Two recommended tour routes to discover charms of Ningbo

To explore Ningbo’s cultural heritages and scenic attractions, two routes are recommended for tourists. Both take a full day plus one night in a local hotel.

To explore Ningbo’s cultural heritages and scenic attractions, two routes are recommended for tourists, one featuring a tour of its historical sites and the other featuring an excursion to its scenic spots. Both take a full day plus one night in a local hotel.

Ningbo has a long history and rich cultural heritages that fostered generations of intellectuals and businessmen. The latter are now scattered around the world and collectively called Yongshang, meaning Ningbo merchants.

The city is like a book for visitors to discover its past and peep into its future. Outsiders can take a one-day tour to explore the city’s three best-known tourist attractions — Tianyige Library, Cicheng Town and Zheng Family Village — and spend the night in a boutique hotel in the village.

There is a Chinese saying to the effect that “Man of great achievement dwells in a place of good scenery.” Ningbo has worked hard in recent years to protect and restore its natural environments. The second route allows visitors to appreciate the city’s famous sites of natural beauty, such as the Dongqian Lake in Yinzhou District and the Xuedou Mountain in Fenghua District.

Route 1: Tianyige Library — Cicheng Town — Zheng Family Village

Tianyige Library

Located on Tianyi Street in downtown Haishu District, the library is more than 450 years old, now standing amidst modern skyscrapers. As the oldest library in Asia and one of the three best-known family libraries in the world, Tianyige was built by Fan Qin in 1566. Fan was a retired minister of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

Fan made a family rule forbidding anyone to claim the books as their private assets or take the books out of the library. This rule is still maintained up to this day though the family declined a long time ago and the library now belongs to the public.

Tianyige, also called Tianyi Pavilion, has a vast collection of books and records of the Ming and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, including manuscripts of people taking the imperial examinations. Eighty percent of Ming and Qing books and documents still intact in China are kept here and 90 percent of them are the only copies.

The library has a complete set of “Siku Quanshu” (Imperial Collection of Books), an encyclopedia compiled by some 360 imperial scholars and hand-copied by 3,800 calligraphers over a period of 13 years. Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong commissioned the project in 1772. Fan Maozhu, a descendant of Fan Qin, provided 638 books from the library on loan for the project. The emperor later ordered the seven sets of “Siku Quanshu,” totaling 79,000 volumes, be stored in seven libraries across the country, four in north China and three in south China.

Tianyige Library is now a museum where people can see the living quarters of the family and several gardens with a total space of over 31,000 square meters. Some houses are used as showrooms to display books and manuscripts of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

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Tianyige Library

Cicheng Town

Cicheng Town is in Jiangbei District, about 40 minutes’ drive from Tianyige. The town dates back to the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) with stone-paved streets in a layout that resembles the pattern of a tortoise shell. The town is crisscrossed by canals. Households along the canals can buy things from vendors peddling goods on a boat.

Between the Tang and Qing dynasties, 519 imperial officials were from Cicheng, which is also the hometown of many contemporary artists, scientists and writers such as Zhou Xinfang, Qin Runqing, Tan Jiazhen, and Feng Jicai. The Examination Ground is the place where local men sat for imperial examinations. It is now a compound of galleries with 69 partitions. The original venue was built in 1835 and the current one was rebuilt in recent years according to pictures found in the town’s annuals. Visitors will find life-size wax figures of exam takers, each with a food basket by the desk.

Visitors will learn that people who passed the county-level exams would go to an academy inside the town’s Confucian temple to prepare for provincial-level exams. Only a select few would have the chance to take the final exam in the imperial court. The Confucian temple in Cicheng looks the same as it was in the late Qing Dynasty.

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Cicheng Town

Zheng Family Village

Unlike many who studied hard to prepare for the imperial exam, men in the Zheng Family Village were dedicated businessmen and forerunners of Yongshang. Their ancestors came from north China. Six generations later, the family grew into a clan with 17 households and 116 houses. The clan produced many successful merchants, including Zheng Shichang who founded four banks in Beijing and Zheng Yuchan who established Hero Ink Company in Shanghai in 1924.

Most houses in the village date from the Ming and Qing dynasties, making it one of the biggest and best-preserved Qing-style villages in China. Matouqiang, translated as horse-head walls, are actually firewall parapets which are higher than roofs and a salient feature of architecture in the village.

All Zheng family descendants have moved out of the village and the village is now protected by the government. The old compounds have been transformed into a boutique hotel, complete with modern amenities such as air conditioning and luxury bathrooms. The hotel is managed by New Century Hotels & Resorts Group, the first Chinese company to run resort hotels as a way to protect ancient villages.

It is a delightful experience to stay one night in the village to enjoy the view of red lanterns glowing in every lane and the serenity of the village. They stay in two-story houses with the living room on the first floor and the bedroom on the second floor. Each house has a small courtyard and the rooms are decorated with antique-style Chinese furniture.

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Zheng Family Villages have been transformed into a boutique hotel

Route 2: Dongqian Lake — Xuedou Mountain

Dongqian Lake Scenic Area

Dongqian Lake is the largest lake in Zhejiang Province, about 7 kilometers southeast of downtown Ningbo. It consists of Guzi Lake, North Lake and South Lake with a total surface area of 22 square kilometers, four times bigger than the West Lake of Hangzhou. The noted Chinese historian and poet, Guo Moruo, compared the beauty of Dongqian Lake to that of the West Lake and Taihu Lake.

There is a small island in the lake called Little Putuo in reference to the Putuo Mountain, a Buddhist sanctuary off the coast of Zhejiang. The island has the 800-year-old Xiayu Temple, wooded hills and tree-lined shores. A number of restaurants can be found on the island which serve dishes made with fish from the lake.

During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) when Hangzhou was the capital, many famous scholars and officials sought retreat in the lake area, drawn by its beautiful scenery, and they were buried there after death. People can find the tombs of 16 Song Dynasty (960-1279) celebrities including Shi Hao, Shi Miyuan, Zheng Qingzhi and Shi Song. Their tombs all have stone sculptures as guardians. The tallest one is 3.5 meters high. They represent officials, warriors, tigers, horses and other animals.

The Dongqian Lake Scenic Area is a popular holiday resort for locals. The Mashan Wetland Park is in a bay surrounded by a rolling hill. The 12-hectare wetland is relatively quiet compared with other scenic spots in the area and has a free parking lot. There is an open ground for campers and an observatory deck for birdwatchers. From here, people can climb the Mashan Hill for a good exercise.

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Dongqian Lake Scenic Area

Xuedou Mountain Scenic Area

Xuedou Mountain is a major attraction of Xikou Town in Fenghua District, about 90 minutes of drive from the Dongqian Lake. The mountain is part of the Siming Mountain range in Ningbo and has an altitude of about 800 meters. There is a Buddhist temple on the mountain with two rare maidenhair trees that are over 1,000 years old. Behind the temple is a 33-meter-tall statue of Maitreya Buddha, sitting on a 24-meter-high base. The statue was made with 500 tons of tin bronze.

Not far from the temple is the Qianzhangyan Waterfall that roars down a 186-meter-high cliff into the valley. The sound of the waterfall can be heard a long distance away. Visitors can also go to the Miaogao Terrace to see the resort villa built for Chiang Kai-shek, the former leader of Kumintang. Chiang was born in Xikou and grew up in the town. He worked in the then capital city of Nanjing, he would often return to Xikou for long holidays. The terrace offers a view of the Tingxiahu Reservoir with water enough to fill seven West Lakes.

If time permits, visitors can walk to the Sanyin Pool in the mountain which is fed by three waterfalls from the same stream over a distance of more than 1,600 meters. After that, they can take a 10-minute ride on a small train to the Qianzhangyan Waterfall.

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