Relatively quiet and small for a Chinese city, unassuming CHENGDE boasts a highly colourful history; though the town itself is bland, on its fringes lie some of the most magnificent examples of imperial architecture in China, remnants from its glory days as the summer retreat of the Manchu emperors. In recent years Chengde has once more become a summer haven, justly popular with weekending Beijingers escaping the capital. Gorgeous temples punctuate the cabbage fields around town, and a palace-and-park hill complex, Bishu Shanzhuang, covers an area to the north nearly as large as Chengde itself. Farther north and to the east, on the other side of the river, stands a further series of imposing temples.

The majority of Chengde’s one-million-strong population live in a semi-rural suburban sprawl to the south of the centre, leaving the city itself fairly small-scale – the new high-rises on its traffic-clogged main artery, Nanyingzi Dajie, are yet to obscure the view of distant mountains and fields.

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