Jianshui County (建水县 Jianshui xian) is a division of Honghe Prefecture in Southeastern Yunnan. Although the county seat has its own name (it's called Lin'an Town 临安镇 Lin'an zhen), the name Jianshui is commonly used to refer to Lin'an as well, as it is generally the case with Chinese county seats.
Lin'an Town is in the fertile valley of the Lin'an River, which flows across Jianshui County from the west to the east. The rest of the county is on higher, fairly mountainous, terrain, except for the southern edge, where the ground drops precipitously toward the Red River.
Since the Yuan Dynasty, Lin'an has been one of the most important cities of Yunnan, the center of Confucian learning and the veneration of Confucius.
While the ancient city wall that used to surround the city has been demolished in the 20th century (only its four gate towers remain standing), a large number of historic sites remain in and around Lin'an, making it one of the top tourist destinations in the province. A pleasant city overall, Jianshui is an attractive stopping point on a trip between Kunming and the Vietnamese border.
Jianshui is served by the new standard-gauge railway connecting Kunming with Mengzi and Hekou on the Vietnamese border. As of 2016, about half a dozen trains in each direction stop at the Jianshui station every day; one train continues beyond Kunming to Dali.
- 1 Jianshui Station. As it is commonly the case with new Chinese railways, the new Jianshui Station is in the middle of an empty field, a few km to the northeast from the historic downtown Lin'an. Bus no. 919 connects the center city, the bus station, and the train station.
The historic narrow-gauge railway has its station (Lin'an Station; see Do below) just outside of the historic downtown, but it is only used for a local tourist train, and has no regular passenger service.
- 2 Jianshui Bus Station (建水客运站 Jianshui keyun zhan), 建水县迎晖路278号-5.
The historic downtown is walkable; a number of bus routes serve the rest of the city.
The Four Gates of Lin'an
Although Lin'an's city wall has been demolished, its four surviving gates remain important space markers of the urban street network. The eastern gate (Chaoyang Gate) is the most important one.
- 1 Chaoyang Gate Tower (潮阳楼 Chaoyang Lou). The preserved eastern gate of the Lin'an city wall, now standing in the middle of a traffic roundabout. It is nicknamed "the little Tian'anmen Gate", for its architecture. A small museum/exhibition hall is housed inside the gate tower, which affords nice views of the old city. ¥20 to enter the tower.
- 2 Yongzhen Gate (永贞门). The northern gate
- 3 Fu'an Gate (阜安楼). The southern gate
- 4 Qingyuan Gate (清远门). The western gate
In Lin'an Town
- 5 Temple of Confucius (文庙 Wen Miao). Billed as "the largest Confucian temple in Southern China", Jianshui's temple was founded in 1285, during the Yuan Dynasty, although the existing buildings date mostly to the late 18th century (and probably have been heavily restored in the late 20th). Unlike its better known namesakes in Qufu or Hanoi, Jianshui's temple includes a large lake, known as Xuehai ("The Sea of Learning"). A pavilion on the island is called Si Le Ting 思乐亭, i.e. the "Joy of Learning Pavilion"; it's also know under the alternative name, "Diao Ao Ting" 钓鳌亭, i.e. "The pavilion for catching Ao"; catching Ao, a legendary giant sea turtle, is a metaphor for scoring best at the traditional civil service examination in the Imperial China. Similar to the Confucian temples elsewhere, Jianshui's temple has a large assortment of ornate gates and halls for honoring Confucius, his ancestors and disciples, and assorted local worthies, in a parklike setting, among cypress trees. If you've been to Qufu or Hanoi, you'll notice one difference, though: in Qufu or Hanoi, most important stone tablets are mounted on top of stone tortoises (bixi), while in Jianshui, there is not a tortoise in sight; on the other hand, elephant motif is prominent in decorating the temple in Jianshui. It's up to you to decide if the temple and its lake are worth the fairly steep entry fee. ¥60.
- 6 Jianshui Examination Hall (学政考棚 Xuezheng kaopeng), 134 Lin'an Rd (临安路134号) (Just east of the main gate of the Confucian Temple). Long before Americans started studying for SAT, GRE, and bar exams, a system of local, provincial, and imperial examinations served to select deserving candidates for the government apparatus of imperial China. The Jianshui examination hall is a complex of buildings where, during the Ming and Qing dynasties, young Yunnan scholars would come to take the high-stake exam that could decide the course of their subsequent lives. Although the buildings have few historical artefacts, they have good displays (in Chinese and English) on the imperial examination system as it operated in the region. Around ¥30.
- 7 Double Dragon Bridge (双龙桥 Shuanglong qiao). The 17-span bridge, now standing in the middle of a pond, as most of the waters in the Lin'an River has been diverted elsewhere. The tourist train makes a short stop nearby. free.
- 8 Wenbi Tower (文笔塔). On a hill south of town, this early 19th-century structure is meant to resemble a writing brush (文笔 wenbi), although to a modern traveler it may look more like a factory smokestack. You cannot drive to the tower, but there is a more or less informal trail people use to approach the tower from the southwest, starting at a roadside sign in Baishuihe Village (白水河村). The tower is a solid stone structure, without any interior space or a staircase. So any views you get are those from the ground at the base of the tower (not particularly great). Free.
Elsewhere in the county
- 9 Swallow Cave (燕子洞 Yanzi Dong) (5 km east of Miandian Town, in the eastern part of the county (on the road to Mengzi)). 80¥.
- 10 Guanyi Village (馆驿村 Guanyi cun) (On Hwy S214, a few km south of Qujiang Town). A Muslim (Hui) village, with two ornate mosques. You'll pass through it if you're traveling to Jianshui by road from Tonghai
- 1 Jianshui Old City Train (Lin'an Station is a few blocks NE of Chaoyang Gate of the old city). The century-old narrow gauge railway serving Jianshui (a branch of the better known Yunnan-Vietnam Railway) has no regular passenger service anymore; but a tourist train runs twice a day from the restored Lin'an Station 临安站 to Tuanshan Station 团山站, in a village of the same name west of town. On its way, the train stops at the Double Dragon Bridge. Note that this is not the only place in Yunnan where a meter-gauge train can be ridden: there is also very limited commercial passenger service (very inexpensive) in the Kunming metropilitan area (from the Kunming North Train Station). ¥100-120.
- Kunming, the provincial capital
- Kunyang, the home of Zheng He (who is honored by a parkful of monuments, similar to the ones Confucius has here, and which can be visited for ¥12, or even for free)
- Tonghai, at the next train station to the north, on the shores of Qilu Lake
- Yuanyang, with its terraced rice fields
- Gejiu, tin miners' town
- Hekou, the gateway to Vietnam