Ancient officials lead the tourist trail in Hefei.
The final site, the Floating Village, is not directly related to Bao, but is a classically styled garden and well worth a visit.
Hefei, for a long time, has been overshadowed by the draws of southern Anhui Province. However, there is more than enough to keep a visitor occupied within the city for a couple of days and, thanks to the new transport links, the city is now a viable base for exploring Huangshan and the ancient Huizhou Villages.
Hefei has grown incredibly from a provincial backwater of 30,000 people in the 1930s to the modern provincial capital with a metropolitan population of over 3 million. Everywhere, the signs of development are evident; new subway lines are under construction (the first due to go into operation in 2016) and international chains, such as Starbucks and Decathlon, are setting up shop. The newly opened Shangri-La Hotel, Hefei helps raise the bar for accommodation in the city.
Taking a Bao
Sites in Hefei are largely to do with historical figures, the greatest of which being Bao Zheng, also known as Bao Gong (Lord Bao), who has been eulogised in recent years, thanks to his anti-corruption principles fitting in with the ideals of current leader Xi Jinping. Born in Hefei, then known as Luzhou, he went on to become an important government official, ending life as the prefect of then capital Dongjing (today’s Kaifeng). Likely to be the most famous personality from Hefei, his story as it is known today is a fabric of historical facts interwoven with folk legends. Baogong Park in Hefei is a memorial park dedicated to Bao Zheng and the four sites within paint an interesting picture of his life – he never accepted bribes and would often go out disguised as a commoner to hear first-hand the people’s grievances. Bao’s tomb is arranged on the classical lines of an important official with stone guardians marking the approach, and it is possible to enter the tomb via a dark corridor underneath.
The Qingfeng Pagoda was built in 1999 to commemorate the thousandth anniversary of Lord Bao’s birth, but the memorial temple has a much longer history, dating back to 1488. Look out for the well, which was originally called Lord Bao Well. The story goes that a corrupt official once drank water from it and then suffered a serious headache. As a result, the well was renamed Lianquan, meaning the water from within is upright and honest. The final site, the Floating Village, is not directly related to Bao, but is a classically styled garden and well worth a visit.
A City’s Heritage
Li Hongzhang is Hefei’s second most famous son. He rose to prominence as a government official in the late years of the Qing Dynasty. His former family home is preserved in the bustling Huaihe Pedestrian Street, one of the city’s main shopping areas. The house itself is a well-preserved Qing structure covering 3,500 square metres and the exhibits within chart Li’s life and his philosophy as a politician. His political views leaned towards the progressive side and he was involved in a movement that attempted to modernise China. As a diplomat, he engaged with foreign powers and had a significant influence on the late Qing dynasty’s foreign affairs. For his life’s work, Britain’s Queen Victoria made Li a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order.
The new Anhui Provincial Museum is a point of interest worth visiting for those who are intrigued by prehistoric humans. With four floors of displays, it covers a whopping 41,000 square metres of exhibition area. Anhui is home to the earliest humans in Eurasia and the museum shows artefacts which trace their way of life, along with the much-later Shuangdun Culture dating back to around 7,300 years ago. An original house, formerly located in Hongfei, has been reconstructed in the section about Huizhou merchants, who are most associated with the south of Anhui.
Sanhe, technically part of the Hefei municipality, is a good day trip into the countryside. This old town, while generally done up for tourists, does have some authentic historical buildings dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. Sanhe literally means ‘three rivers’ as it marks the point where the Xiaonan meets the Fengle and Hangbu. Due to its strategic importance, many battles were fought here and you can retrace its interesting history at the newly opened museum. The town was captured by Taiping forces and was the scene of fierce battles as Qing forces tried to recapture the town. During the Three Kingdom period, it was a staging post for Cao Cao’s attempts to capture the nearby Chaohu Lake. If you have arranged your own transport and get off to an early start, it is possible to combine Sanhe with a trip to Binhu Forest Park, which borders Chaohu Lake.
Make a point of visiting the Ancient Entertainment Building, where water cascades down from the roof into a courtyard pool. Nearby is the childhood home of the Nobel laureate Yang Zhenning. Look out just to its side for One-Man Alley, which, as its name suggests, is only large enough for one person to pass through.
The area is a good place to try local specialities, most notably the rice treats. Mijiao dumplings are a famous delicacy in Sanhe and, unlike regular Chinese dumplings (Jiaozi), it is made with rice flour and deep-fried morsels. However, you are best off trying the ones offered at Shangri-La Hotel, Hefei’s Café Wan, which lack the overly oily taste of most of those found in Sanhe.
Wherever your travels take you, Shangri-La Hotel, Hefei is a tranquil oasis from the bustle of the city. The gym, with its Jacuzzi, steam room and sauna, along with CHI, The Spa, offers great ways to unwind whether you’re in town for business or leisure.