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From top: Local residents hang their bird cages on Guide's city wall in Henan province.; Visitors can climb onto the city wall to get a good view of the old town; The former residence of Hou Fangyu is one of Guide's best preserved mansions; Traditional porcelain craftsmanship still thrives in the old town of Guide. [Photos by Liu Xiangrui / China Daily]
Ancient town of Guide offers a quiet look into the past, as Liu Xiangrui and Shi Baoyin find in Shangqiu.
Perching their beloved bird cages on the weatherworn bricks of the centuries-old city wall, a group of senior citizens gather in the open to bask in the early morning sun. As soon as we walk in through the north gate of Guide ancient town in Shangqiu, eastern Henan province, we naturally relax our pace and get in step with the slow rhythms of the place.
"Life here is rather quiet and leisurely," says 70-year-old resident Li Kaijun. He brings his eight birds in cages on a small motor tricycle to the city wall for morning exercises and returns home by noon. He is one of the town's bird lovers who take part in this daily ritual.
Exploring the town's ancient surroundings, we begin to wonder how people in times past lived here.
The town of Guide is small but carefully planned. Its main structure dates back to the early 15th century, offering visitors a rare peek into the architecture and building blocks of the ancient Chinese.
The town is one of the best preserved of its kind in the country, despite the turbulent times that spotted its history. The State Council named Guide a national historical and cultural city in 1986.
Locals say the structure of the town was originally designed according to the traditional feng shui Chinese geomancy system.
Its layout is like a giant ancient Chinese copper coin - the inner city within the wall resembling its square hole, while a river and outer enclosure form the round border.
The design is said to represent a harmonious combination of humans, the earth and heaven - in the traditional Chinese understanding of the universe, the earth is square and heaven is round.
The well-preserved city wall is 3.6 km long and has four gates facing the four cardinal directions. Guarded by water ducts on all sides, the town looks like it is sitting on a lake when seen from above.
Inside the walls are 93 streets that form a grid network similar to a chess board. Most of the streets still retain their flavor from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
The main street runs through the 1.3-sq-km inner city, connecting the north and south gates.
Local residents are proud that about 20 high-ranking officials grew up here in the past few centuries, including two feudal grand secretaries, or prime ministers. As a result, a number of mansions are scattered in the town.
Famous ones include the Hall of Regrets - the former residence of Hou Fangyu, a literary figure at the turn of the Ming and Qing dynasties. He was the hero in the masterpiece play- The Peach Blossom Fan.
The play, based on his love story with courtesan Li Xiangjun during chaotic times, moved many of its readers.
Another special building in the old city is a Western-style catholic church, with a harmonious architectural combination of Western religious structures and the old Chinese town. Local worshippers young and old fit into the combination comfortably.
Some of Guide's secluded old streets are similar to Beijing's traditional hutong alleys, and a stroll along them can help visitors forget about time. Traditional arts that are fast disappearing can also be found here.
Later, when we climbed onto the south tower gate and walked on the city wall, the marvelous view we took in included seniors playing chess and cards under the shade of the walls. The shimmering lake connected to the river that helped guard the city was dotted with more than 10 small islands, adding to the timeless tranquility of Guide.
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