|Name||河北 (hé běi) ['river' 'north'] Old Name Hopei WG|
|Population||73.582 million (5.35 %) [6th] comparison table|
|Area||188,000 km2 [72,587 mile2] (1.96 %) [12th]|
|GDP||39,984 (11.76 %) [20th]|
If you include Beijing and Tianjin within Hebei, it would be by far the most important province in China, but even without them Hebei is still of great significance. It stretches well beyond the Great Wall into the northern Mongolia plateau down to one of the Yellow River's ancient channels to the sea in the South. It is from its position north of the Yellow River (Huang He) that it gets its name. It slopes from high mountains in the north-west down to the fertile alluvial plain in the south-east. It has been part of China from earliest times, at least as long ago as the Shang dynasty.
From the Ming dynasty up until 1928 the area covered by Hebei was part of ‘Zhili (直隶)’ also known as Chihli WG, which was directly administered by the Emperor - as it included the capital - rather than as a separate province. The province was not greatly developed until recently, the continuous threat of droughts and flooding from Yellow and Hai rivers made agriculture and building on the plain too perilous. Extensive water management now makes agriculture economic. Shijiazhuang, a busy industrial and railway town, became the provincial capital when Tianjin was hived off as a metropolitan ‘province’ level district in 1968. It grew rapidly in the last hundred years as the railway hub for northern China. Shijiazhuang boasts a memorial to the Canadian doctor Norman Bethune ➚ who helped the Communist Army in the Japanese Occupation. Handan and other cities in the south of Hebei have a more ancient feel to them. Zhaozhou has the ancient Anji stone bridge ➚ dating back 1,400 years; the oldest open-spandrel arch bridge in the world.
Chengde (see later section) north-east of Beijing boasts one of the Qing Imperial Summer Palaces located to give the Imperial court a break from the summer heat. The Qing dynasty tombs are located near here as well as the Puning Temple ➚. Qinhuangdao near the border with Liaoning has European influenced beach resorts including Beidaihe ➚ which is now frequented by the Chinese élite. Nearby at Shanhaiguan there is an impressive fort where the Ming dynasty Great Wall dramatically reaches the sea. Inland, part of the Wall is submerged in the Panmjiakou Reservoir ➚. The Wall cuts across the northern half of the Province and is Hebei's main tourist attraction. Cangyan Shan ➚ in the south-west has an impressive collection of monasteries set amongst the mountains. Zhangshi Crag National Park has breathtaking scenery. Tangshan just east of Beijing was the epicenter of China's worst earthquake in recent years, on Jul 28 1976 when 650,000 people ➚ lost their lives.
The province is heavily industrialized, producing machinery; textiles; coal (Kailuan Coal Mines near Tianjin); oil fields (offshore in the Bohai Gulf) as well as steel and chemicals. The flat alluvial soils made by the Yellow River over the centuries created rich agricultural land that produce copious wheat; cotton; corn and tobacco. The province has cold winters and hot, humid summers while rainfall is restricted to mainly July and August. The northern part suffers from vast dust storms which bring sand and dust from the Gobi desert.
Each dynasty in China had its own burial ground. The Manchu or Qing dynasty have some tombs 78 miles [125 kms] east of Beijing hence its name 清东陵 qīngdōng líng Eastern Qing Tombs and some to the west 清西陵 qīngxī líng Western Qing Tombs. The sites were carefully chosen for the very best Feng Shui. The Eastern Qing tombs are located just inside Hebei province and south of the Great Wall. It contains the tombs of five emperors, fifteen empresses and over a hundred concubines. After the fall of the dynasty in the 1920s, the tombs were extensively plundered.
The structure of both Qing tomb complexes follows the traditional Han Chinese format, a Sacred or Spirit Way guarded by stone animals and officials leads to a site at the foot of a mountain. In the Eastern group, the largest central tomb (Xiaoling) is that of Shun Zhi, the founder of the dynasty. The area has a number of ornamental arches, bridges and halls. The long lived Emperor Qianlong has the finest tomb, it was started when he was 30 and he went on to live to the age of 88. Dowager Empress Cixi has a large and impressive tomb, and to emphasize her control in this case the Phoenix (representing the Empress) is shown dominating the Dragon (representing the Emperor).
The Western Qing Tombs are located 87 miles [140 kms] south-west of Beijing and houses the remains of ten emperors. When Emperor Qianlong was advised that the Eastern Qing tomb site had superior feng shui, he dictated that burials should alternate between the two necropolises. Unlike the Eastern Tombs these have not been plundered or excavated.
Not content with just the Forbidden City and Summer Palace, the Qing Emperor Kangxi set up a mountain resort at Chengde in 1703 to escape the summer heat of Beijing. It was called 避暑山庄 Bìshǔ Shānzhuāng, literally ‘Mountain villa to avoid the heat’.
Kangxi and the emperors following him, spent the summer months at Changde, often in outdoor pursuits such as hunting in the hills. It reminded the Manchu rulers of their origins as herdsmen out on the northern plains. Chengde was also known as Jehol or Rehe in pinyin after an old name for the whole province of which it was capital. It was here that British ambassador Earl MacCartney sought a trade agreement with China in vain in 1793. Chengde gradually grew to be even larger than the Imperial Palaces in Beijing. There are replicas of many buildings of traditional and regional architecture dotted around lakes with linking walkways. The Putuozongcheng Miao is a replica of the Potala Palace, Lhasa. Pule Si ➚ or ‘Temple of Universal Joy’ has a conical yellow roof rather like the Temple of Heaven in Beijing. Puning Si commemorates the defeat of Mongol rebels and has a Tibetan style and is a working monastery while the Wenjin Pavilion ➚housed a great collection of books. Chengde fell into ruin after the foundation of the Republic of China and only recently after painstaking restoration has it become a major tourist attraction.
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