Shandan is a remote rural-service city of approximately 220,000 people, located one hour south-east of Zhangye, near the centre of Gansu Province.
Shandan’s main claim to fame is Rewi Alley: his legacy enables the city to maintain international links and host NZ delegations on a relatively regular basis. Otherwise it is likely this town would not see any foreign tourists. It is not on the main ‘tourist’ routes, but is close to Zhangye. Zhangye is a much bigger city, a population of several million, and has a number of recognised tourist attractions. Zhangye is also on the fast-train line which opened on 30 Dec 2014. This gives rapid access to Lanzhou via Xining, and further west to the tourist attractions of Dunhuang and the Mogao Grottoes.
Rewi Alley’s tomb is in Shandan, alongside that of early school headmaster George Hogg. Both city parks have memorials to Rewi. The school he started – Shandan Bailie School – is in the north of the city. It’s in an area being developed as a ‘NZ suburb’, with initial plans drawn up by Athfield architects of Wellington.
The 4 Star ‘Aili’ hotel opened in this suburb in 2014. Along side it runs the road ‘Aili highway’. The Shandan Alley Memorial museum, to house the extensive collection of artifacts Rewi donated to the city on his death, is being built (in 2015) opposite Aili Hotel. The museum collection, with a large number of old and well preserved artifacts, rivals that of the internationally famous Lanzhou ‘Gansu Provincial Museum’ and of the Xi’an museum. Nearby, the Bailie International Bailie Vocational College is being built (in 2017).
Locations in Shandan associated with Rewi Alley:
- Shandan Bailie School, Rewi Alley statue with school children, Lei Tai replica of Rewi Alley’s home
- Aili International Hotel, Aili Highway
- Tombs of Rewi Alley and George Hogg, Nanhu Park Statue
- Original Shandan Museum, or the new Shandan Alley Memorial Museum
- Shandan park
- Shilipu – Shandan Bailie School Farm
- Bailie International Vocational College: Statue of Rewi Alley and Xi Zhongxun
Shandan can be reached by train from Lanzhou or Zhangye, or by car/bus. There is an airport in Zhangye, with daily flights to Xi’an.
Shandan’s only railway station is located about 2km to the north of the town, on the main road towards Zhangye. It is serviced by local bus, taxi, or is a 20-30 minute walk from Shandan Bailie School and/or Aili Hotel.
Train tickets can be purchased at the station, or at the Post Office in town.
Shandan has local buses, costing between 1 and 3Yuan. They are useful for travelling the 7km out to Dafosi – the large Buddha complex and lake area to the west of the city.
Buses run to Zhangye, taking one hour and costing 13-14Y (2015). They leave every 10-15 minutes, starting about 6am, and finishing about 5pm. They can be caught from the bus station, or waved down as they pass – they run along the main road just to the north of the school and Aili Hotel, they will have a sign in the front window saying ‘Zhangye’ (in Chinese characters). Tickets are purchased on the bus.
Taxi’s will travel anywhere in Shandan for 6Y; private cars will do the same for 5Yuan/RMB. They are plentiful, and can be hailed from the street at any time or place.
Shandan is small enough to walk between the places mentioned.
There are no hostels in Shandan.
When to visit
Shandan can be visited year-round. It will be very cold in winter, but is usually sunny and still, so relatively pleasant; temperatures drop to -25C. Springtime it becomes much windier, and dust storms are possible. Summer is hot and pleasant, with temperature reaching 30-35C.
Current weather in Shandan can be viewed HERE
This is an agriculture area – for the winter months the landscape is a montage of gold white and brown, as snow lies of the bare earth. In spring it rapidly becomes green, the surrounding fields are irrigated so quickly crops grow and flower – in summer there are acres of yellow sunflowers on the outskirts of town.
If you plan to visit Shandan Bailie School, the school holidays are from July-August, and for 7 weeks around Chinese New Year (ie. January-February). When school is in session, there is usually a NZ teacher at the school, who will probably be delighted to have English-speaking visitors, and will be able to show you around. Contact them through the School Office, or the NZCFS.
As in all of China, it is preferable to avoid the peak holiday periods of Golden Week (1-7th October), Spring Festival/Chinese New Year (10days in January or February, exact date changes each year), and school holidays of July/August. If you are travelling at these times, you’ll need to book transport in advance, and possibly be flexible with your dates to get to the places you want. Accommodation is not normally booked out.
Other things to see in Shandan
- Dafosi, the large sitting Buddha statue and temple complex, and nearby lake, can be reached by local bus (3RMB in 2014)
- The section of Great Wall which runs between Zhangye and Shandan is particularly well-preserved – it is made of rammed earth, a very different look from the more familiar rock style often seen in photographs of the Wall near Beijing.
- With your own transport: drive over the Longshou mountains and visit Inner Mongolia (no border crossing, only a mile-marker on the road), on the southern edge of the Gobi desert.
- Visit Yanzhi mountain in summer for walks in the forest, views across the Hexi corridor, explore it’s temples. This is the only area of forest for miles around, the surrounding countryside is cultivated or desert. Public buses do go there, but are challenging to locate. Entry cost 45RMB at the main gate, other roads free.
- In winter – skifields at Minle, and north of Danxia in Zhangye.
- Visit nearby larger city of Zhangye
Links to more information:
This article is based on a report by Jane Furkert of her work: ‘An Independent Travellers’ Guide to Rewi Alley Locations in China, 2016’, that was funded by the Rewi Alley Friendship and Exchange (RAFE) Fund.