When it comes to China, superlatives fail. “Big” means nothing because everything is big, bigger, or biggest. Yantai, with 1.7 million people in an area in excess of 5,000 square miles, was hardly even a headliner.
That was until the year 2004. It was then that China Central Television declared it to be the most “Charming City in China.” Finally, Yantai had gotten its proper respect, considering that it’s probably been in existence for 10,000 years. I guess we all missed the “ribbon cutting” ceremony.
A Bountiful Stretch of Land
Mother Nature has always smiled upon this stretch of land, except for the occasional monsoon that comes for a visit. The tropical type climate makes it ideal for bountiful gardens and farms, and the sea is rich with enough seafood to make any chef wild with glee. Some say this is due to the five dozen islands in this part of the Yellow Sea, which makes for a nutritious habitat for everything from crabs to sea cucumbers, scallops to abalones even prawns. And you probably already know about the winemaking here that dates back a full century, which is a mere blink of an eye in Chinatime. This successful industry caused Yantai to be anointed the “International Grape and Wine City”.
Now, if these weren’t accolades enough, the UN has given Yantai its stamp of approval, as well, naming it as one of the world’s most habitable places. Perhaps the people believe the streets here are paved with gold. Truth be told, this region isn’t exactly paved with gold but it definitely is sitting on streaks of gold … meaning the country’s most productive gold reserves are right here underfoot.
That’s the translation of the name “Yantai” and dates back to the 15th century. It was then that this tower was constructed high atop a hill to be incorporated into the coastal defense system used as protection against Japanese pirates. Know, too, that the city was once named Zhifu, also spelled Chefoo. This was also the name for the island that offered defense for this important deepwater port. That’s what caught the eye of the Anglo-French in the mid-19th century who developed the port to service the international trade that found its way to this part of northeast-central China.
Among other commodities such as apples and grapes, beans and silk were significant exports. In fact, Yantai was dubbed the “Silk Road on the Sea” with neighboring countries the beneficiary. It was through this thriving port that nearby nations such as Korea and Japan learned the skills and technology for such important industries as papermaking and silk processing.
All this prosperity came to a screeching halt at the turn of the 20th century when neighboring Qingdao blossomed. Also spelled Tsingtao, it was here that the Germans focused their entrepreneurial attention. Deemed to be a superior port to Yantai, a rail line between the port of Tsingtao and the surrounding area was completed in the early days of the 20th century. The situation changed again mid-century when Yantai became part of the rail network, as well. Tsingtao is a name recognized far and wide for its famous beer.
Industry flourished over time due in part to Yantai being declared an “open city.” This meant foreigners were encouraged to invest and establish commerce here. Among the many items manufactured in Yantai are such things as electronics and auto parts, wooden clocks and textiles plus all types of machinery. Locals claim that Yantai has been the biggest trading port in North China for more than 1,000 years. That’s a pretty impressive stat.
The Early Days of Chinese Culture
Historians believe that the Longshan Culture as well as the Da Wen Kou Culture had their early days in Yantai over 4,000 years ago. Also spelled “Dawenkou” this clan that lived from 3500 BC to 2500 BC left behind a wealth of cultural relics including 100 ruins of tombs, housing foundations and kilns. The Longshan Culture thrived in this region, as well. During that period, the people who originally were scattered about China in small autonomous villages began to settle instead in populated areas, with walled cities becoming the norm. Some of these cities counted as many as 50,000 inhabitants all living within the protective city walls.
Well, all this will come to life as you explore Yantai and local guides fill in some of the blanks for the last umpteen thousand years. Should you choose, instead, to visit the local winery to sample some of China’s finest vintages, you can also carve out time for this activity. Remember Yantai is famous for its Changyu winemaking that dates back a century. In fact, in 1915 a local brandy, red wine and Riesling were award winners at the Panama Pacific Exposition. Do enjoy.