A Walk Through History

When people refer to the central district of Chongqing, the long narrow peninsula that runs runs east and west between the two great rivers, there is a lot of overlap between the names of Jiefangbei and Yuzhong.

Jiefangbei解放碑 literally means ‘Liberation monument,’ the clocktower right at the centre of the pedestrian crossroads. It’s hard to believe that once upon a time, this small building was the tallest structure in Chongqing!

Despite the fact it just means the central monument, it’s used by foreigners and locals alike to designate the entire area, which is actually part of the much larger district of Yuzhong渝中区 that stretches out miles to the west.

Since Chongqing city was mainly confined to the peninsula before its rapid expansion, especially since the breakaway from Sichuan Province in 1997 to become its own municipality, the vast majority of historical relics for you to uncover are concentrated in this area.

Today was a working Sunday, the reason being that rest days during longer public holidays are taken back in part at the weekend. For Labour Day this year, the holiday fell from Wednesday to Saturday, the first four days of May, with the two Sundays either side being work days. Don’t ask me why!

The draft for this post has floated in the WordPress ether for a few weeks now, but today finally offered me the opportunity I was waiting for, and a little morning drizzle failed to dampen my will.

The Route 路线

I can now tell you from first hand experience that the route I planned is easy to cover over a morning or afternoon, but I do suggest breaking the journey over both and taking you time. The route takes you through the Jiefangbei area, where you can take your pick from a seemingly infinite choice of stalls, cafes and restaurants.

Not only did I manage to find all of the historical sights I planned, there were also a few other surprise discoveries along the way.

There are a few catches, though. The times and distances in the list below are from site to site on Baidu Maps. However, none of the stages felt either far or time consuming, plus the colourful, bustling nature of the environment provides too much distraction for such thoughts to enter the mind.

Apart from being able bodied, it helps greatly to download and follow directions from Baidu Maps, since many of these sites are very well hidden. Blink, stare at the phone a few seconds too long, and you could walk straight past without even knowing.

Here is my original plan, along with my discoveries en route.

The Grand Theatre Subway Station to the former Soviet Union Embassy

(大剧院地铁站 – 苏联大使馆武官处旧址) 

16 mins 1.2kms

This leg takes you over the Qiansimen Bridgeway Walkway, where you can you take in great views of Jiangbei, Jefangbei and the river below. At the moment, you exit the station at the roadside, walk up the hill to your left, then cross over to access the bridge.

You won’t fail to notice Hongyadong洪崖洞, the large traditional stilt structure overlooking the Jialing River. This is one of the main tourist attractions in Chongqing, but I didn’t include this as a destination since it’s a relatively new addition to the city. However, you can certainly stop and explore for an hour if you have the time.

The former Soviet Embassy is unfortunately not open to the public, so you will have to just admire the building from the outside.

The former Sino-British Liaison Office 中英联络处旧址

9 mins 0.59kms

This conspicuous building was first built in 1910, and later rebuilt after damage from an air raid during the Second World War. Like the French Naval Barracks, the structure fell derelict for many years before recent building work restored them to their former glory.

Site of the former Eighth Route Army Offices八路军重庆办事处旧址

9 mins 0.7kms

I found the heavy wooden doors to the Army offices firmly locked, and a street tailor parked on the top step with a table and knitting machine, but just on the corner before taking this side street, you will easily notice the Xinhua Daily News office, now a beautifully restored museum with artifacts and publications from back in the day. There is no charge to enter, and the sleepy guardsman won’t bother you for ID, despite the notice inside the main entrance.

Joseph Hall Catholic Church 天主教若瑟堂

1 min 0.1kms

Out of all the sites I visited today, this one by far astonished me the most.

First, for such a large, eye catching building, it’s very difficult to spot from the street, because a downward flight of narrow steps obscures much of the structure as you pass by.

Indeed, I walked right past the turning, then found a steep and prohibitively long flight of steps where I stood and pondered whether it was worth descending, only to find no church and have to climb all the way back up.

On the verge of giving up, I opened Baidu Map Streetview, and noticed the church was right opposite the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC中国工商银行). Looking back, I could see the bank, and after retracing my steps, I found the Catholic Church.

As you will see in the photographs I took, it’s amazing how this religious site is squeezed between the high rises, with very few locals seeming to even know it exists.

Interestingly, there are cosy looking hotel rooms available here, the church is in tip-top condition, and as I explored the inner hall, a choir of attendees were singing prayers to a piano accompaniment.

Provisional government of the Republic of Korea

大韩民国临时政府旧址陈列馆

3 mins – 0.25kms

Another great surprise was the Provisional Korean Government Building, in exile from 1919 in Shanghai, and moving on through Hangzhou, Zhenjiang, Changsha, Liuzhou, and Qijiang, before finally taking its place in Chongqing from 1940 to 1945.

The entire site is wonderfully preserved. Most of the information is in Chinese and Korean, but there’s plenty here to keep you interested in the form of museum exhibits, meeting rooms, dormitories, artifacts and displays of the compound’s fascinating history.

Despite its grandeur and historical significance, you’d be surprised how few locals seem to know it’s even here, again!

The Tomb of Ba Manzi

As you leave the Provisional Korean Government, you turn right at the main road and almost immediately pass another steep flight of stairs going down from the street side.

To my astonishment, it was the tomb of Ba Manzi, the ancient Ba Country General who once borrowed forces from the State of Chu, promising to repay by conceding land and three cities. After quelling the rebellion, he went back on his word, instead having his head delivered to the king of Chu, thus maintaining both his loyalty and honour.

Zhongxian, ‘Loyalty City,’  where I visited in a recent post, was named so in honour of this military general, and I assumed his burial site was either in Zhongxian, or unknown. It happens that you can visit his tomb right here in Jiefangbei!

Chongqing Bombing Massacre Site 重庆大轰炸惨案遗址

16 mins 1.2kms

During a Second World air raid in the city, the local population that sought refuge in this underground shelter suffocated when a bomb struck by the entrance.

Like elsewhere, the shelter has seen a great restoration, and visitors are normally able to go inside and see the exhibits for themselves.

Unfortunately, there was some building work going on in the bunker today, so tourists had to content themselves with looking from the outside.

Former Offices of Jiang Kaishek and Bayu Culture Museum

蒋介石重庆行营旧址和巴渝文化博物馆

5 mins 0.35kms

Another slight disappointment was the fact these two sites don’t seem open to the public. You can easily see them from the roadside after descending a long flight of old steps, or taking the lift for one Yuan per trip.

Rather counter-intuitively, I paid to take the lift down before seeing the steps from below and deciding they were worth taking in one direction.

On the way, you will walk past the new and fancy looking Fudan Middle School, right next door to the two tourist sites.

Luohan Buddhist Temple 罗汉寺

At this point, I sat in my favourite Chinese branded delicatessen and coffee shop ‘Holiland好利来.’ As I waited for my wife to rendez-vous for lunch at Jiaochangkou Subway Station较场口地铁站, I saw there was still ample time to explore one more attraction before commitments forced us back to Yubei District.

The plan was to take Subway Line 6 at Xiaoshizi小什字, and I noticed on Baidu Maps百度地图(Bai du di tu) that there is a large Buddhist temple right outside.

A short walk of 15 minutes or so from Jiaochangkou will bring you to the grand and colourful main entrance.

Almost immediately, a woman fortune teller took my wife aside, and she agreed to pay for a palm reading and analysis of the future year while I chatted with some other merry female peddlers feeling curious about me, especially when they learnt I can speak Chinese and understand the Chongqing dialect they spoke.

At one point, the streek hawk ladies hurriedly gathered their wares and darted into alleyways and behind metal doors. City management officials城管(Cheng guan) regularly do their rounds here to drive away street peddlers under threats of fines or confiscation. Once they move on, everybody returns street-side, and the sales pitches recommence.

Once my wife was given a blessed red cloth to put inside our cupboard for good luck, we paid 10 Yuan each to get into the temple, lit incense and candles, then finished the day’s outing with bows to the golden statue.

On a last humorous touch, the ancient style building has certainly offered modernity an olive branch. Next to the floor cushions where people bow is a box for cash donations, on top of which is a laminated QR code for Wechat transfers, and next to which was the piece-de-theatre, a touchscreen ATM for pious visitors to enter their bank card and donate any amount they might desire!

So why not go further than the average tourist, and learn more about the city’s history than many of the locals, all by following my suggested tour route for a few hours on a great journey of exploration and discovery!

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