- The Carved and The Hung
- Datong, the largest
town in northern Shanxi, lies on the railway line from Beijing
to Mongolia. Although only 300 miles from Beijing, Datong is a lot
less prosperous and progressive. Datong is most famous for its
Yungang caves and coal production. It used to have China's last
Datong's name means the "Big Same". One's first impressions
of the city fit the name perfectly. The entire city is scorched
with coal pits and riddled with slow-moving coal trucks. However,
few tourists leave Datong disappointed because of its Yungang
Buddhist Caves and the Hanging Temple.
- Datong City
- ** The
following ratings are based on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the
Days of Stay: 2
- Area - 1,700
Population - 2.7 million
People - Han
- When to
- Coldest Moths
- December to February with temperature as low as -29.9C;
Hottest Months - July and August, with temperature as high as
Annual Precipitation - 1,000 millimeters (mainly in May through
In and Out
- By Train -
Datong is 7.5 hours by train, No 205, the fastest from Beijing.
The same train can take you all the way to Moscow.
Datong was founded about
2,200 years ago as a garrison town built between two sections of
the Great Wall of China.
Datong reached its peak between 398-494 when the Northern Wei Dynasty
adopted the city as capital. It was during this period that the
Yungang caves were constructed and Datong became the most prosperous
city in China.
Datong maintained its strategic importance because of its geographical
location during the later dynasties. Today, Datong sits on the largest
coal deposits in China. People call it the Coal Sea.
City Wall* *
- The Datong
City Wall is as old as the famous city wall of Xi'an. It was
constructed during Ming Dynasty. Renovation is currently underway
to restore it to its past glory.
There is also an eight-sided seven-story brown-brick pagoda
on top of the wall in Datong.
- Steam Locomotive
Factory and Museum* *
- The factory
was the last place in China to make steam locomotives. During
its life, it produced 5,572 steam locomotives. Right now, it
makes only electric and diesel engines.
The factory itself is a great place to get a rough understanding
of how a Chinese factory works.
The museum is said to contain the first locomotive engine imported
into China from Britain. It was used to haul Empress Dowager
CiXi's state carriage, which is also on display.
Pagoda* * *
- The Wooden
Pagoda is located approximately 75 km from Datong. Sixty-seven
meters in height, it is the highest and the oldest wooden pagoda
in China, built in 1056. The tower is said to have survived
seven earthquakes. A glance inside will explain this architectural
wonder. Huge timbers have been carefully jointed to crate an
amazingly resilient structure. The workmanship is extraordinary
even judged by today's standard.
There are five levels in the pagoda, three of which is open
to the public. On each of these three levels there are Buddhist
statues. On the ground level, there is a huge, 11-meter-high,
seated statue of Sakyamuni.
- Nine Dragon
- The Datong's
most famous sight is the Nine Dragon Screen, a ceramic mural
of 150 feet long portraying nine dragons rising from the sea
in pursuit of the sun. It was created in A.D. 1392. There is
also a wall with the same name in Beijing.
Local Culture/Unique Tour
Who Live in the Caves* * *
- In rural Datong,
there are still many people who still live in the cave houses
dug out of the steep earthen bluffs. Many of these caves are
over two centuries old. Unlike what they sound, they are usually
neat, homey, warm in the winters and cool in the summers.
Usually the caves consist of two large curving earthen chambers
tamped smooth. The entrant room is used as kitchen and storage
room. No running water is available in these caves. The room
inside is the living quarter for the entire family. There is
no bed. The entire family sleep on what is called "Big Kang"
which was built of mud and brick and covered with rattan mat.
Tunnels are built between the "Big Kang" and the kitchen stove.
Coal fire heat is transmitted through these tunnels to the "Kang"
and sealed in it while the family cooks. It is definitely an
efficient way to recycle energy.
Take a trip out here and check out the chosen residences for
many of the people here for well over two centuries.
- Wutai Shan
(Wutai Mountain)* * * * *
- Wutai Shan
has been venerated by Buddhists as one of China's four sacred
sites since ancient times. It consists of five towering peaks.
Yedou, the tallest of them all, is 3,058 meters above the sea
level, know as the "Roof of North China."
Being close to the grasslands of Inner Mongolia, Wutaishan was
a frequently visited place of pilgrimage for Mongolians who
have adopted the Tibetan version of the faith. Wutai Shan has
a rare example of original Tang temple architecture. The buildings
from 850 still stand.
The mountains are beautiful and perfect for hiking. However,
the weather in the mountains is very cold, even in mid summer.
Caves* * * *
- The caves
are the best preserved in China. They stretch for about a km
and are grouped into three main sections: east, central and
west. The earliest caves were carved around 450.
The format of the caves came from Indian Buddhism. According
to history books, five Indian monks who were also accomplished
sculptors arrived in Datong in 455. Their influence is quite
obvious in the carving.
Cave 20 has the largest figure, a seated 14-meter-high Buddha
with one surviving standing disciple on the right.
Cave 18 is considered to be the finest in Yungang.
All the caves have different stories and styles. They are all
worth exploring diligently.
- The Hanging
Temple* * * *
- Datong has
another architectural wonder besides the Wooden Pagoda, the
Hanging Temple. Clinging to a sheer cliff, the temple was built
in Northern Wei Dynasty, approximately 1,400 years ago.
The monk who built this temple had three reasons:
1. Find the most difficult place to built a house of worship
to show his determination;
2. To avoid the terrible flood;
3. To promote the unity among Chinese people by combining the
three main religions: Confucianism, Buddhism and Taoism in this
The temple in its spectacular setting is unique and breathtaking.
One has to see it with his own eyes in order to believe such
an undertaking was possible about 1,400 years ago.
- The Huayan
Temple* * *
- Several of
this temple's halls date from before 1,100 AD. It was completed
40 years later during Jin Dynasty by Khitan tribe.
Its Main Buddha Hall is reputed to be one of the two biggest
Buddhist halls in China.
Do stop by the Bhagavan Stack-Hall during your tour as this
is where the Buddhist sutras were kept. It also contains 29
extraordinarily vivid Buddha.
The interesting fact about the temple is that every hall and
pavilion faces east instead of south as traditional Chinese
constructions. This is a reflection of the sun-worshipping traditions
of the Khitan conquerors.