The second river of importance for travelers purposes within Shanxi Province is the river Fen. The river Fen is a river in central and western Shanxi Province which flows roughly from north to south through the Capital city of Taiyuan, making ot for most travelers and visitors the main river sight in Taiyuan City and the wider Province.
Downstream from the Taiyuan the Fen river lends its name to the city of Linfen, as noted notorious among the most polluted destinations within the Province and even larger Nation, and also the city of Fenyang.
The River Fen flows from its source near the historic town of the Ningwu Pass of the Great Wall of China situated just west of Xinzhou city in Xinzhou Prefecture in a complicated pattern through the loess hills before taking its course down towards the city of Taiyuan, through which today it runs a fairly straight course. From Taiyuan the Fen river subsequently flows southward to pass via the industrial city of Linfen to Houma. At Houma the river takes a sharp turn westwards and then again southwestward making its last brief run to the much larger valley of the Yellow River. The Fen empties into the Yellow River amidst rural lands at a considerable distance south of Hejin where it flows out of the loess hills near Xiawanxin ( Shanwanxin Cun (Village). Only an old monumental Gate standing due west of Qincuncun reminds of the glorious days of the past when both the Fen and the Yellow River were untamed and expanded and shrank according to the seasons.
internationally (in)famous. You may therefor already have heard its name previously. In case you had not, watch adjacent video excerpt from the longer documentary: Toxic Linfen.
Apart from being notoriously suspect and a destination and sight for those interested disaster tourism or the downsides of Chinese Economic Development, the river Fen has even more tales and stories attached to it than does the Sanggan River in north Shanxi.
To begin with, the earliest known ”Chinese” Civilizations, notably born before even the Shang (1766 BC - 1221 BC) and subsequent Zhou
YouTube Video: CNN Excerpt from Documentary: Toxic Linfen by Vice News.
Dynasty had their native territories in the valley of the river Fen, close to but safe from the often roaring waters of the much larger and more dangerous Yellow River (the larger Basin / Valley of which is most usually regarded as the ”Cradle of Chinese Civilization”). It is from the valley of the river Fen that some of the earliest traits of Chinese Civilization are derived, from their homeland eventually spreading far and wide across what today are the Chinese Provinces and even to territories far beyond.
Although the Zhou Dynasty arose to include the State of Jin at its establishment, during the crumbling of the Zhou Authority in the 8th century BC Jin became by far the most powerful State within the Zhou Realm. The generations of the Marquis of Jin played in important role in the politics and powerplays of the day.
As the Zhou Dynasty progressed and dwindled into what has been dubbed the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history - which involved the splitting of the Nation into seperate Kingdoms-, the Fen river valley served as the fertile home base of the State of Jin (晉), which lasted until the year 453 BC. Notably, some Chinese historians take this year as the ending year of the Spring and Autumn Period and the beginning of the Warring States Period (According to Wikipedia Different scholars use dates for the beginning of the period ranging between 481 BC and 403 BC, but Sima Qian's date of 475 BC is most often cited. ).
Interestingly, the State of Jin found itself amidst much turmoil and therefor their Capital was moved around the region several times. The very first capital of Jin was Tang ((唐)) which not very surprisingly lay near the current day Capital City of Taiyuan at the most strategic location. As a result, the reputation of what today is Taiyuan was first solidified in human history. Today the city retains its position of crucial importance within the Province.
Although with the successes and defeats of the Jin Kingdom the capital was later moved around to È (鄂), then to a place known as Jiàng (絳), and finally to the county city of Houma then known as Xintian (新田), Taiyuan in fact remained the central city in the Shanxi domain.
To be complete, Houma (Jin: Xintian) which lies due south of Linfen City served as the Capital of Jin State during the years 746 to 677 AD.
More than two millenia after the momentous events and trabulations that founded the Chinese Feudal Realm and its distinct cultures, the valley of the river Fen was first ”discovered” and properly explored by Foreigners, in case a variety of western explorers, scientists and adventurours. Although earlier some Christian Missionairies had prceded them, this was the first time that Foreigners had the opportunity to go about all corners of the Nation.
Fanning out from their home bases in the ”Legation Quarter” of Beijing and later the city of Tianjin, foreigners traveled along the newly created roads and railways into neighboring provinces thus usually passing through Shanxi Province. In 1921 the provincial Capital of Taiyuan and therefor to the Fen River lay at ”only” three days travel by train from Beijing. From Taiyuan, the main city and economic center of time, they could travel up and down the Fen River valley with relative ease.
Although not all stories of adventure have been well preserved, some have been circulated widely and so are known around the (informed) world today.
Among the first to travel into Shanxi and explore the Fen River valley were some noteable names, among whom the most famous that of Roy Chapman Andrews, an American who is said to have inspired the Indiana Jones film character. To others he is better known for his first discovery of fossilized dinosaur eggs in a lone and dusty valley somewhere in the no man's land of the steppes of Inner Mongolia.
As often the first in line to try out his talents in Shanxi Province were priviliged and well funded men such as Arthur de Cowle Sowerby, a descendant from missionairies who had lived in Taiyuan before the Boxer Rebellion and ensuing war. De Cowle Sowerby, traveled in Shanxi Province as a botanist as early as 1907, however, only specialist and not the common traveler is familiar with his works. Another adventurer explorer was the American Billionaire Robert Sterling Clark, who explored not only in Shanxi Province but as far west as Gansu.
Trailing in the path of the above mentioned jetsetters turned explorers was the above mentioned adventurer gone scientific explorer Roy Chapman Andrews, who between the years 1922 and 1928 led several expeditions in northern China and Inner Mongolia. Initially in search of the origins of humanity, Chapman Andrews set out from Beijing where the Peking Man had not yet been discovered to browse around neighboring Shanxi Province as early as the year 1918. Long before the find of Peking Man at Zhoukoudian in 1923, Chapman Andrews and others who prowled the Legation Quarter and the larger city of Beijing for information were already aware that fossils were abundant in the loess hills of north Shanxi and also in the steppe and desert land of Inner Mongolia.
As one can read in his book and report on his undertakings titled "Across Mongolians Plains: A Naturalist's Account of China's "Great Northwest"" which also includes his works on ""Second Asiatic Expedition" in which he traveled in northern China (especially Shanxi) in 1918-1920, according to his own words, Chapman Andrews was only practicing his China skills at time in preparation for great undertakings, at least so he claims.
Instead of being involved with fossils, or as later Buddhist art and valuable ancient scriptures and relics, at the time he mainly stuck to the observation and recording of the landscape and existing wildlife in Shanxi, among things traveling along the Fen River in the vicinity of Taiyuan. Eventually however, the expedition was headed for the rough lands and the Great Wall up in the north of the Province. Instead of describing the river Fen and its valley, the book on the 1918-1920 expeditions involves descriptions of the great ram of Shanxi, the Mongolian "Argali" sheep, the horse-deer of Shanxi, on the Chinese Wapiti (Elk), Roebuck and Goral, on wild pigs and the like. It also includes information on the hunting parks of the eastern (Qing) tombs found near the Great Wall of China in Beijing City Province. Obviously, Chapman Andrews was an eager hunter and considerable outdoors man.
Next in line after this famous treasure hunter (notorious in China) arrived it was a lone expedition of one woman and her husband who claimed the first stories and who documented the first valuable information on geography and local flora and fauna in Fen river valley. These two were the Wulsin couple, the husband an avid botanist, the wife Mabel Cabot among things an avid photographer.
Having earlier explored other lands in other countries, the first Wulsin Mission in China took in the year 1921 and brought them by mule cart and caravan from Taiyuan up the Fen River. Today, some of the story, and magnificent photographs are left from these and a later even more ambitous expedition.
As one will find described in more detail in the book ”Vanished Kingdoms” by Mabel S. Cabot (grand daughter of) the Wulsin couple were trail blazers on the route between
Satellite image of China and North-East Asia, with a super-imposed schematic Map of the location and Path of the Great Wall as constructed during the Reign of the Ming Dynasty. Included for reference are City names, geographical features of landscape, Names and locations of Passes on the Great Wall of China.
Taiyuan and Datong, the one city of the time up in the north of the Province. Along the route which led essentially away from the Fen River and up the loess plateaux lay the towns and villages of Ginza, Dung Shen (Dong Xian), a village identified as Hung Djen Dun, Yang Chi Hsien, Goan Cher, Suinchow (Xinzhou) - the location of the famed pass on the Great Wall of China, and beyond that Yuan Ping, Yuan Ming Pu, Daiyin, a place identifed as Whey Run Hsien and finally the walled and fortified city of Datong situated between the two layers of the Great Wall of China.
During the five month long expedition, the main job was to document the local plants and also wildlife, thus fulfilling their task assigned by Agassaz Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University in the United States. It was all an interesting experience, as the Wulsins soon found out. As they were (almost) the first ever westerners to travel the rural countryside (most missionairies in
Shanxi had either fled Shanxi in 1900 AD or had subsequently been killed by the local populace), most locals were astounded to be confronted with them. However as they were able to converse some in the Chinese language they did make friends. Those who were daring enough to ask usually asked if they were Japanese people, as they simply had never heard of any other foreigners before.
Not even ten years later, the first explorers (journalists and spies) traveling about the Provinces disappeared almost overnight as had the missionaries before them. As Roy Chapman Andrews found, as early as 1928 AD they were all practically unable to travel, mostly due to division of Chinese territories into seperate Provinces and regions dominated by their local warlord. Chapman Andrews writes of how the authorities simply could not guarantee their safety, which was a polite way of saying they were no longer welcome.
By September of 1937, the Japanese who were the type of Foreigners the Chinese had dreaded before already launched in all out invasion of north and central China, soon thrusting via the Marco Polo Bridge ( 盧溝橋 ; Lugou Qiao) near Beijing to knock on the doors of Shanxi Province.
Although this virtually annihilated the remaining western foreign presence in the Province, a very select few still managed to enter the Province and record some of what went on there after the arrival of Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, General Zhu De and the other survivors of the legendary ”Long March” through China.
First and foremost among these Foreigners must be named the journalist James Bertram, a New Zealander of origin and a man who wrote several remarkable books on his adventures.
After witnessing some of the anti-Japanese student protests in Beijing (BeiPing), Bertram traveled covertly by railway to Shijiazhuang (the current day Capital of Hebei Province) and from there managed to make his way on foot through the front lines of not 2 but three warring sides. Having recorded and described some of the situation in the city of Xi'An and the crucial ”Xi'An Incident”, he then made his way to the Communist Base in Yan'An near the Great Wall of China in north Shaanxi Province where he was among the few Foreigners to be elaborately received by Mao Zedong and other leading Communist Party Cadres.
As if all this was not enough already, Bertram subsequently headed for the front lines which by 1937 lay square across Shanxi Province. The trail of Bertram from Yan'An across the Yellow River and into the loess hills of Shanxi Province eventually found him near the river Fen. In his book ”North China Front” his exploits in Shanxi and along the Fen River, as well as the larger political situation of the time, are described in much detail. The most thrilling about the book however is its every day life approach to its description of events, on the sidelines also describing the landscape and the villages encountered in much color. Although James Betram was later denounced and accused of being a Communist sympathiser (which would be an exaggaration), he leaves us one of the most valuable accounts of the era. Other books by writer Agnes Smedley and also American (Marine) General Evans F. Carlson do deal with the war but do not have the lively description of villages and common life in the regions at that time.
Today the river Fen is not the historic river of the Jin Dynasty or the one allegedly described by the legendary Han Dynasty Era (216 BC - 221 AD) historian Sima Qian. Much, if not all of the landscape of the river has changed almost beyond recognition.
By elderly locals and now mainly historians and the like, it is remembered that as early as the 1940's, the river bed of the Fen River would run dry at times. As time progressed and Shanxi became the model province for large scale industrialization during the Sino-Soviet Era of the 1950's, industries, mines and metal smelteries started large scale consumption and pollution of the rivers waters, whereas at the same time, a drive to tame the rivers waters was undertaken, the creation of dams and reservoirs along the river Fen contributing to the problem. Situated in principally arid regions with overal sparse precipitation, this meant that soon the river ran dry most of the year, except of course during the rainy season.
As time progressed and China experienced its opening up policy and susequent capitalist and economic boom in all sectors delivered more revenue for the Taiyuan and its satellites the city was redressed. As one of the main watersources of the city Taiyuan and everyone and everything downstream the river was reconstuted. All of this was however not so much done to please the inhabitants provide them with drinking water, the main purpose altogether was to feed the growing number of industries of the region with much needed water supply for production. Although today the river flowing through town provides a convenient visual sign of attempts for the better, in reality the first redresses of the city were not what they have been represented to be. As late as 2015, the rivers of the Fen River in the capital Taiyuan are considered unfit for human consumption, although as one will find, this does not stop the locals from fishing in the river and actually consuming the fish caught.
In the 1990's, the Fen River in Taiyuan was further landscaped. In an attempt to create a more liveable city that was also more attractive and representative to visitors in general a giant green park was established along the river banks. Today, this park stretches for some 6 kilometers along the river creating a green heart to a previously rather drab industrial city. In order to feed the greenery of the park, movable dams were installed along the length of the river in the city center of Taiyuan, so making it possible to create enormous basins which make the river appear as if it is filled.
Today the main cities along the Fen River are in order of appearance; Taiyuan, Linfen, Houma, Hejin and Fenyang, although the latter city -through shifting of the course of the river- has wound up at about 20 kilometers from the river.
"First Act in China, the story of Sian Mutiny" by James Bertram
The river Fen is 694 kilometers long and drains an area of 39,417 square kilometers, which makes up roughly a quarter (25.3%) of the surface area the entire Province. The Fen River is the longest river in Shanxi province and northern China. It is also the second longest tributary of the Yellow River.
The Fen River flows through Xinzhou Prefecture, Taiyuan Prefecture and Linfen Prefecture. After leaving its winding trajectory through the loess hills, the Fen finally reaches its main valley just north of Taiyuan City. It flows from north to south through Taiyuan and within the city prefecture has a length of around 100 kilometer, some one seventh of the total length of entire Fen River.
Especially Taiyuan and Linfen are renowned or notorious for their industrial development.
As a result, mostly of the notoriety of Linfen as pollution ground zero, the river Fen accordingly has become
In essence, Shanxi Province counts five major rivers, several lesser known rivers and many minor tributaries and streams. For all general travelers purposes, the main rivers in Shanxi Province are the Yellow River (Huang He), the Fen River (Fen He), the Sanggan River, the Cangqian River better known as Yongding River, and the Shizhi River.
In addition, there are the little heard of Hai River, Qin River and the Zhang River.
All other rivers in Shanxi Province are essentially tributaries of these larger rivers.