An ancient snapshot of China, the sleepy hamlet of Jīmíngyì is a delightful surprise to find amid the scruffy northern Héběi countryside. This walled town, establised during the Yuan dynasty (AD 1206–1368), is China’s oldest surviving post station. It stands as an historic reminder of a system that endured for 2000 years and enabled the officials in the Forbidden City to keep in touch with their far-flung counterparts around China. Whipped by dust storms in the spring and with archaic, fading Mao-era slogans still visible on walls, Jīmíngyì sees few visitors and feels a long, long way from the gleaming capital – much further than the 140km distance would suggest.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties, this was a place of considerably more bustle and wealth, as evidenced in the numerous surviving temples and its town wall. Many of its courtyard houses remain too, albeit in dilapidated condition.
There has been a flurry of activity in Jīmíngyì recently, with the town walls and gates newly restored, as the local government attempts to boosts its appeal as a tourist destination. There is now also an admission fee (¥40), which you must pay if you want to gain access to any of the notable buildings.