Nanquan Ancient Town is ocated in the west of Yuxian County, Zhangjiakou City, Hebei Province. As a famous historical and cultural town in China and a national AAA scenic area,“Nuanquan” means “warm spring” in English. The town got its name from the two warm springs in the town: one at the center of the town and the other before the Huayan Temple. The water is about 57 F (14 C) all year round, which does not freeze even in winter. The local people use the water from the spring to cook, wash clothes, and irrigate land.
History of the town
The ancient town was constructed in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), and prospered in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) when there were three fortresses, six alleys, and eighteen villages. Many ancient buildings have survived until today, including the West Ancient Fortress, the Nuanquan Academy, the Lao-Tzu Taoist Temple, and the Huayan Temple. Additionally, the paper-cut and the traditional performance of the “Sparkling Molten Metal” at weekends and during Chinese New Year are of great interest to tourists both from home and abroad.
What to see ?
West Ancient Fortress
There are three fortresses in total in Nuanquan Ancient Town, including the West Ancient Fortress in the southwest, the Small Middle Fort in the south, and the North Official Fortress in the northeast. Those would work together to fight against enemies during wartime. Of these, the West Ancient Fortress is the most unique and best-preserved. Local people dwell in the fortress and retain the traditional lifestyle. With inestimable historical and cultural value, the fortress was constructed during the Jiajing Period (1522-1566) of the Ming Dynasty, and listed as a key historical and cultural site under the state protection scheme in June, 2006.
The square-shaped fortress consists of 180 ancient folk houses, including six large connected courtyards and fifty regular quadrangles. These houses are made from bricks and wood. Their roofs are embellished with blue tiles. The exquisite brick carvings, wood carvings, and paintings are still very vivid and attractive, showing the past prosperity of the fortress.
Lao-Tzu Taoist Temple
The Lao-Tzu Taoist Temple in the Nuanquan Ancient Town was constructed during the Taihe Period (1196-1200) of the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), and renovated during the Yuanzhen Period (1294-1297) of the Yuan Dynasty and again during the Longqing Period (1567-1572) of the Ming Dynasty. In 2013, the temple was listed as a key historical and cultural relic under state protection.
In front of the temple is a large square which can hold 1,000 people to watch operas or hold a fair. In the south of the square is an exquisite old stage. In the north is the gate of the temple, on either side of which stands a stone lion of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Passing through the gate, tourists will see the main hall, the Sanqing Hall. In the hall are enshrined the statues of the three founders of Taoism. The murals on the east and west walls are especially precious. They detail the origin and development of Taoism. They embody the ideas of dialectics, philosophy, health preserving methods, and moral values. Hence, the murals are a rare Taoist treasure.
Being a historical and cultural relic under state protection, the Huayan Temple was constructed during the Hongwu Period (1368-1398) of the Ming Dynasty and was subsequently called the Chongjiao Temple during the reign ofEmperor Guangxu in the Qing Dynasty. The temple is comprised of a gate, the Hall of the Heavenly King, the Middle Hall, the Mahavira Hall, various subordinate halls, the meditation room, and the steles. The magnificent buildings, the beautiful murals, and the exquisite statues of the Buddha are of inestimable historical and cultural value. The Huayan Temple is situated by what was a commercial road. Businessmen used to stay and trade here. Furthermore, they came to pray for good fortune and safety. As a result, the Huayan Temple has been very popular ever since.
Nuanquan Academy (Wangmin Academy)
A symbol of ancient culture in the town, the Nuanquan Academy was established by the Minister of Works Wang Min in the Yuan Dynasty. Thus, it is also called Wang Min Academy. It was regarded as one of the three greatest academies in Yuanxian County of the ancient times. The other two, the Yuzhou Academy and the Jade Spring Academy, are long gone. Only the oldest Nuanquan Academy remains.
The five pavilions in the middle of the academy are where students studied. To the east of these pavilions stands the Tower of the God of Literature in which the statue of the Literature God was consecrated to bless the cultural prosperity of the town long ago. The eastern and western houses are the bedroom and the study room of Wang Min. There is an octagonal well in the yard. The water in the well runs beneath the pavilions and joins the spring through a culvert. This is called “Water from an Octagonal Well Flowing Beneath Pavilions”, and has been listed as one of the top eight scenes in the Yuxian County for a long time.
The paper-cut of Yuxian County originates from the Ming Dynasty. It was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in May, 2006, and as a world intangible cultural heritage in October, 2009. The artists do not use scissors, but work with knives; and the cut-outs are then dyed. The paper cut works depict historical stories, folklores, figures, local customs, seasons, and wedding and birthday ceremonies. The rich content, the unique designs, the perfect craftsmanship, and the different colors make the art of paper cutting interesting and attractive.
Sparkling Molten Metal (Dashuhua)
With a history of more than 500 years, the traditional performance “Sparkling Molten Metal” is peculiar to the Nuanquan Ancient Town, and it has been listed as a provincial intangible cultural heritage of Hebei Province. Hot molten metal is splashed onto the city wall by folk artisans, sparkling and glistening. That is very spectacular! At the beginning, only molten iron which gives out red light is used in the performance. Later, molten bronze and aluminum are added to give out green and white lights respectively. In this way, the sparkling molten metal looks far more colorful and splendid than fireworks. Nowadays, the Sparkling Molten Metal is performed at weekends and during Chinese New Year on the Shuhua Square in the east of the Nuanquan Ancient Town.