Guilin: Its Culture, its Landmarks, and its Fight to Stay Pure in an Era of Modernization

Guilin’s Culture

Guilin is a city in China that is internationally famous for its beautiful mountain and river sceneries and its reputation as a tourism capital in China. In fact, it was the first Chinese city to develop its tourism industry after 1949. It is also a mecca for the sport of rock climbing as well. In 2015, tourism accounted for 20% of the city’s economic output. Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon have both raved about Guilin’s enchanting wonder. Chinese history textbooks have developed a saying about Guilin: 桂林山水甲天下 which translates to “Guilin’s Landscape is the Best Under Heaven”. So, let’s check out some of Guilin’s most prominent landmarks:

Li River

The Li River is the lifeblood of Guilin’s tourism industry as it connects all of the local landmarks and allows tourists to see all of Guilin’s beauty in one leisurely boat ride. The Li River gives travelers fantastic views of surrounding karst topography and is vital to Guilin’s ecosystem as water buffalos and cormorant birds thrive in this nourishing waterway. The Li River is also simply a pathway for commuting to work for many peasants who work the rice fields around the river and for fishermen who fish in the river. Bill Clinton said that the Li River reminded him of a traditional Chinese painting and this statement proves to be more than accurate. One part of the river that was given the name Xingping was a favorite subject to paint for many Chinese artists as it was the place with some of the best scenery in all of China. In fact, Xingping is depicted on the back of the 20 RMB note. Another area of the Li River worth mentioning is the Yellow Cloth Shoal. This area of the river gives travellers the pleasure of seeing wonderful reflections which are framed by seven peaks which can be found alongside this spot of the river. Legend has it that seven fairy maidens were so attracted by Yellow Cloth Shoal that they did not want to go back to their home in the sky and instead turned themselves into mountains so that they could admire the scenery forever.

Elephant Trunk Hill

Elephant Trunk Hill is a quirky little landmark that got its name because the entire hill looks like a giant elephant that is taking a drink from the Li River. Legend has it that the hill came into being when the God Elephant and the Emperor of Heaven (who used to ride the God elephant into battle) were separated in a war. The elephant was severely injured and was stranded in Guilin. Thankfully, an old couple nursed the elephant back to health and even though the elephant was healthy enough to leave, it chose not to because it fell in love with Guilin. Eventually, it turned into Elephant Trunk Hill. Today, the hill has a pagoda and an ancient temple located on it. Also, there is a high tech, nightly laser light shows that use the body of the hill as a projection screen to project stories about Guilin onto the mountain for all visitors to see and become awestruck by.  

Reed Flute Cave

The Reed Flute Cave is a magnificent and breathtaking water eroded cave that is located on a stream which feeds into the Li River. It has an incredible collection of rock formations located inside of it including stalactites and stalagmites. Each rock formation has been given a name and one is even said to resemble the Statue of Liberty! Along the sides of the cave, there are inscriptions which were inscribed by scholars of the Tang Dynasty. The most famous section of the cave is the Crystal Palace of the Dragon King chamber which is said to contain the petrified remains of the Dragon King’s ancient army which consisted of snails and jellyfish.


Yangshuo is a quaint little village located just outside of Guilin along the Li River that exquisitely merges Old Chinese culture with new. Popularized in the 1980s by Lonely Planet, Yangshuo is noted for its remarkable location along China’s countryside next to wonderful scenery. Visitors to Yangshuo will often grab a bicycle to explore the countryside or hike up one of the nearby peaks. However, Yangshuo is also famous for its night-life as well. The world-renowned West Street is lined with Western cafes, restaurants, and hotels. West Street is also a place where tourists can shop until they drop. All of these factors contributed to Yangshuo’s title as ninth-best place to visit in all of China according to Tripadvisor.

Guilin’s Environmental Struggle

Although Guilin and its surrounding areas have been noticed for their beauty since ancient times, this honor is coming under attack in recent years due to increased Chinese urbanization. Construction companies and locals are depositing waste into dumping grounds located beside major Guilin rivers like the Cha River. Unfortunately, when these rivers flood, the garbage gets swept into the rivers. Instead of being pristine and pure, some of Guilin’s rivers have now turned a sickly shade of green and contain copious amount of plastic in them. People even have been known to dump dead wildlife directly into parts of the rivers where people drink out of. Thankfully, forces have intervened to stop this massive issue. Officials have begun to build flood barriers, wastewater treatment plants, and formal landfills. They have also relocated industries away from the water.



I would like to end by saying that Guilin is clearly a vibrant city that is rich with culture and wonderful landscapes and that progress and environmental sustainability do not have to be mutually exclusive when considering the future of Guilin.


Reed Flute Cave

There are 3 comments

  1. Daryn N

    This seems like a truly interesting place that I would love to visit. If I am given the incredible opportunity to travel to Guilin, I hope I fall as in love with it as the characters in the fables do, like the fairies and the elephant. It is so sad that such a beautiful place is facing such bad environmental challenges.

  2. Meghna S

    The descriptions of the beautiful geographical features of Guilin really had me in awe. I had never heard of this city in China before, and it truly seems like a wonderful place to travel to. It was absolutely heartbreaking to discover that pollution due to urbanization is damaging the health of the rivers in this part of China, and I hope that action is being taken in order to at least slow down the environmental damage happening.

  3. Nathan Davis

    I think this article is very interesting. The battle between nature and industrialization has been raging since the late 18th century and the question continues to be asked to this day. The fact that the beautiful natural features of Guilin can be threatened due to human interactions is very sad. I think that the natural beauties of the world should be preserved and Guilin is a great place to start.

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