Liaocheng is a major metropolitan city-region located at the northwest corner of Shandong Province. It is a water-town populated by 6 million people. China’s mother river, the Yellow River, intercepts with the Grand Canal of China here in Liaocheng. The canal, a UNESCO World Heritage site, connects Beijing and Hangzhou city through its 1,800 km (1,125 miles) journey. The Grand Canal was constructed to supply Beijing with logistics such as bricks to build the Forbidden City. It had been in operation for over 1,400 years until the 1920s. Liaocheng boasts to be one of the nine key commercial ports along the canal route.
Water breeds commerce; and it certainly nurtures culture too. Magnificent lake sceneries have produced legendary and lavish literature. In China, the top four best-known works of literacy could not escape Liaocheng. Those four novels are: Outlaws of the Marsh, The Golden Lotus, Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, and The Travels of Lao Tsan. In conjunction with this literary tradition, one of the top four nationally ranked libraries constructed in Liaocheng during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) is the Hai Yuan Library (haiyuange).
Be sure to hop on a boat ride on the Dongchang Lake. Do not miss its central island of 3 km2 area surrounded by water. Dongchang Lake is said to be more beautiful than the West Lake in Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province. We beg to differ, so we will leave the judgment to you. It is at the Dongchang Lake, with China’s largest, self-open-and-close opera house sits. It is called Shuicheng Mingzhu (Pearl in Watertown Opera House水城明珠聊城). It is built in the similar style as the Sydney Opera House. An evening show will complete your day at this grand theatre.
Linqing County is located at the northwest corner of Liaocheng City about one hour by car. In the ancient times, Linqing had prospered along on the Grand Canal. Scouting through its old town is like walking into the largest medina at Fez City, Morocco. It is hard to pull away your feet. It is the best place for you to explore the culture of China’s Grand Canal.
Historical Custom Post. The highlight of Linqing is the historical Custom Post. Although many buildings have undergone many overhauls and remodeling, the original foundation is still being preserved. You can see these foundation laid out inside the old customs complex. The original Custom Post was built in 1429 as a tax office from the Ming Dynasty. It continued to operate until the end of the Qing Dynasty around 1900s. At its peak, the Post had collected a quarter of China’s national tax revenue. Due to the Canal’s locking system to lift boats, merchant boats were often caught in a congestion at Linqing port. It was uncommon for canal boats to wait days, if not weeks to get their boats lifted to the custom post and pay their taxes along on the passage. Thus, restaurants and hotels mushroomed along the canal banks. Business-minded merchants from the southern provinces started to build their hometown clubs to serve ethnic foods. Entertainment in diversified local dialects were widely available to watch. As the population grew, Linqing started attracting talents in craft-making. Local residents reached out to larger cities to learn skills in making bricks, scales, shoes, brooms, etc. Hence, a commercial city was born. Plan about 2 hours at the Post museum to learn the governance of this post as well as locals’ resistance to corrupted officials.
Yuan Canal. Not too far from Linqing’s UNESCO landmark, you will find an original section of the canal built in 1289. It was built by order of the first Emperor of the Yuan Dynasty. This is the best preserved section of the oldest canal in China.
Linqing Bricks. Linqing is also known for its quality bricks. Almost all bricks used in Beijing’s Forbidden Palace Museum were made from Linqing. If you go to the Aotouji Tower, built at the intersection of two rivers, you will find many original bricks bearing Linqing seals at sections of the walls lower than 1 m high. Those bricks were made at Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Due to the brick quality, all merchant boats were required to carry bricks for the Forbidden City when they were in transit to Beijing.
Walking through the historical district, have a conversation with the locals and a taste of their local meals.
Ejiao. Liaocheng is known for its donkey meat that is prepared with spices and perfume. Ejiao is a form of gelatin, the technique to make it can be dated back to over 1,000 years ago. Donkey meat is usually prepared in thin slices served on a platter or in sandwiches. Ejiao is mainly made from donkey skin extracted into a gelatin which is used in traditional recipes to increase blood circulation and improve reproductive funcitonality. Ejiao is also used as a nutritional supplement to cure anemia, and in making face cream to restore youthful glows.
Punching Tiger at Jingyanggang. The Water Margin is one of the top four classic literatures of China that is deeply rooted in Chinese culture. The novel depicts how 108 Chinese “Robinhood heroes” kidnapped the rich and punished corrupted officials in Liaocheng region. One of the chapters mentions about how Wu Song punched a wild tiger to death, and in return offering the locals a safe passage over the Jingyang Pass. Genuinely, a true story of the Chinese “Robinhood”.
Liaocheng is a fascinating destination that if once hooked, it will be tough to escape. Welcome to uncovering the real China at Liaocheng.
山东省文化旅游厅 Shandong Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism
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Authorized agency for Shandong Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism in the U.S. (山东省文化旅游厅在美授权机构)
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