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Top Choice 03/10/2015 World Heritage China Part 30- The Old Town of Lijiang


03-10-2015 20:48 BJT

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.

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.

The Old Town of Lijiang

The Old Town of Lijiang

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.

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.

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