Located in the northeast corner of the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on China’s south coast, Guilin is the center of the renowned tourist resort area known as “Guilin Waters and Mountains.” The scenic Li River traverses the city and the surrounding mountains and caves, which are justifiably famous around the world for their beauty.

Situated in northeastern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on the southern coast of China, Guilin administers five city districts (the city proper is 565 square kilometers), ten counties, and two autonomous counties for a total area of 27,809 square kilometers. Guilin has a subtropical monsoon climate with an annual average precipitation of 1,949 millimeters. Its annual average temperature is 18.9° C; the hottest month, August, has an average temperature of 23° C, and the coldest month, January, 15.6° C.

Guilin was founded around 111 BCE and obtained its current name in 1372 CE. The word guilin (forest of Sweet Osmanthus) is a reference to the Sweet Osmanthus shrubs that crowd the city’s landscape. Traversed by the Li River, Guilin has a typical karst (an irregular limestone region with sinkholes, underground streams, and caverns) topography. Qixingyan (Seven Star Cave), located on the eastern bank of the Li River, is eminent among the karst caves of Guilin. Consisting of three layers of caves on the upper, middle, and lower levels with an underground river, Qixingyan culminates into a labyrinth of stalactites, stalagmites, and stone pillars illuminated by colorful lights. Ludiyan (Reed Flute Cave) is an underground karst cave that descends to 240 meters. White natural stalactites of different shapes form a myriad of “scenes.” Some resemble lions, pine trees, or mushrooms, and others suggest a dreamy crystal palace or mountain of clouds.

Guilin’s scenery has inspired generations of literati, giving the city the reputation that Guilin Shanshui jia tianxia (Guilin waters and mountains rank first class around the world). Commercial tourism in China was nonexistent until the 1980s. According to the National Tourism Administration, the earliest recorded numbers of visitors for domestic tourism were 240 million arrivals, with a total revenue of 8 billion yuan in 1985. The earliest recorded numbers of visitors for international tourism were 1.8 million arrivals with receipts of USD$0.26 billion in 1978. International hotels have grown from 431 in 1978 to 4,418 in 1996, and international tourists increased from 1.8 million in 1978 to 51.1 million in 1996. Domestic visitors increased from 240 million arrivals in 1985 to 640 million in 1996, and the revenue they generate increased from 8 billion yuan in 1985 to 164 billion yuan in 1996.

Scenic sites around Guilin extend from the Lingqu Canal in Xing’an in the north to the town of Yangshuo in the south. Most representative of Guilin scenery are the Li River, Qixingyan and Ludiyan caves, and Duxiufeng, Fuboshan, and Diecaishan hills. The Li River reflects the picturesque hills with bamboo fronds and passes a procession of peaks and waterfalls. Fishermen on bamboo rafts fish with trained cormorants.

Xiangbishan (Elephant Trunk Hill) is so named because of its resemblance to an elephant dipping its trunk in the water to drink from the western bank of the Li River. Duxiufeng (Solitary Beauty Hill) features a stairway of 306 stone steps leading to the top. Cliffs on the hill are engraved with poems of artistic and historical value written by literati throughout the dynasties. Diecaishan (Folded Brocade Hill) is lush with vegetation and honeycombed by caves decorated with calligraphy and Buddhist statuary. Fuboshan (Wave Subduing Hill), not far to the east of Duxiufeng, is also punctuated with caves.

These sites represent only a sample of the Guilin panorama. Standing out among scenic natural beauties are shanqing (verdant mountains), shuixiu (limpid waters), dongqi (peculiar caves), and shimei (beautiful rocks).

Further Reading

Guilan city facts and districts. Retrieved January 2, 2009, from http://www.prcstudy.com/guilin_city_facts_and_districts.shtml

Harper, D. (2001). National Geographic traveler: China. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society.

Kirk, M. (Ed.). (2009). China by numbers 2009. Hong Kong: China Economic Review Publishing.

Knowles, C. (2001). Fodor’s exploring China (4th ed.). New York: Fodor’s Travel Publications.

Lu, Dadao. (2004). Chinese national geography. Zhengzhou, China: Daxiang Press.

Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council & China Overseas Exchanges Association. (2006). Common knowledge about Chinese geography (4th ed.). Hong Kong: Hong Kong China Tourism Press.

Shan, Shumo, Ge, Minqing, & Sun, Wenchang. (Eds.). (1992). Famous Chinese mountains and rivers. Jinan, China: Shandong Education Press.

Xu Gang. (1999). Tourism and local economic development in China: Case studies of Guilin, Suzhou and Beidaihe. Richmond, U.K.: Curzon.

Source: Rioux, Yu Luo. (2009). Guilin. In Linsun Cheng, et al. (Eds.), Berkshire Encyclopedia of China, pp. 959–960. Great Barrington, MA: Berkshire Publishing.

Elephant Trunk Hill in Guilin City. PHOTO BY PAUL AND BERNICE NOLL.

A fisherman on the Li River in Guilin. A traditional mode of fishing in China involves the use of cormorants to catch fish. Fishermen on bamboo rafts use strong lights suspended over the water to attract the fish. The cormorants, which are tethered with rings round the base of their necks, catch the fish and then disgorge them for the fishermen (When their work is done the rings are removed so they can eat). The boats are flat, narrow rafts consisting of five or six large, round bamboo trunks tied together and upturned at the stern. The fisherman stands on the raft, using a pole to propel the boat. His cormorants perch on his outstretched arms, diving on his command. One good cormorant can feed an entire family. PHOTO BY PAUL AND BERNICE NOLL.

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