World Heritage Sites of China

  • imperial I
  • December 3, 2010

 Explore the many amazing World Heritage sites throughout China. View our full blog post for more details. 


Imperial Projects 
Beautiful Mountains Religious Carvings Imperial Architecture 
Natural Wonders Historic Towns Other
Great Wall Taishan Mogao Caves Imperial Palace Jiuzhagou Lijiang Potala Palace
Terracotta Warriors Huangshan Dazu Rock Carvings Summer Palace Huanglong Pingyao Confucius Family Mansion
Dujiangyan Irrigation System Lushan Longmen Grottoes

Imperial Tombs

Wulingyuan Suzhou Wudang Temples
  Emeishan & Le Shan Buddha Yungang Grottoes Temple Of Heaven   Xidi & Hongcun Peking Man
  Mt. Wuyi   Chengde Palaces      

Great Wall

In about 220 B.C., under Emperor Qin Shin Huang, sections of fortifications which had been built earlier were joined together to form a united defence system against invasions from the north. Construction continued up to the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), when the Great Wall became the world’s largest military structure. Its historic and strategic importance is matched only by its architectural value.

The Great Wall stretches across Northern China. Visitors most commonly see it at one of four sites north of Beijing. For more information about the Great Wall, please click here .

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Terracotta Warriors

No doubt thousands of statues still remain to be unearthed at this archaeological site, which was not discovered until 1974. Qin (d. 210 B.C.), the first unifier of China, is buried, surrounded by the famous terracotta warriors, at the centre of a complex designed to mirror the urban plan of the capital, Xianyan. The small figures are all different; with their horses, chariots and weapons, they are masterpieces of realism and also of great historical interest.

The Terracotta Warriors are part of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor at Xi’an, which is about a one and a half hour flight west of Beijing. For more information about the Terracotta Warriors, please click here . To view photos of the Terracotta Warriors, please click here .

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Dujiangyan Irrigation System

Construction of the Dujiangyan irrigation system began in the 3rd century B.C. This system still controls the waters of the Minjiang River and distributes it to the fertile farmland of the Chengdu plains. Nearby Mount Qingcheng was the birthplace of Taoism, which is celebrated in a series of ancient temples.

Both Dujiangyan irrigation system and Qingcheng Mountain can be done as day trips from Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.

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Rising abruptly from the vast plain of central Shandong on China’s east coast, Mount Tai has long been revered as a holy mountain and incorporated within Chinese cultural life. Guo Murou, a modern Chinese scholar, claimed it is “a partial miniature of Chinese culture” with long-standing affiliations to Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism. Chinese Emperors from the Han dynasty (200BC) have made pilgrimages to it. Since the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) hundreds of thousands of tourists have visited it annually.

Mount Taishan is not an unreasonable drive from Jinan airport. Jinan is the capital of Shandong province and a short flight from Beijing.

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Huangshan, known as “the loveliest mountain of China”, was acclaimed through art and literature during a good part of Chinese history (the Shanshui “mountain and water” style of the mid-16th century). Today it holds the same fascination for visitors, poets, painters and photographers who come in pilgrimage to this enchanting site, renowned for its magnificent scenery made up of many granite peaks and rocks emerging out of a sea of clouds.

Huangshan city is a short flight from Shanghai. From this city to the mountain, it is a drive of one and a half to two hours. For more information about Huangshan, please click here .

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Mount Lushan, in Jiangxi, is one of the spiritual centres of Chinese civilization. Buddhist and Taoist temples, along with landmarks of Confucianism, where the most eminent masters taught, blend effortlessly into a strikingly beautiful landscape which has inspired countless artists who developed the aesthetic approach to nature found in Chinese culture. Since 1949 the Chinese government has held important conferences here, giving this site added political significance for local Chinese visitors.

Lushan is often visited by tourists cruising the lower reach of the Yangzi River. Otherwise, it is a long drive from Nanchang.

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Emeishan & Le Shan Buddha

The first Buddhist temple in China was built here in Sichuan Province in the 1st century A.D. in very beautiful surroundings atop Mount Emei. The addition of other temples turned the site into one of Buddhism’s main holy places. Over the centuries, the cultural treasures grew in number. The most remarkable was the Giant Buddha of Leshan, carved out of a hillside in the 8th century and looking down on the confluence of three rivers. At 71 m high, it is the largest Buddha in the world. Mount Emei is also notable for its very diverse vegetation, ranging from subtropical to subalpine pine forests. Some of the trees are more than 1,000 years old.

Getting to both Emeishan and the Le Shan Buddha involves driving from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province.

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Mt. Wuyi

Mount Wuyi is the most outstanding area for biodiversity conservation in south-east China and a refuge for a large number of ancient, relict species, many of them endemic to China. The serene beauty of the dramatic gorges of the Nine Bend River, with its numerous temples and monasteries, many now in ruins, provided the setting for the development and spread of neo-Confucianism, which has been influential in the cultures of East Asia since the 11th century. In the 1st century B.C. a large administrative capital was built at nearby Chengcun by the Han dynasty rulers. Its massive walls enclose an archaeological site of great significance.

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Mogao Caves

Situated at a strategic point along the Silk Route , at the crossroads of trade as well as religious, cultural and intellectual influences, the 492 cells and cave sanctuaries in Mogao are famous for their statues and wall paintings, spanning 1,000 years of Buddhist art. For more information about the Mogao Caves , please click here .

Flights to Dunhuang , near the Mogao Caves, vary by season.

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Dazu Rock Carvings

The steep hillsides of the Dazu area contain an exceptional series of rock carvings dating from the 9th to the 13th century. They are remarkable for their aesthetic quality, their rich diversity of subject matter, both secular and religious, and the light that they shed on everyday life in China during this period. They provide outstanding evidence of the harmonious synthesis of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

Dazu is about a 4 hour drive north from Chongqing, which is itself the starting point for most Yangzi River cruises along the three gorges.

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Longmen Grottoes

The grottoes and niches of Longmen contain the largest and most impressive collection of Chinese art of the late Northern Wei and Tang Dynasties (316-907). These works, entirely devoted to the Buddhist religion, represent the high point of Chinese stone carving.

The Longmen Grottoes are not that easily accessed. Flights to the ancient capital of Luoyang, where it is located, can be inconveniently timed and routed. Meanwhile, Zhengzhou airport is a three to four hour drive away.

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Yungang Grottoes

The Yungang Grottoes, in Datong city, Shanxi Province, with their 252 caves and 51,000 statues, represent the outstanding achievement of Buddhist cave art in China in the 5th and 6th centuries. The Five Caves created by Tan Yao, with their strict unity of layout and design, constitute a classical masterpiece of the first peak of Chinese Buddhist art

Traveling to the Yungang Grottoes is usually done by train from either Xi’an or Beijing, depending on the itinerary. Trains in China, though generally clean and affording an interesting experience, are not usually appropriate to a luxury tour.

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Imperial Palace

Seat of supreme power for over five centuries, the Forbidden City, with its landscaped gardens and many buildings (whose nearly 10,000 rooms contain furniture and works of art), constitutes a priceless testimony to Chinese civilization during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Located in Beijing. For more information about the Imperial Palace, whose official title is in fact the Purple Imperial Palace and is otherwise known as the Forbidden City, please click here . (The significance of the color is by reference to the Purple Constellation in which the pole star resides; as the purple constellation represents the center of heaven, so therefore would the Purple Palace represent the center of earth.)

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Summer Palace

The Summer Palace in Beijing – first built in 1750, largely destroyed in the war of 1860 and restored on its original foundations in 1886 – is a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value.

Located in Beijing. Fore more information, please click here .

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Imperial Tombs

The Qing Imperial tombs are natural sites modified by human influence, carefully chosen according to the principles of geomancy (Fengshui) to house numerous buildings of traditional architectural design and decoration. They illustrate the continuity over five centuries of a world view and concept of power specific to feudal China.

The Qing dynasty tombs are divided beween two locations 3 hours east and west of Beijing. For information about the West Qing Tombs, please click here . The Ming dynasty tombs are located 1 hour north of Beijing. They are not listed as a World Heritage Site, but many travelers are interested to visit them. For more information about them, please click here .

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Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven, founded in the first half of the 15th century, is a dignified complex of fine cult buildings set in gardens and surrounded by historic pine woods. In its overall layout and that of its individual buildings, it symbolizes the relationship between earth and heaven – the human world and God’s world – which stands at the heart of Chinese cosmogony, and also the special role played by the emperors within that relationship.

Located in Beijing. For more information, please click here .

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Chengde Palaces

The Mountain Resort (the Qing dynasty’s summer palace), in Hebei Province, was built between 1703 and 1792. It is a vast complex of palaces and administrative and ceremonial buildings. Temples of various architectural styles and imperial gardens blend harmoniously into a landscape of lakes, pastureland and forests. In addition to its aesthetic interest, the Mountain Resort is a rare historic vestige of the final development of feudal society in China.

It currently takes about 4 hours to travel by rail or car north of Beijing to Chengde. A more direct highway should be finished by 2004, using which this time will be halved.

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Stretching over 72,000 ha in the northern part of Sichuan Province, the jagged Jiuzhaigou valley reaches a height of more than 4,800 m, thus comprising a series of diverse forest ecosystems. Its superb landscapes are particularly interesting for their series of narrow conic karst land forms and spectacular waterfalls. Some 140 bird species also inhabit the valley, as well as a number of endangered plant and animal species, including the giant panda and the Sichuan takin.

Jiuzhaigou is currently inaccessible to the luxury traveler. However, an airport is scheduled to be finished in August 2002. It already has a good five star hotel.

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Situated in the north-west of Sichaun Province, the Huanglong valley is made up of snow-capped peaks and the easternmost of all the Chinese glaciers. In addition to its mountain landscape, diverse forest ecosystems can be found, as well as spectacular limestone formations, waterfalls and hot springs. The area also has a population of endangered animals, including the giant panda and the Sichuan golden snub-nosed monkey.

Huanglong is currently inaccessible to the luxury traveler. However, an airport is scheduled to be built at nearby Jiuzhaigou in August 2002.

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A spectacular area stretching over more than 26,000 ha in China’s Hunan Province, the site is dominated by more than 3,000 narrow sandstone pillars and peaks, many over 200 m high. Between the peaks lie ravines and gorges with streams, pools and waterfalls, some 40 caves, and two large natural bridges. In addition to the striking beauty of the landscape, the region is also noted for the fact that it is home to a number of endangered plant and animal species.

Direct flights to Zhangjiajie City provide good access.

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The Old Town of Lijiang, which is perfectly adapted to the uneven topography of this key commercial and strategic site, has retained a historic townscape of high quality and authenticity. Its architecture is noteworthy for the blending of elements from several cultures that have come together over many centuries. Lijiang also possesses an ancient water-supply system of great complexity and ingenuity that still functions effectively today.

Direct flights to Lijiang airport provide good access.

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Ping Yao is an exceptionally well-preserved example of a traditional Han Chinese city, founded in the 14th century. Its urban fabric shows the evolution of architectural styles and town planning in Imperial China over five centuries. Of special interest are the imposing buildings associated with banking, for which Ping Yao was the major centre for the whole of China in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Pingyao is two-three hour drive from Taiyuan airport. Otherwise, it is well connected by rail.

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Classical Chinese garden design, which seeks to recreate natural landscapes in miniature, is nowhere better illustrated than in the nine gardens in the historic city of Suzhou. They are universally acknowledged to be masterpieces of the genre. Dating from the 16th-18th centuries, the gardens reflect the profound metaphysical importance of natural beauty in Chinese culture in their meticulous design.

Suzhou is a one and a half hour drive north of Shanghai. For more information about Suzhou, please click here .

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Xidi & Hongcun

The two traditional villages of Xidi and Hongcun preserve to a remarkable extent the appearance of non-urban settlements of a type that largely disappeared or were transformed during the last century. Their street plan, their architecture and decoration, and the integration of houses with comprehensive water systems are unique surviving examples.

Both villages are one hour and a half drives from Huangshan City where there is an airport.

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Potala Palace

The Potala Palace, winter palace of the Dalai Lama since the 7th century, symbolizes Tibetan Buddhism and its central role in the traditional administration of Tibet. The complex, comprising the White and Red Palaces with their ancillary buildings, is built on Red Mountain in the centre of Lhasa Valley, at an altitude of 3,700m. Also founded in the 7th century, the Jokhang Temple Monastery is an exceptional Buddhist religious complex. Norbulingka, the Dalai Lama’s former summer palace, constructed in the 18th century, is a masterpiece of Tibetan art. The beauty and originality of the architecture of these three sites, their rich ornamentation and harmonious integration in a striking landscape, add to their historic and religious interest.

There are daily flights to Lhasa.

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Confucius Family Mansion

The temple, cemetery and family mansion of Confucius, the great philosopher, politician and educator of the 6th-5th centuries B.C., are located at Qufu, in Shandong Province. Built to commemorate him in 478 B.C., the temple has been destroyed and reconstructed over the centuries; today it comprises more than 100 buildings. The cemetery contains Confucius’ tomb and the remains of more than 100,000 of his descendants. The small house of the Kong family developed into a gigantic aristocratic residence, of which 152 buildings remain. The Qufu complex of monuments has retained its outstanding artistic and historic character due to the devotion of successive Chinese emperors over more than 2,000 years.

Qufu is a two-three hour drive south of Jinan, where there is an airport.

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Wudang Temples

The palaces and temples which form the nucleus of this group of secular and religious buildings exemplify the architectural and artistic achievements of China’s Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Situated in the scenic valleys and on the slopes of the Wudang mountains in Hubei Province, the site, which was built as an organized complex during the Ming dynasty (14th-17th centuries), contains Taoist buildings from as early as the 7th century. It represents the highest standards of Chinese art and architecture over a period of nearly 1,000 years.

Not easy to get to apart from by train from Yichang at the end of one of the Three Gorges Yangzi River Cruises.

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Peking Man

Scientific work at the site, which lies 42 km south-west of Beijing, is still underway. So far, it has led to the discovery of the remains of Sinanthropus pekinensis, who lived in the Middle Pleistocene, along with various objects, and remains of Homo sapiens sapiens dating as far back as 18,000- 11,000 B.C. The site is not only an exceptional reminder of the prehistorical human societies of the Asian continent, but also illustrates the process of evolution.

A short drive south of Beijing, the Peking Man site is of interest to specialists.

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