Mingchen - A Walled City With A Long History

Text by Daffydil, Pictures by Heng

Copyright © Daffydil Tan. All rights reserved.

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We arrived on a dusty, dun-colored afternoon in late Autumn. The gaunt walls of the Gate Tower loomed theatrically as we alighted from the minivan. We had travelled hundreds of kilometers through the Province of Guangxi in South China to visit the 480 year old walled city of Mingchen. The old city is fortified by solid granite walls which originally bounded Mingchen on four sides, North, South, East and West. However through the vicissitudes of centuries, the Western and Northern walls have crumbled with only the Southern and Eastern walls standing intact.

Visitors to Guangxi Province would no doubt be more familiar with Guilin which is one of the most popular toruist spots in the province. Mingchen, however is undocumented in China's tourist industry. Located in Fu-chuan County in the Northeast of Guangxi Province it was first setup in the Ming Dynasty from which the city derived its name.

Old houses, an old pagoda, some old wells, an ancient wall, and a vanishing way of life this is the essense of Mingchen.

Pictures of Fu-Chuan County and the Ancient City of Mingchen.

Fuchuan County is a little known and therefore unspoilt region with many attractions for the traveller.

It is situated in a triangluar area bordered by Hunan, Guangdong, and Guangxi provinces. Fuchuan, which is in the east of Guangxi province is a beautiful place with many minority villages and the ancient city of Mingchen.

Enduring China -- Men leading bullocks outside the City of Mingchen in Fuchuan County.

Enduring China -- Women swinging baskets outside the City of Mingchen in Fuchuan County.

While it had not the grandeur of Beijing's Forbidden City or the majety of the Great Wall of China, Mingchen's imposing South Gate with beautiful flying eaves is like a relic from the past. Built of massive slabs of grey-green stone, we could well imgine that the Wall must have been quite an impregnable obstacle against attacks in former days.

Today there are no sentinels at the Gates or on the Tower battlements. Their places have been taken over by these old crones with inscrutable faces, who guard the gates like ghosts from yesteryear.

The arched gateway leads to a network of narrow alleys flanked by old-style houses inside the Walled City.

The earth toned houses with black tiled roofs are constructed in the Ming and Qing style.

Mingchen residents must be a pretty trusting lot judging from the number of open doorways that we passed or this was just the way of small town folks. Besides being a thoroughfare, the cobbled alleyways also houses communal activities as family life pours out of doors.

Sewing by her doorway an old woman watches the world go by.

Passing time these old Mingchen folk play cards in the alleyway.

As the narrow lanes do not permit the intrusion of motor vehicles, Mingchen is effectively a city without cars but there was no lack of bicycles ant three-wheelers and we often heard the sound of "tinkle tinkle", warning us to step aside.

The open air stage is another communal point in this old town and dates back 300 plus years. During our visit the place wore a sad deserted air as performances are only held during the harvest and New Year festivals. A passing villager confided that this was a hotbed and center of action during the Cultural Revolution.

An ancient city is not complete without an ancient pagoda and Mingchen's Ruiguangta pagoda is a promenient landmark. Built in they years of the Ming Emperor Jiajing, this multi-storey, six sided edifice rises to a height of 28m and one can get a birds eye view of the countryside from the top of the Ruiguangta Pagoda.

The dilapidated East Gate is overgrown with moss and lichen.

As ancient cities go Mingchen also has its fair share of ancient wells. Imbibing from the waters of one's village well is very much embedded in the cultural psyche of the Chinese. Apparently this custom is alive and well in Mingchen whose residents still fetch water from the wells despite piped water being available in most households.

Mingchen and Fu-chuan County are accessible by road from major towns and cities in Guangxi Province. From the North it is approachable by road via Guilin taking about 6-7 hours travel time. From the South it is connected by road to the riverport of Wuzhou, taking about 7-8 hours travel time.

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