Travel Guide

Ancient Military Town: Datong


Datong, situated in the far north of Shanxi Province, covers a total area of 14,112.56 square kilometers, and averages at 700 to 1,400 meters in altitude. The city has a population of 2.848 million, about 60% of which is in rural areas. Datong has ethnic minority groups like Mongolian, Manchu, Tibetan, Hui, Miao, Korean, etc., and the Han people make up 99.6%.

Datong, with a long history and located at a strategic place, was once a capital of the country in ancient times, the capital city of two non-Han Chinese dynasties and a town of military importance in four dynasties. Datong enjoys convenient transportation and communications, and boasts rich mineral resources and solid industrial foundation. It is now an energy and heavy chemical base in China, and is especially famous for coal production, which wins it the name of the capital of coal.

Lying in the northern area of Shanxi Province, Datong was originally, over 2,200 years ago, founded as a military stronghold, holding out the hordes that frequently pushed south from Mongolia. If you are interested there still remain a number of dilapidated watchtowers on the Great Wall about 40km north of the city at the inter-provincial border. The city was often raided, the Mongols were often repelled, and the city took on a rough border town look.

It was not until 1,600 years ago that the city's luck turned. A group of nomadic Turkish people, the Toba, setting up their Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 AD), decided to establish their capital at Datong. The Toba were to become fanatic Buddhists, as is shown from the carvings in the Yungang Grottoes, and by their later work in the Longmen Caves when the capital was moved to Luoyang in 494 AD. The Yungang Grottoes, although much removed from their former glory, are still one of the most impressive cave sights in China.

The city fell from imperial favour for a few centuries, but regained importance in 916 AD when the city was again made capital, this time of the Buddhist Liao Dynasty (916-1125 AD), and this continued on into the ensuing Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 AD). Buddhist temples from this era are what remain of the Liao & Jin Buddhist belief, who helped establish or improve the Huayan Monastery, the Shanhua Temple and Hengshan Mountain's Hanging Monastery. These sights still remain today.

Datong Travel Guide

Location: 1,200 metres high in the north, northern part of Shanxi Province, the center of Datong Basin

Neighboring Areas: Hebei, Henan, and Shaanxi Provinces; Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region

Physical Features: surround by mountains, Yu River running across from south to north, and its central and south part are occupied by plains, topography slopes down from northwest to southeast

Population: 926,000
Area: 2,071 sq km

Nationalities: Han

History: once served as capital during the North Wei dynasty, named Heng'an county in North Qin dynasty, renamed Yunzhong in Sui dynasty, became Datong government office in Ming and Qing dynasties. After the founding of P.R.C., belongs to Shanxi province

Climatic Features: dry and windy, big temperature difference between day and night, annual rainfall 400-500mm, and frost-free 125 day

Average Temperature: 6.4C
Rainfall: an annual precipitation of 400-500mm

Rivers: Yu River, Shili River, Kouquan River

Products: grain, corn, potato, wheat, hulless oat, vegetable

Local Highlights: copper pot, ceramic