Historic town looks forward

By Tan Weiyun (Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2007-01-23 09:13

Zhangyan, a small yet important town in the annals of Chinese history, is once again being discovered by visitors attracted to its unique architecture and legends, Tan Weiyun reports.

Things have changed in Zhangyan. This small town in Jinshan District, once known for its temples that were torn down during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), has now created its own special niche in the city's burgeoning tourist trade.

Cashing in on a steady flow of visitors from nearby Jinshan Beach and Fengjing, a famed ancient town known for its architecture, locals have transformed this once plain, half-hidden outpost into a latter-day Istanbul.

Last year, Zhangyan was designated as a China Historical and Cultural Town for its rich cultural relics and long history which dates back more than 1,400 years.

Strolling along the stone-paved lanes lined with wooden teahouses built in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, one can feel as if you were walking through a time tunnel back in history.

The exquisite town, though small in area, is abundant in cultural heritage and dotted with sights of historical interest and alluring myths.

Qinwang Hill is renowned not for its unique scenery but for its age-old legends popular among the locals. It is especially scenic in spring when the rape flowers are in bloom.

The 32-meter-high hill is named after China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang (259 BC-210 BC). He built the Great Wall and was buried with the spectacular Terracotta Warriors he ordered for his death. It is said that after he won a fierce battle, Qin Shi Huang climbed to the peak and was so deeply absorbed by the magnificent landscape that he stood there for a whole day to enjoy the boundless sea in the distance.

Hiking along the winding path to the top, one will be easily shocked at the roadside's mossy, grotesque limestone towering above the blood-curdling caves that lead to nothing but the dark abyss. Even today, some local farmers still believe that one of the caves goes towards Hangzhou and that the bottom of the mountain was hollowed out, where exists an infantry regiment Qin Shi Huang left 2,000 years ago.

However, for a first-hand glimpse of the country life, one has to venture to the outskirts of the town. Farmers knee-deep in mud laboring among citrus groves and paddies laced with meandering, jade-green streams are a common sight in the authentic village life.

Yao Kunyu has been living in Zhangyan for almost 61 years. When speaking of the town, this seemingly reserved old man became suddenly talkative.

"I'm proud to be the witness and recorder of the ups and downs this town has experienced all these years," Yao said with a smile.

He is currently busy restoring Nan She, a literary association founded by Gao Tianmei who was head of the Jiangsu branch of Tongmenghui, a Chinese Revolutionary League at the start of the 20th century which aimed to overthrow the Qing Dynasty.

"Nan She can be considered as the epitome of the modern history of China," Yao said, sipping his tea. "You can clearly see how the Chinese history was flowing before 1949."

It might be difficult for visitors to relate this quiet town to an eventful place where many famous figures left their footprints in the chapters of history.

Stepping into the former residence of Gao, a two-story, rectangular wooden structure compound, intricately carved and ornately decorated, one will smell the delicate jujube tree aroma pervading from the house and its courtyard.

Though almost a century-old, the elegant interior is still well preserved and offers visitors a chance to experience a side of the old China that is often hidden to them.

The stained glass, Gothic vault and tawny ceiling decorations with an exquisite pendant lamp bespeak the host's admiration for Western culture.

The town, once famous for its ancient architecture and numerous temples, was left with almost nothing following the Cultural Revolution.

To preserve the remainder and to find a balance between the cultural heritage protection and modern development today has posed a big challenge for the local government.

Yao clearly displays his regret when talking about the demolition that took place in the town more than 30 years ago.

"I could do nothing at the time," he said, shaking his head. "But now I think it's the time for me to do something for our next generation."


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