Yunnan Province is famous for its numerous old towns. Some of them have been renovated, rebuilt and made pretty for visitors from all over the world. Many people have heard of the ancient towns in charming Lijiang, cozy Dali or vivid Jianshui. Ever heard of Zhoucheng (州城) though? Probably not... This little village in Binchuan County (宾川县), some 50 km east of Erhai Lake also was an important stopover along the Tea Horse Road and is not less picturesque than its famous 'brothers'.
Zhoucheng is unknown to many people, even to those living around Dali might have never heard about this place. There is hardly any public transportation, with which the town can be reached and only very simple guesthouses can be found in Zhoucheng. But cultural relics, ancient architecture and traditional markets make this genuine old town a valuable place to visit!
In order to control Dali and prevent rebellions, Binchuan was turned into a military base back in the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644). Binchuan also was the first recognized Autonomous Prefecture in the year 1494. At that time, the capital city of the prefecture was Zhoucheng ('zhou' meaning 'prefecture' and 'cheng' meaning 'city'). A not very creative name but before the military came, no one was living in this place and once the military settled, no one really cared about a proper name.
The Zhonggu Tower is the highest building of Zhoucheng. For military reasons, all buildings had to be lower than this tower. It is centrally located above a road crossing so that all four directions could be overseen.
Chinese people value Confucius as the most important person for teaching knowledge and manners, so a Confucian Temple is often built to memorize him - also in Zhoucheng. Right next to it, the Guan Yu Temple can be found, composing the largest ancient architecture complex in the greater Dali area. With the Guan Yu Temple, General Guan Yu of the Han Dynasty (206.BC. - 220 AD) is honored. That 'his' temple is built right next to a Confucian Temple shows his great reputation, which is unique in the whole of China.
Nanxun Bridge used to be an important landmark of the town during the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1912), but after a serious battle in 1936, it was damaged and its beauty faded over the years. It is currently renovated though.
Like almost every old town and village all over China, markets play a very important role in people’s daily life. In Zhoucheng, the most important one is the Saturday Market. During this, usually cloesed shops open for only for today. There is a beef shop for instance, only opening on Saturdays. This kind of business style reaches back to over 3 generations and people living in Zhoucheng rely on this market. Also, people from villages nearby, for example of the Yi ethnic minority, come to Zhoucheng on Saturdays by mules, carrying fruits picked in the mountainious areas around in order to sell them that day.
How to get there
From Dali or Kunming, it is easiest to drive there by car. Also, public buses go to the city of Binchuan and from there, local vans have to be found taking you to Zhoucheng, usually they leave once they are full.
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