When the chance arose in late 2006 to prepare this traveller's introduction and guide to the city of Taiyuan, we were at once faced with the kind of opportunity travel writers dream about- the privilege of being first. No volume of this kind has ever been written in the English language about Taiyuan, and indeed most guide material available in English about the city is produced in translation, based on travel reviews originally written in Chinese and targeted at domestic tourists. Most major guidebooks about China give only passing mention to Taiyuan and Shanxi in general -- despite the fact that it is home to some of the oldest and most complete architectural relics in the country -- and almost none make any mention whatsoever of even the existence of Taiyuan's rural destinations, in which can be found a fascinating range of places worthy of tourist attention.
A city with such a rich and extensive history as Taiyuan, particularly one with so many unspoilt tourist sites, is almost impossible to cover in its entirety. Far away from more conventional tourist trails, locals themselves are often unaware of the immense historical and artistic interest of the familiar old temples and towers hidden in the backstreets of their villages, and most of these spots remain unlisted in guidebooks, still awaiting discovery by the tourist industry machine. In addition, Chinese travellers have an appreciation of tourism that is markedly distinct from the Western aesthetic, and agencies rarely recommend to foreign travellers the kinds of seldom-visited historical sites that they are really hoping to discover in China.
With the assistance of China through the Looking Glass and the Taiyuan Government's Tourism Board, we were able to access insider knowledge about a city most Westerners have never even heard of, and were fortunate enough to be escorted in Government vehicles to remote regions in rural Taiyuan, to view unknown historical treasures by official invitation. Many local administrators doubted that foreigners might ever be interested in their out-of-the-way, dilapidated old structures: when we were able to convince them to show them to us, we were regularly amazed by what we found.
Many of the sites reviewed in this book have never been featured in a travel guide in any language; most are hard to get to unaided and can only be visited by special arrangement with a reputable local travel agency (see the listings at the end of this book), as they will not be listed in regular itineraries. Some require the stamina to endure riding on rough provincial unsealed roads through labyrinthine village backstreets and are all the more rewarding for the difficulty with which they are reached. Others are relatively popular, and some are more relaxing holiday hideaways suitable for a weekend with the family than remainders of ancient dynasties. For those passing through Taiyuan and looking for some interesting excursions, there are plenty of worthwhile things to see, and the vestiges of Taiyuan's history are never far away.
For almost all of these sites, Western visitors will be amongst the very first travellers to bear witness to them. For any foreign traveller wishing to get away from the camera-toting crowds and the lines of snack stalls and see something genuinely old and quintessentially Chinese, this is your opportunity. Beyond the places mentioned in this book, there still remain many others awaiting discovery. We encourage foreign travellers in Taiyuan to seek them out.
-- Authors, Michael Arnold and Hamish Dewe
Paperback: 160 pages
Publish Date: Sep, 2007
Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.7x 0.6 inches
Shipping Weight: 10.6 ounces
(China.org.cn December 28, 2007)