Datong, the largest town in north Shanxi, stands on a dusty, infertile plain which is almost 4,000 feet above sea level. It was once important as a garrison town, lying in a strategic position between the norhtern section of the Great Wall, which follows the northern boundary of Shanxi, and the southern section.
Datong first came into prominence in A.D.368, when it became the capital of the Northern Wei, a non-Chinese race known as the Tobas. During that period the town prosperedc and the Buddhist religion flowered. Magnificent Buddhist shrines were created at Yun Gang, some nine miles west of the city. Prosperity was short-lived, however, just over a hundred years after the town became capital, the sixth emperor moved the court to Luoyang(in A.D. 494), and Datong went into decline.
Toward the end of the sixth century, the empire-now reunited under the Sui–faced attack from the north and Datong reumed its importance as a garrison town. Thereafter it declined again, but in 960 the Liao overran the area and made Datong one of the secondary capitals, giving it its present name, Great Harmony. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Under the Ming it was simply a fort. The walls built during that period stand today, although parts have been torn down to allow for the spread of the population.
The nine Dragon Screen was erected early in the Ming Dynasty. The screen is constructed of glazed tiles in different colors and portrays nine dragons rising out of the sea to fight among numerous suns. The screen, which is about 150 feet long, 20 feet high, and 6 feet thick, is almost 600 years old.
There is an ornamental pool running the full length of the screen, so that you can observe the reflection of the dragons on the surface of the water. When there is a breeze the reflections move and the dragons appear to writhe.