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.
Inside Hebei: Langfang
Let’s admit it, not all cities are born or made as perfect equals. Location, location, location matters. In the case of Shenzhen, Deng Xiaoping decided to pick it as the lucky winner of China’s reforms, and now we have this unique situation where, at the northernmost end of Hong Kong (which is supposedly full of skyscrapers), we have near-emptiness, whereas just across the river into the mainland, Shenzhen’s skyscrapers almost appear to spill over the Shenzhen River into Hong Kong.
Langfang isn’t precisely as “dynamic” or all about skyscrapers as Shenzhen, but this city’s unique status — being located right around the halfway mark between Beijing and the central municipality of Tianjin — means it’s likely to be better off that probably the more remote parts of Hebei. In fact, Langfangers tend to keep their dough to themselves, so for those just passing by, it could be (wrongly!) thought of yet another cottage, when in actual fact it is very well-off. (Thankfully, the new programme designed to further integrate Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei as one means everyone should be having more of the bigger cake in future.)
Modern-day Langfang looks pretty, well, modern, and the arrival of HSR has meant it’s now pretty much “made it”. I go there at times, if only to “escape the Jing”. Yet the city’s development, like much of China, can only be attributed to China following the reforms of Deng Xiaoping.
I have a map of the area that is now Langfang during the Mao era. Back then, “Langfang” was much less known; in place was what’s Anci (the name Anci now refers just to a part of central Langfang).
Langfang was part of a larger Hebei which included Tianjin, and this rather curious layout continued from 1955 through to the 1980s. Today, Tianjin is on its own as a centrally-governed municipality, leaving Langfang situated right between the two metropolises.
The northern part of the prefecture of Langfang is even more curious, as it lies fully enclosed between Beijing and Tianjin (the part with the city centre is connected to the rest of Hebei). That part seems to have grown only slowly, although as of late, it is developing more.
What To See
Probably because it sits right between Beijing and Tianjin, there’s not so much to see around Langfang — and most actually see this as a kind of Watford (albeit to the southeast of the capital, not the northwest) of Greater Beijing — administratively outside Beijing, but with Beijing buses and transport links connecting to the capital.
However, for those interested in taking a deeper look, parts of Langfang slightly more afield from the city centre does have some interesting spots. (The equivalent of High Street in central Langfang is like that in Watford — only it’s indoors and much more modern.) There what’s known as the “First City Under Heaven” in northern Langfang (in Xianghe), which is great if you are interested in traditional Chinese architecture. (What a world of difference from the shopping megalopolises in the city centre!) There’s also the Wang Family Court, slightly further afield — this time to the southwest of urban Langfang — but if you want to look at traditional Chinese architecture for commoners (rather than the grandiose ones for those in power), you’d be well served here.
Architecture in the city centre is a mix — a maddening mix at times. There’s the ultra-modern HSR station and shopping centre just minutes away, next to telecoms towers built about two or three decades back. The more you go into the city centre, then go from own city to the next, the more you’ll find out how similar, in fact, those cities outside the major international hubs can appear to be!