David Feng was one of the emcees of the opening ceremony of the Beautiful Hebei photo exhibition, currently held at the University of Westminster’s Regent Street campus. He’s been to Hebei a lot, has taught in the province, and his wife has ancestral roots there. Learn more from Hebei by joining David on a tour of the province in this week-long special.
The funny thing that Beijing has that London doesn’t have is a “big neighbour” province. (“Ginormous neighbour” might probably be a better term here.) London is surrounded by the Home Counties — six bordering London — but Beijing is almost entirely surrounded by just one colossal neighbouring province — Hebei. And unless you cheat by crossing into Beijing from nearby Tianjin (and came in by sea or by air into TIanjin), it is just about impossible to get to Beijing without passing through Hebei.
Fast forward six years and three months into the future, and we’ll be holding the 2022 Winter Olympics in both Beijing — and Hebei. In fact, if you’re headed in to ski, you’re most likely going to head on over to Zhangjiakou and Chongli, both in Hebei, just 50 minutes away from central Beijing by HSR.
For those who come into Beijing on land, Hebei will have to be a part of China you’ll have to deal with. But it, in fact, is one you would probably like to deal with. Here’s a briefer.
Northern, southern, and eastern Hebei are completely different worlds. The more Swiss ones in us might prefer northern Hebei, which is hilly, even mountainous, whilst those who prefer nice, long beaches, might find home in eastern Hebei, right by the coast. The rest of the province is pretty much flatland.
My favourite parts of Hebei are in the mountainous parts in the north, both by Chengde and Zhangjiakou. In fact, I’ve loved this part of Hebei long before it won the rights to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, simply because it appears so vastly different from Beijing.
Others might like the more flatland parts of the North China Plain, which forms much of Hebei south of Hebei, although in fog (smog?), it does at times don a more “mysterious” appearance. Adventurers might appreciate something even more different: the Great Wall of China, whether it be the touristy one right by the sea by Shanhaiguan, or the more picturesque (and rather perilous) bits bordering Beijing, or in Zhangjiakou.
Running Rings Around Beijing
Beijing is getting its version of the M25 soon — the G95, or Capital Ringway, is on its way to completion sooner than later. The path of this route will tell you precisely what Hebei is about.
The 940 km (588 mi) long motorway is the equivalent of five M25, and starting out from Zhangjiakou, it goes clockwise via the more mountainous parts of northern Hebei, home also to the Manchu autonomous county of Fengning, which is an incredibly “empty” part of Hebei just north of Beijing (with visibly cooler temps over summer). It next arrives at Chengde, better known for its Summer Palace.
The G95 next heads south, entering Beijing in the easternmost district of Pinggu, which is more Flatland Territory (it’d be a rather tall order to grow peaches in mountainous terrain, which is what Pinggu is known for, exports-wise). On its trek, it bypasses Miyun County in Beijing, home to a key reservoir, and continues further south, then southwest, just missing Langfang, which is a major city halfway between Beijing and Tianjin (a little bit like Swindon between London and Bristol). It then just narrowly misses the new airport in the works before heading further west, until it meets the Beijing-Hong Kong Expressway.
From there, the ringway heads further northwest, then north, as it tackles probably the most mountainous part of its trek, narrowly missing the border with Beijing’s westernmost district, Mentougou. This part is incredibly scenic — but hold on to your steering wheels!
The motorway finally finishes back in Zhangjiakou, and after spending eight hours on the road (at 70 mph), you’d have more than experienced “a little bit of everything” in Hebei.