Lying at the northwestern fringe of the Pearl River Delta, Zhaoqing is one of the ancient cities in history in China, first named Gaoyao in the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), and then, Duanzhou Prefecture in the Sui (581-618 AD) and Tang Dynasties (618-907 AD), and then Sihui and Gaoyao in the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279AD) and finally Zhaoqing in the Qing Dynasty.
This 2200-year-old city is not only one of the most famous ancient cities in China, but also selected a national garden city as well as one of the most attractive tourism cities in China. In 2000, Zhaoqing's GDP reached 33.45 billion yuan with annually increase of 15.2% from 1978 to 2000. Its GDP increased by 21.5 times as much as that of 1978 and it plans to reach 18 500 yuan per capital in 2005.
In 1988, Zhaoqing got its present administrative status as a prefectural city with the prefectural government sitting in Duanzhou District. Under its administration there are two urban districts (Duanzhou and Dinghu), four counties (Guangning, Deqing, Fengkai and Huaiji) and two cities at county level (Gaoyao and Sihui). With a population of 1.703 million and occupying a mountainous area of 14 970.4 sq km, Zhaoqing is a central city and an important hub of communications in the Xijiang Valley. As one of the four most famous mountains in Guangdong Province, Mt.Dinghushan stands 1 000 meters high above sea level, offering an excellent tourist resort to urbanites. With the Xijiang River flowing through the urban area of Zhaoqing, it has got a favorable waterway for navigation and communication. Passenger ships shuttle between Guangzhou, Wuzhou in Guangxi, Hong Kong, Fengkai, Yun'an, Shunde and Zhongshan. Xijiang Bridge connecting the southern urban area and the northern urban area has become an impressive landmark of the city. With Guangzhou-Maoming Railway passing through, Zhaoqing has become an important distributing center for commodities and materials in Western Guangdong, playing an important role in the development of Western Guangdong. So far, Zhaoqing has formed its own five pillar industries: food processing, electric meters and instruments, textile, electronics and light industry. Apart from that, much progress has been made in mining, forestation and chemical industry. With Guangzhou-Zhanjiang Railway, Guangzhou-Zhanjiang Expressway and National highway 321 running through, Zhaoqing is only 108 km away from Guangzhou and it takes about two hours or so by train or by bus, and it is about 250 km from Hong Kong.
With the Tropic of Cancer cross the city, Zhaoqing enjoys abundant rainfall and a mild subtropical monsoon climate. It is warm all the year round with an average temperature of 21°C (13°C in January and 28 °C in July) and a rich rainfall of 1 692mm annually. It is also rich in natural resources: forests and minerals, especially the reserves of pyrite and gold, ranking the first of the province and the nation respectively.
Duanyan ink stone and Zhaoqing straw mats are among the best of the local specialties. In the past centuries Zhaoqing has been popular for its duanyan ink stone, which is regarded as one of the famous traditional and practical handicraft articles of China. It can be used to grind Chinese ink, or as an art object for appreciation. Duanyan ink stone was honored as "the best ink stone" as early as in the Tang Dynasty and it has enjoyed a high reputation since the Song Dynasty. It has distinguished itself from other ink stones, for it is moist on the surface and fine in quality with innate stone eyes. Taking advantage of the shapes of the stones, the skillful craftsmen created a variety of egg-, axe- or zither-shaped ink stones. They are simple, unsophisticated yet elegant in style and have the characteristics of grinding ink with voices, enabling the brushwork, and ink to move lustrously on paper, keeping the water on the ink stone longer for use and making the writing brush more serviceable. The stones are all taken from the local famous pits and crags. The ink stone carved out of the stone from the Lao Pit is considered to be the best, which is a little greenish in black with many stone eyes.
Zhaoqing is one of the attractive places in Guangdong Province. The Xijiang Valley is one of the most beautiful places in Guangdong with a lot of natural scenic spots, such as Qixingyan (the Seven Star Crags) Scenic Spot, Mt.Dinghushan and Xinghu (the Star Lake) Scenic Spot that is among the first group of the national key resorts selected by the Chinese State Council. The Seven Star Crags are located beside the Star Lake in the north of Zhaoqing. The limestone crags are naturally arranged in the same formation as the seven stars of the Big Dipper Constellation. Legend has it that the limestone pillars grew from stars that fell from the sky. Mt. Dinghushan is 18 kilometers northeast of Zhaoqing as a range of heavily forested mountains reaching up to 1 000 meters above sea level. The whole mountain area has been designated an area of special interest by the UN and there are at least 17 000 types of plants thriving there. The nature-loving Cantonese have adorned the beautiful mountain and river scenery here for centuries. Large number of tourists throngs the mountain ranges every holiday to pay homage to nature.
Baoding Garden at Mt.Dinghushan was open to the public in the year 2000. Carved with nine coiled dragons, the bronze ding (triple-legged wok) set up recently in the garden. 6.68m high, 5.58m wide and 16 tons in weight, it is surely the largest of its kind in the world. Weighing 2 tons the newly made Duanxi Ink Slab is 2.78m long, 2.18m wide and 0.25m thick. Those two national miracles are recorded in Guinness World Records, and also collected as two outstanding artworks by Chinese History Museum. The ink slabs produced here are one of the most famous four in ancient China. Chinese men of letters would like to have one produced in Zhaoqing. As a matter of fact, it is an honor to own a quality ink slab as a traditional intellectual in ancient China. Yuejianglou Pavilion on the Xijiang River was built in the Song Dynasty.
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