If you’ve ever wondered what it might be like to be a Chinese royal, or ever wanted to see just how difficult the imperial examinations used to be, Jingjiang Princes City is the ideal place to find out. It is commonly referred to as Jingjiang Princes Palace or Wang Cheng which, though similar in pronunciation, we assure you bears no connection to the 1980s band “Wang Chung”. This small “city within a city” was built during the Ming Dynasty, from 1372 to 1392. However, it tragically suffered heavy damage during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and the second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945). Nowadays, many of the ancient buildings have been rebuilt and, though it may not all be authentic, it’s still as beautiful as it was hundreds of years ago.
It is located within Guilin City and greatly resembles its larger cousin; Beijing’s Forbidden City. Jingjiang City’s history stretches back over 630 years, which actually makes it older than the Forbidden City. It was originally built for the royal Zhu Shouqian, who was the great-nephew of the first Ming Dynasty Emperor, Zhu Yuanzhang. Zhu Shouqian was declared Prince of Jingjiang by his granduncle and it was decided his palace would be set in Guilin. The placement of the palace was specific, as Zhu Shouqian was expected to keep tabs on the southern regions of the Chinese empire and thus aid his granduncle’s rule. Over the course of 257 years, 14 princes from 12 different generations would rule from this palace. Considering only 6 monarchs have lived in Buckingham Palace, managing to last long enough to house 14 of them is no mean feat!
Nowadays the palace acts as part of the Guangxi Normal University campus and as a tourist attraction. The current city is made up of 4 halls, 4 pavilions, and 40 smaller buildings, with a 1,500-metre-long city wall made up of beautiful blue flagstones. Like the Forbidden City, the layout of the buildings is symmetrical and focuses on a central axis, so sometimes it may feel as though you’re walking through a geometric puzzle! The Solitary Beauty Peak is at the northernmost point of the axis. From north to south you’ll find the Imperial Burial Place, Chengyun Palace and Chengyun Gate, and from east to west there’s the Imperial Divine Temple and the Ancestral Temple. All of the other buildings are around these main buildings in a symmetrical pattern. In-keeping with this symmetry, there are four gates on the four points of the compass, known as “Tiren” (Donghua Gate), “Duanli” (Zhengyang Gate), “Zunyi” (Xihua Gate) and “Guangzhi” (Hougong Gate).
This palace was built in 1372 and functioned as the administration office of the city. However, the palace was burned down twice; once during the Qing Dynasty and once during the Japanese invasion. It was rebuilt in 1947 but the carved balustrades and marble steps are all that remain of the original palace.
Solitary Beauty Peak
Most poets write about beautiful women, but the Song Dynasty (420-589) poet Yan Yanzhi evidently had a thing for mountains. In one of his poems he described this peak in the line “the beauty of this solitary peak surpasses all those around it”, and this is how the peak earned its name. It looks like a column jutting out of the earth and makes for quite the sight in a princes palace. Its summit is about 216 metres (about 709 ft.) above sea level and rewards any visitor with a panoramic view of Guilin.
At the foot of the peak, you’ll find the crescent shaped Yueya Pond. The Sun Yat-sen Memorial Tower, built in 1921, rests on the bank of this pond. Moving up the peak, you’ll find Xuanwu Pavilion, Kwanyin Hall, Sanke Temple, and Sanshen (Three Deities) Ancestral Temple. Climbing the peak will hardly feel like a chore when you have so many places to stop and rest.
This cave sits at the east foot of the peak and has become famous for the engravings on its interior, which include an inscription of Yan Yanzhi’s poem and an 800-year-old carving of the famous Chinese saying “the scenery in Guilin is the greatest under heaven”. It is rumoured that, over 1,500 years ago, Yan Tingzhi, the governor of Guilin, often studied here. If you thought your schoolrooms were bad, imagine working inside a cave!
The Examination Rooms
These rooms were established during the Qing dynasty and are supposedly blessed with very good Feng Shui, which the residents of Guilin believe was responsible for the success of their local scholars. Guilin’s scholars were so successful at the imperial examinations that it spawned the popular saying “eight Jinshi from one county and two Zhuangyuan from one city”. Many of the attractions in the city, such as the “Sanyuan Jidi” Hall and the “Zhuangyuan Jidi” arch, are dedicated to these scholars. This site has recently been restored and tourists can now take a simulation of the imperial examination. Visitors must enter the hall, use ink brushes to answer the test papers, and then wait to receive their results. If they succeed, they are dressed in the traditional garb of a scholar and rewarded with a certificate.
The Confucian Temple
The Confucian Temple served as an adjunct to the Examination Rooms. In ancient times, before the scholars took the imperial examination, they would first offer sacrifices to Confucius. It was believed that the success of local scholars was in part due to this temple.
The Fortune Well
Many students arriving to take the imperial examination believed that this well would bring them good fortune and would often drink the blessed water beforehand. Perhaps you should have a drink too; you might end up with a Nobel Prize!
The Couple Tree
A locust tree and a banyan tree that have grown together like an embracing couple. They are said to have branches in the shape of a tiger and a horse.
Secret Underground Corridor
In 1977, a secret corridor was discovered within the compound that leads to the Li River. The last prince of the Ming Dynasty used this corridor to carry his treasures and flee the city when the Ming Dynasty collapsed. You never know, you might find some hidden treasure down there!
 Sun Yat-sen (1866-1925): A Chinese revolutionary who played an instrumental role in overthrowing the Qing Dynasty, abolishing imperial rule and founding the People’s Republic of China.
 Feng Shui: This theory is based on the premise that the specific placement of certain places or objects will bring good luck.
 Jinshi: These were advanced scholars who passed the three-yearly court exam, the highest level of imperial examination.
 Zhuangyuan: These were the highest ranking of all the scholars, as they were the ones who ranked first nationwide in the three-yearly court exam, the highest level of imperial examination. In the space of just 4 years, Guilin produced two zhuangyuan, which was considered nothing short of a miracle.