Jiexiu in Shanxi province is famous for being the hometown of three of China’s wisest men: Jie Zitui of the Spring and Autumn Period, Guo Linzong of the Eastern Han Dynasty and Wen Yanbo of the Northern Song Dynasty. It’s also the site of the annual Cold Food Festival. If you’re eager to escape the busy capital and step back in time, Jiexiu’s cultural wonders and historic relics can be a great trip.
Cold Food Festival on Mianshan Mountain
The Cold Food Festival is usually held the day before the Qingming Festival. It’s also a day on which cooking is traditionally forbidden. The annual event takes place on Mianshan Mountain.
The festival has its origins in the tragic story of Jie Zitui, an official from the state of Jin during the Spring and Autumn Period.
Before he was crowned King Wengong of Jin (671 – 628 BC), the young Chong’er spent 19 years as a fugitive. One time when he almost starved to death, his servant Jie cut a chunk of muscle out of his own leg to feed his master.
After becoming king, Chong’er forgot the man who saved his life and left the maimed Jie to live in seclusion with his aging mother on Mianshan Mountain. Chong’er came to regret his decision and tried to force Jie to accept a government position. When the slighted man refused, Chong’er set fire to three sides of the mountain to force him out.
Ultimately, Jie and his mother were burned alive.
In memory of Jie’s tragic end, fires were forbidden on the mountain and the Cold Food Festival was born.
The 70-meter cliff offers an astonishing view. There are two iron chains that visitors can use to climb up the side of the mountain. If you are lucky, you might get to see the hanging bells of the cliff.
Mianshan Mountain is also famous for the Buddhist statues of the Zhengguo Temple. The statues were created to entomb the bodies of actual monks.
160 yuan (tickets and transportation)
7 am–6 pm
Zhangbi Ancient Castle
With cultural relics dating back to the Xia dynasty (2146 – 1675 BC), tunnels dug during the Sui and Tang (581 – 907) dynasties, tombs from the Jin dynasty (1115 – 1234) and dwellings during the Ming and Qing (1369 – 1644) dynasties, Zhangbi Ancient Castle is the only ancient Chinese castle to have seen both military and civilian use.
The site has not been overly commercialized and still appeals to both the common tourists and photography lovers.
The most impressive things are its underground tunnels with mangers, granaries, soldiers’ barracks and facilities for execution. But precisely who dug these tunnels and why remains a major question for Chinese archeologists.
8 am-5 pm
Multiple Religions: Xianshen Tower and Houtu Temple
Xianshen Tower is one of the four famous towers in Shanxi. Wen Yanbo, a well-known official in the Northern Song Dynasty, dedicated it to the religion of Zoroastrianism, which arrived in China from Persia around AD 500.
Ming Dynasty rulers banned Zoroastrianism and had the statues in the tower replaced with icons of Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei, the historic heroes from the novel Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Nevertheless, the unusual Zoroastrianism architecture remains.
The nearby Houtu Temple follows the Quanzhen Sect of Taoism. Built before the Southern Dynasties, the temple is dedicated to the Goddess of Earth. It has one of the finest collections of glaze art in the country.
Shunchen Street, Beiguan, Jiexiu County, Jinzhong District, Shanxi
Houtu Temple: 99 Miaod2i Street, Jiexiu County, Jinzhong District, Shanxi Province
Free for Xianshen Tower; 20 yuan for Houtu Temple
8:30 am – 6 pm for both
The most famous food in Jiexiu is Zhanpianze. The colorful noodles are made from vegetables and grans such as carrot and millet. With eight kinds of sauce to pick from they make an impressive breakfast.
Take train D2001, D2003 or G609 from Beijing West Railway Station to Jiexiu East Station.
Switch to the direct bus from Jiexiu East Railway Station to Jiexiu Bus Station. Buses connect Mianshan Mountain and Zhangbi Ancient Castle from 6 am to 8 pm.
A taxi from Mianshan Mountain to Zhangbi Village will take 30 minutes.
Xianshen Tower and Houtu Temple are both in the center of Jiexiu. You can take a taxi to either from your hotel. It’s a 15-minute walk between the temples.