Stretching over 72,000 ha in the northern part of Sichuan Province, the jagged Jiuzhaigou valley reaches a height of more than 4,800 m, thus comprising a series of diverse forest ecosystems. Its superb landscapes are particularly interesting for their series of narrow conic karst land forms and spectacular waterfalls. Some 140 bird species also inhabit the valley, as well as a number of endangered plant and animal species, including the giant panda and the Sichuan takin.
Situated in the north-west of Sichaun Province, the Huanglong valley is made up of snow-capped peaks and the easternmost of all the Chinese glaciers. In addition to its mountain landscape, diverse forest ecosystems can be found, as well as spectacular limestone formations, waterfalls and hot springs. The area also has a population of endangered animals, including the giant panda and the Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey.
Scientific work at the site, which lies 42 km south-west of Beijing, is still underway. So far, it has led to the discovery of the remains of Sinanthropus pekinensis, who lived in the Middle Pleistocene, along with various objects, and remains of Homo sapiens sapiens dating as far back as 18,000–11,000 B.C. The site is not only an exceptional reminder of the prehistorical human societies of the Asian continent, but also illustrates the process of evolution.
The Temple of Heaven, founded in the first half of the 15th century, is a dignified complex of fine cult buildings set in gardens and surrounded by historic pine woods. In its overall layout and that of its individual buildings, it symbolizes the relationship between earth and heaven – the human world and God’s world – which stands at the heart of Chinese cosmogony, and also the special role played by the emperors within that relationship.
The Altar of Heaven and Earth, together with the wall surrounding the garden, was completed in 1420, the eighteenth year of the reign of the Ming Emperor Yongle. The central building was a large rectangular sacrificial hall, where sacrifices were offered to heaven and earth, with the Fasting Palace to the south-west. Pines were planted in the precinct of the Temple to emphasize the relationship between humankind and nature.
In the ninth year of the reign of Emperor Jiajing (1530) the decision was taken to offer separate sacrifices to heaven and to earth, and so the Circular Mound Altar was built to the south of the main hall, for sacrifices to heaven. The Altar of Heaven and Earth was renamed the Temple of Heaven. Concurrently, temples to the earth, the sun, and the moon were built in the north, east, and west of the city respectively.
The large sacrificial hall was dismantled fifteen years later and replaced by the round Hall of Daxiang, used for offering prayers for abundant harvests. In 1553 an outer city, which included the Temple of Heaven, was created around Beijing.
In 1749, the fourteenth year of the reign of the Qing Emperor Qianlong, the Circular Mound was enlarged, the original blue-glazed tiles being replaced with white marble. Two years later renovation work took place at the Hall of Daxiang, and it was given the new name of the Hall of Prayers for Abundant Harvests. This was the heyday of the Temple of Heaven, when it covered 273ha.
Ceremonial sacrifices to heaven were banned by the government of the Republic of China in 1911. By that date, 490 years after its foundation, the Temple of Heaven had witnessed 654 acts of worship to heaven by 22 Emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It was opened as a public park in 1918 and has been so ever since.
Mount Song, known in Chinese as Song Shan, is one of the Five Great Mountains and is located in Henan province on the south bank of the Yellow River in China. Its summit is 1,500 meters above sea level.
The mountain is one of the sacred Taoist mountains of China, and contains important Taoist temples such as the Zhongyue Temple; however the mountain also features a significant Buddhist presence. It is home to the Shaolin Temple, traditionally considered the birthplace of Zen Buddhism, and the temple’s collection of pagoda forest is the largest in China. The Zhongyue Temple is also located here, one of the earliest Taoist temples in the country. The Songyang Academy nearby was one of the four great academies of ancient China. The mountain and its vicinity are populated with Taoist and especially Buddhist monasteries. The 6th century Songyue Pagoda is also located here, as well as Tang Dynasty (618–907) pagodas within the Fawang Temple. Eight locations at the foot of the mountain in Dengfeng have been a World Heritage Site since 2010.
Situated at a strategic point along the Silk Route, at the crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences, the 492 cells and cave sanctuaries in Mogao are famous for their statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art.
Buddhist cave art originated in the second century B.C.E. in Maharashtra, India – an area of commercial importance for trade flows between north and south India. Between the inception at the older site at Ajanta and the completion of further ones at a nearby site at Ellora in the eighth century, some 63 caves were excavated and painted.
The Mogao Caves, begun six centuries later in the fourth century, were positioned on the more prosperous international trading network, known as the Silk Road. With 492 painted grottoes, the Mogao Caves have more than eight times as many grottoes as those at India’s primary two sites. That said, the Mogao Caves should not be understood as an isolated endeavor within China. They are merely the best example of an astonishingly widespread Buddhist cave movement in this nation. Apart from the UNESCO-registered grottoes at Dazu, Longmen & Yungang, prominent Buddhist grottoes on the Silk Road are the Kizil Caves near Kuqa, on which much of the content if not style of the earliest Mogao Caves are based, and the Bezeklik Caves near Turpan in China’s western Xinjiang province. Within their home province of Gansu, the Mogao Caves are but one of several painted cave complexes with nearby grottoes at Yulin, the Western Thousand Buddha Caves and Eastern Thousand Buddha Caves, as well as further afield, notably at Maijishan, Binglingsi and Laoshansi.
Indian in origin, Buddhist cave art was soon wholeheartedly promoted in many cultural centers throughout China both on the Silk Road network and off.
Ping Yao is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Han Chinese city, founded in the 14th century. Its urban fabric shows the evolution of architectural styles and town planning in Imperial China over five centuries. Of special interest are the imposing buildings associated with banking, for which Ping Yao was the major centre for the whole of China in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The Ping Yao region has been settled by humankind since Neolithic times. There has been an urban settlement on the site of the nominated property since at least the Western Zhou Dynasty, since it was fortified with earthen ramparts during the reign of King Xuan (827-782 BC). With the implementation of the system of prefectures and counties in 221 BC, Ping Yao became the seat of a county administration, and continues to play that role.
In 1370, during the reign of the Ming Emperor Hong Wu, the city was greatly extended. It was fortified with a massive new defensive wall in masonry and brick and the internal layout was greatly altered, reflecting the strict rules of planning of the Han peoples.
Since that time it has evolved steadily as a Han city during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It emerged as one of the leading commercial cities in northern China during the 16th century, and retained that status well into the present age. In the second half of the 19th century the banking community of Ping Yao dominated Chinese financial life.