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Fenghuang Ancient City

Date of Submission: 28/03/2008
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
State Administration of Cultural Heritage
State, Province or Region:
Fenghuang County, Hunan Province
Coordinates: N27 56 36 - 27 57 41 E109 35 21 - 109 36 34
Ref.: 5337

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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party


Fenghuang City is located in the southwest of Hunan Province. It borders Luxi County in the east, Mayang County in the South, Songtao County of Tongren city in Guizhou province in the west and Jishou City and Huayuan County in the north, serving as the strategic gateway connecting Hunan and Guizhou provinces. In the 5th year of Xianqing under the reign of Emperor Gaozong in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 660), Tian Zongxian the prefecture governor of Qianzhou sent his grandson Tian Yangming on a punitive expedition eastward to suppress the local ethnic groups. Tian Yangming initiated the Xidong (Xi Cave) Five Stockade Villages System ("Wuzhai") here and Tian Kechang, Tian Yangming's son was appointed by the imperial government as "Five-Cave Prefect" (called Wuzhai Prefect later) in Tuojiang Town where the ancient town now lies.

In the 2nd year of Chuigong period under the reign of Empress Wu Zetian in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 686), Weiyang County was established with Fenghuangshan (today's Huangsiqiao Ancient Town) as the county site. After the chaotic Five Dynasties period, Weiyang County was abandoned and in the 3rd year of the reign of Emperor Jiatai in the Song Dynasty (A.D.1203) the Wuzhai Office was changed into Wuzhai Legionary and Civil Prefect Office. In the 33rd year of the reign of Emperor Jiajin in the Ming Dynasty (A.D.1554), Mayang Deputy Officer was shifted to command Wuzhai Prefect Office. Since Xisuo (today's Jishou County) and Ganziping Prefect Office was directly under its jurisdiction, it was named Zhengan Town. 

In the 39th year of Emperor Kangxi's reign in the Qing Dynasty (A.D.1700) the garrison commander of Yuanzhou was shifted to Zhengan, which was then one of the four towns of the Hu-Guang Prefecture. Then in the 42nd year of Emperor Kangxi's reign (A.D.1703), the replacement of native official by government-appointed ones was enforced and Fenghuang Office was established with its seat at the former site of Weiyang County. In the 46th year of Emperor Kangxi's reign (A.D.1707), the military and political dignitaries of Hu-guang prefecture concluded after an investigation that the Zhengan Town "neighbour Yunnan and Guizhou Province in the west, protrude into the reaches of Chengjiang River and Yuanshui River, connect Sichuan and Hubei Province in the north, and guard Guangxi Province in the south." "With its majestic landscape, it rules numerous towns and villages". Since it was a strategic gateway for Southwest China, the West Hunan Governor of the Chengyuan Jingdao was shifted from Yuanzhou to Zhengan and made it one of the four prefectures of Hunan province. Ever since then the high ranking officials of this prefecture had all stationed in this town. In the 48th year of Emperor Kangxi's reign (A.D.1709), Fenghuang office was also been moved to Zhengan. In the 54th year of Emperor Kangxi's reign, the town was expanded and stone wall city sprang up. A large scale of construction was mounted inside. As a result, as a series of government offices such as of Circuit Intendant's office, Town office, Middle Battalion office, Concurrent Administrator office, etc. The Temple of Literature was built and expended along with the school buildings, academy yards and assembly halls successively, which was to be followed by the shops, stores, and stalls as well as the ancestral temples and other religious buildings.   The ancient town covers an area of 1.8 km.

There remain 20 ancient streets, dozens of ancient lanes and passages and over 200 ancient civil residences.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

As for the criterion (i):

Ancient Fenghuang Town is situated at the foot of mountains and beside waters. Its construction has proved a very practical and scientific exploration in terms of the town site selection as well as layout design and city planning. Following the undulation of the mountainous landscape, the town walls encircle the ridges and span over the ranges while rivers wind along the corridors before flowing out through the town. It is thus by absorbing the artistic philosophy of traditional Chinese garden design and making best of the limited space of the mountain area that the town achieves well-structured layout. Such distinctive building clusters are unique feature of Ancient Fenghuang Town, which has given a full display to the intelligence, talents and enthusiasm of the architects, represented a unique artistic achievement and can be called a creative and genius masterpiece.

As for the criterion (ii):

Ancient Fenghuang Town is a well-preserved integral and authentic historical site. The plentiful historical and cultural information has aroused great interests among the litterateurs, artists, historians as well as architects. The unique cultural information carried by the ancient town may well serve as an outstanding example for the human settlement construction and promote the development of architecture, environment protection, technical design.

As for the criterion (iii):

With the advancement of society, ancient civilization and traditional culture are more or less vulnerable to the encroachment of the course of modernization. This is especially true in small towns. In Ancient Fenghuang Town, ethnic languages, custom, arts as well as those distinctive architectural remains of Ming and Qing styles all carries large amount of historical information of the witch culture in ancient State of Chu and provided authentic evidences for the study of this regional culture. Therefore, to enlist Ancient Fenghuang town into the World Heritage List and to conduct effective protection and rational exploitation without fail will render profound influences to the protection and development of Chinese as well as the cultures of different nations and in different places around the world.

As for the criterion (iv):

The town site selection, layout planning and construction of Ancient Fenghuang Town has made wonderful use of the mountain landscape and the water flows to create harmonious relationship between human residence and nature, thus making it a outstanding example in this respect. It had been the most distinctive architectural clusters in the remote frontier mountainous area of South China (where different ethnic groups merged with each other).

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Ancient Fenghuang Town is located in the southwest corner of the west of Hunan province. It neighbours Tongren town of Guizhou Plateau in the west, the upstream of Yuanshui River in the east. Situated in the transitional belt from hilly lands of the Xiangchu Plain to the Yungui Plateau, it is the strategic gateway for the Hunan-Guizhou transportation.

Ancient Fenghuang Town used to be an uncivilized and wild frontier and it was in the 2nd year of Chuigong under the reign of Empress Wu (A.D.686) that Weiyang County was first established. In the 3rd year of Jiatai period in the Song Dynasty, an earthen town was constructed at the Wuzhai Office which is rightly the present site of Fenghuang Town. In the 35th year of Emperor Jiaqing's reign in the Ming Dynasty, a brick town was built here over 450 years ago, and an ancient town began to take shape. In the 54th year under Emperor Kangxi's reign (A.D.1715), all stone buildings inside the town were completed.

Lying out in the remote mountain area, Fenghuang marks the dividing line between the Han people on the central plains and the southwest minority inhabited region. While the national conflicts escalated, Fenghuang became an important military stronghold in Southwest China by virtue of its geographical location of strategic importance. The Chengyuan Yongjing Army Reserve Circuit Office and Chief Garrison Commander's Office were set up here. During the reign of the Ming and Qing dynasties, the central government had spent plenty of human power and financial resources on Fenghuang and built it into the political, military and cultural centre heading the military movement of over 30 counties of the four provinces. This also made it the culture exchange centre between the main stream culture of the central plain and a variety of local cultures of different ethnic groups, and boosted the development of the local culture, education and trade.

It is the town site selection and layout planning that should be mentioned first to honor the architecture of the ancient town. The designers made wonderful use of the mountain landscape and water flows and magnified the spirit of the land and waters. The mountains, waters and town have all been employed as inseparable components in the picture to realize the unification of human beings and nature. The carefully laid red rock town walls wind along the undulating mountain ranges, the stately and lofty town towers sits majestically against the four town gates, and the palace-style halls and residence, delicate quadrangles as well as civilian residences of various national styles are, with a graceful ruggedness, distributed along both sides of the streets and lanes which were paved with red flagstones intersecting each other like checkerboard. Especially those timber-structured stilt houses which line along the river looks so picturesque against the Nanhua Mountain full of big old trees. A river with mountain shadows and a town covered by the green shades has made the town the perfect example for the harmonious integration between human and nature and a masterpiece of ancient Chinese architectural arts.

Thanks to the unique geographical location blessed by nature, Fenghuang never suffers from the destruction of wars and the natural disasters in hundreds of years and is well preserved. From the Miao people uprising in 1795 to the Getun uprising in 1937, there happened dozens of wars, none of which affected the town. Even during the war of resistance against Japanese invasion, Fenghuang town had not been occupied Japanese invaders or suffered air bombing. In the year of 1949, Fenghuang was peacefully liberated. In the following 50 years, large-scale economical construction has been conducted in new district instead. As the people of the ancient town cherished this especially valuable heritage bestowed by its profound cultural gifts, the local government has conducted a strict control over all the construction activities and thus successfully preserving the authenticity and integrity of the ancient town.

The ancient town has basically maintained the layout and original appearances of the Ming and Qing dynasties to this day. There preserved in the ancient town zone over 200 ancient residential buildings, some 20 large or small streets, 10 ancient lanes and alleys, as well as ancient town walls, ancient town gate towers, ancient leaping rock, ancient wells, ancient rainbow bridges, ancient temples of literature, ancient temples of poems, ancient ancestral temples etc., all of which are by and large preserved in their original state. The residential environment featuring harmony between human and the mountains, waters and the town has been preserved in its original form up to now.

It is a very rare case to find such an integral, authentic and well-preserved historical and cultural famous town in China, which has made it an especially valuable cultural heritage.

Comparison with other similar properties

Pingyao town is a town developed by Shanxi merchants, and is famous for its commercial culture. Lijiang is a small town created by the Dongba Culture of the Naxi ethnic minority. And the ancient villages in the south of Anhui province are developed by the Huizhou merchants into ancient village clusters characterized by typical regional Hui culture.

The unique features of the Ancient Fenghuang Town rests in: the living fossil of the witchery culture of ancient state of Chu with a history of thousands of years; a ideal human residential environment created by the culture; a perfect example on combining mountains, waters and the town in south China, a rare famous cultural town; and an important military stronghold in the southern frontier in Chinese history where the different ethnic groups have merged with each other.

The ancient Fenghuang town is a valley town which has different value compared with other cities and towns in terms of city (town) construction planning. Its aesthetic value also differs from other towns. The Ancient Fenghuang Town is the core site of ancient military defense system which also endows a unique archaeological value to the town. The Town has always been inhabited by the Miao people and the Han people relationships between the Miao people and the Han people, and has been reputed as the city of nationality integration, thus having a outstanding significance in cultural anthropology reflecting the mixture of the different ethnic groups and their relationships. Thus it is evident that ancient Fenghuang town has a universal value of its own.