I would like to tell the story of a very special day I spent recently at Mutianyu Village, just a short drive north of Beijing to the foot of the Great Wall on the first day of the Fitzpatricks China Study Tour in September 2018.
Many of my long term followers, and those who have travelled with me before in China, will know that one of the highlights of past Study Tours was the day we always spent at the Great Wall Courtyard in Jinshanling which, prior to 2008, included a night actually sleeping on the Great Wall itself, a once-in-a-lifetime experience which is still fondly remembered by the privileged few who braved the elements, rolled out their yoga mat and wriggled into a sleeping bag for a memorable night under the stars.
So, with some fear and doubts, I searched for a new experience at the Great Wall for our delegates which could at least rival the dizzy heights achieved a decade earlier and, thanks to a recommendation from my dear friends, Xisu Wang and Jeremy Perks, I booked rooms for the whole group at the Brickyard Retreat at Mutianyu Village.
I couldn’t have been happier with the result. Suffice to say that the day and night at Mutianyu was a huge success. It was a lovely sunny day, we enjoyed our usual four hour tutorial with Dr Xisu Wang which was as good as ever, we took the cable car and enjoyed two hours in relative solitude on the Great Wall watching the sun go down, and the day was perfectly capped off with a BBQ dinner by the bonfire enjoying convivial stories from all of our delegates accompanied by a bottle of wine which each had selected for the occasion. The perfect end to a perfect day.
But, in my opinion, the best part of the day was hearing from the man behind the transformation of Mutianyu Village, an American expatriate named Mr Jim Spear, who joined us for lunch at the local Xiaolumian restaurant (which translates to “Little Hut Noodles”) and told us his story.
There’s a long and short version of Jim’s bio. The long one can be found here. I hope you will take the time to read it.
The short version is that, after moving to China in 1986 to pursue a wide range of interests, especially facilitating American investment into various projects in China, in 2005 Jim Spear and his wife Liang Tang moved out of Beijing to their weekend retreat near Mutianyu Great Wall to live full-time and “to turn their peasant hut into a year-round home with modern amenities”. This began a new and inspiring journey for them.
When you spend time in rural parts of China, you become aware of a loud voice shouting slogans over a hand held megaphone which occurs from time to time. To start with you ignore it, but after a while you become more curious and start to listen, and you soon realise that they’re shouting out communist party slogans, for example “long live the communist party”, “President Xi is great” and even “Remember the teachings of Chairman Mao”. It goes on all day!
Jim tells the story of one morning in 2005, when he was sitting in his study, he heard the voice on the megaphone say “Jim Spear to go immediately to the Mayor’s Office!”. So he put on a jacket & tie and went to see the local Mayor, Li Lianting, to be told “In case you hadn’t noticed we’re having a hard time. We let you live in our community. Don’t you think you should give something back?”. It turned out that whilst thousands of tourists and visitors were coming to Mutianyu Village to climb the Great Wall and enjoy the local surroundings, very few were spending money locally due to the lack of local facilities, especially hotels, restaurants, retail outlets etc. As a result, the Village was failing to capture any economic value at a local level and the Mayor, like the leaders of all rural communities in China, was determined to do something about it.
This conversation with the Mayor completely altered the course of Jim’s life and, in the past 10 years, Mutianyu Village has been transformed from a poor rural village into a thriving tourism destination for local and international travelers, largely thanks to the efforts of Jim and his wife. You can read more about this on his web site China Bound
I asked Jim how we could help him, and his answer was to spread the word to people we know who travel to China and would enjoy a quiet few days in a spectacular rural location, with great food and five star comfort, at the foot of the Great Wall. Our stay at the Brickyard Retreat last month was far too short and I personally can’t wait to go back again for a longer stay to soak it all in and explore more widely. And I have no hesitation in recommending it to you to go and see it for yourself.
If you’d like to book in yourself, or you have questions, please visit their web site or contact:
Sales Assistant Manager, The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu
O +86 (10) 53232166
M +86 133-0115-9853
If you do go, please share your experiences with me afterwards. I’d love to hear all of them!