to Vietnam via Mengzi.
The late 19th century French architectural style train station of Xianghui Bridge (乡会桥火车站), abandoned and decaying in the middle of the southern Yunnan’s countryside looks out of place. It is nonetheless a piece of history which reminds us of French colonialism in the region.
Fan of abandoned rural structures (‘rurex’) will like, others, like my driver will question why a foreigner want to stop and look at that old train station … well, it’s on the way back to Jianshui, it’s free, it makes nice picture and you can brag about uncovering historical structure in Yunnan.
The Xianghui Bridge and Assembly hall (乡会桥)
Less impressive than the Double-Dragon bridge, the Xianghui bridge is a three-span stone bridge built in 1814. Just a couple of hundred meters from the train station, it is on the way back to Jianshui and worth a quick stop.
For those who study Chinese Republican history and the ‘Liberation’ of Yunnan during the late 1940s – early 1950s, the Xianghui Bridge Assembly Hall will be of some interest. On the right-hand side, you will see the following four Chinese characters : 抗日救国 (Fight the Japanese, Save the Country) and on the left-hand side a plaque written in non-simplified characters commemorate the Xianghui Bridge Uprising. On October 14th 1949, 200 people gathered in this assembly hall under the leadership of the local underground Communist party and decided to oust out the armies of the Republican armies.
If Republican history is not your cup of tea, the dougong (斗拱) [it’s this cross-crossed-like structure made of carved and painted beams and other wooden component called ‘dou’) on which rest the gate’s roof is definitely worth a 5-minute stop on the way back to Jianshui.
Rural exploration aficionados will like the village of Xianghui, mostly abandoned since the new village was built following the ‘Embellishment of Rural Villages’ policy.
The Wenbi Pagoda 文笔塔
Driving back to Jianshui from Xianghui, you will in the distance a structure that looks like a pencil on a top of a flat hill. It is the Wenbi Pagoda. It is nothing else than a empty stone-structure built in 1828 during the reign of Emperor Daoguan of the Qing.
There is a (somehow) nice point of view from the top, but there is nothing to see. I put here so that, if a driver ask you if you want to go, you know what to expect.