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Books give travellers feel of old towns of China
( 2004-01-09 10:13) (China Daily)

As this year's January 22 Spring Festival rolls closer, many urban Chinese are starting to wonder again how to get through the holiday without becoming a "couch potato,'' locked in the flickering light of their television sets.

For the Hakka people in East China's Fujian Province, this has never been a problem. For centuries, they have maintained their colourful traditions living in fortress-like mansions or closely-knit villages and towns.

The Spring Festival is a special time for them and they treasure every busy aspect of it.

Take their potato dumplings (Yuzi Jiao) for example. The locals grind potatoes into flour which they use to make lovely translucent crescent-shaped dumplings. As the dumplings lose the best part of their flavour as they cool, locals also call them ganshao, which means something like gobble them down while they're hot.

A major fun event for the Hakkas is "zou gushi,'' which is held during the Lantern Festival, which falls on February 5 this year.

The young men of different villages carry deities played by children sitting on wooden frames. After a race on dry ground, the teams dash into the shallow rivers and rush upstream. To visitors, this event is truly a Chinese carnival.

In recent years, the cultural life of these ancient Chinese towns and their surrounding villages has become a hot theme in Chinese tourism publications.

The potato dumplings and the upstream races are just two of the vivid examples given in the Guangdong and Fujian Volume of the condensed "Tour of the Old Towns of China'' (Zhongguo Guzhen You) series.

Published by the Shaanxi Normal University Publishing House last May, the collection has four other volumes: Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Shanghai, in East China; Sichuan and Chongqing, in Southwest China; Anhui and Jiangxi, also in East China; and Yunnan and Guizhou, in Southwest China.

The condensed editions are based on a previous set of books titled "Tours of the Old Towns of China,'' but include more pictures and information on culture, science, environment and other specific details that might interest a wider range of readers.

Another book, the "Chinese Old Town Gallery'' (Zhongguo Guzhen Tujian), put out by the same publishing house, has recently hit book stores, presenting readers with breath-takingly beautiful pictures by photographer Li Yuxiang.

A member of the Chinese Photographers" Association, Li Yuxiang has established himself in the field of folk customs and ancient architecture. His best-known work is the album series "Old Houses'' (Lao Fangzi).

The "Chinese Old Town Gallery'' displays some of Li Yuxiang's most memorable shots taken during his exploration of 101 ancient towns across the country.

With Li's book, tourists can pick up on touching and reflective scenes in the old towns, which they might missed during their rush to get to the next charming spot.

Another set of books published by the Sanlian Bookstore four years ago also offers rewarding reading.

Entitled "Hometown China'' (Xiangtu Zhongguo), the Sanlian books describe ancient towns which have never caught the public's attention before.

Sanlian invited scholars from various fields to visit the towns, interview the residents, carry out geological surveys, and study the towns" records.

Their consummate work has provided precious information both for leisure readers and for academic research.

In all these books, traditional straight-forward layouts have been replaced with a more lively and reader-friendly style.

The history of the Hakka people, for instance, is a very complex academic field. But with a simple map, the Guangdong and Fujian Volume in the "Tour of the Old Towns of China'' helps readers to grasp the basic idea of how the Hakka people moved from Central China to southern China during five major chaotic periods in the nation's history.

Huang Li, editor-in-chief of the "Tour of the Old Towns of China,'' says in a postscript to the series: "The old towns and cities with their eco-friendly lifestyles are disappearing.''

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