Yantai started as a garrison against invading Japanese pirates. The garrison was stationed in a fortified city in downtown Yantai. The place has been restored and repurposed as an entertainment and leisure attraction.
Timeline from 1398 to Modern Day
- 1398 or 31st year of Ming Emperor Hongwu 洪武 31 年 – Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang ordered the formation of the Qishan Regiment.
- 1421 or 19th year of Ming Emperor Yongle 永乐 19 年 – The capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing, Qishan Regiment was mentioned as part of the military funding.
Qishan Regiment 奇山守御千户所 was made up around 1,000 soldiers and their families led by a Regiment Officer (Colonel, perhaps) called Qianhu 千户, which literally means literally a “Thousand Household”.
- 1431 or 6th year of Ming Emperor Xuande 宣德 6 年 – The fortification was built to current formation.
- 1655 or 12th year of Qing Emperor Shunzhi 顺治 12 年 – Suocheng was converted into civilian use. And in 1664, his son Emperor Kangxi disbanded the Qishan Regiment. With all the military personnel discharged, the area gained a massive increase in population and commerce improved.
- 1861 or 11th year of Qing Emperor Xianfeng 咸丰 11 年 – Yantai Port was opened and Suocheng became gentrified as trade volume from the seas grew in the area, making a lot of traders and merchants rich. The nouveau riche made their accommodations inside the city walls.
- 1918 or 7th year of ROC – While the Western world was ending the first World War, the world did not come to China. The walls were rebuilt but the Japanese tore down the wall to build fortification against the resistance during the second Sino-Japanese war that started in 1937 and ended with the surrender of the Japanese in WWII.
- 2017 – the whole area was redeveloped by the current Shandong Provincial government as part of the plans to rejuvenate the old Yantai city.
A Walk Through Time
The main gate called Xuanhua Gate 宣化门 has been restored to its previous splendour.
The main entrance has been rebuilt to a different, more modern style as the original was torn down for bricks.
By the late 19th century, the main street was bustling with trade and commercial. But it fell into disarrays with the different wars fought around that part of the world, starting with the Opium Wars, the Second Sino-Japanese wars and the Chinese civil wars. Shandong has always been the must-win region in all campaigns, so the cities in the province cannot escape the fate being ravaged by war.
There has always been a lot of controversy about the inner city of Suocheng Li. The dilapidated old houses and the outdated infrastructure could not match up with the historical tourist attraction the authorities were trying to build externally. Also the poor state of the place resulted in many inconveniences for the residents’ daily life. And because of the alleyways and dark corners, it was a hotspot for petty crimes – there had been many knife-wielding robberies here at night.
As a result, the Shandong Provincial government decided to restore the entire Suochengli 所城里 and developed an AAAA rated tourist attraction. Work started in 2017 and the main intersections were completed in 2019. Then Covid hit and work came to a stop only to resume late 2020. It reopened to the public for the Spring Festival in 2021.
There are more than 280 restored cultural relics (buildings) in the neighbourhood, including 35 Provincial-certified buildings, 1 Municipal-certified buildings and 70 classified immovable cultural relics.
Most of the old housing were converted to restaurants. With commercialisation, many original mom-pop eateries have to give way to corporate chain restaurants. Like Xiaolongkan Hotpot 小龙坎, they have branches all around China, and they have to open one in this historical place. And like the local brand Ganhaier Seafood Warehouse 赶海儿, they open a high-end seafood restaurant here to differentiate with the rest of their shops. What was interesting was the Imperial Edict 圣旨 that was placed next to the entrance. Emperors would give these plaques to worthy restaurants in the past, something like a Royal Commission. I am pretty sure this is a replica.
Worth a visit if you have half a day to spare. Else it would be just like any other old main street in China that has been converted into a tourist attraction.
Visited in Dec 2021