In 2003 while killing time between classes, I lazily typed into Google “the most beautiful village in China” and up came a few entries, one of which was written by a local girl from a place called Wuyuan. In poor English she raved about the beautiful scenery in this remote area of Jiangxi province. The few photos that accompanied her article showed picturesque white villages of superb Huizhou Architecture and rolling green fields brightened by the stunning yellow of ripening rape seed.
In the next few weeks we will be uploading our photos of the villages in the Wuyuan area. We based ourselves in the bucolic and sleepy village of Sixi 思溪村 and spent several days hiking between villages and occasionally hiring a car to those village further afield.
Among the villages we visited were the undiscovered gems of Yancun 延村 and Hongcun 洪村 (now both very much discovered) as well as more Kaifa 开发 / developed places such as Likeng 李坑 and Upper上 and Lower下 Xiaoqi晓起.
What to do if you find yourself stuck in Nanchang 南昌 for an afternoon waiting for onward transport.
Nanchang will never win any beauty contests. In the summer it is a polluted furnace; and in the winter its a polluted grey, damp and pretty miserable place to be.
Barring some Communist Party must see memorabilia, enticing sights to visit are conspicuous by their absence and a sightseeing tour of Nanchang won’t last too long.
However, Nanchang is the capital of the much under explored Jiangxi Province, and as such, it acts as a useful transport hub for reaching some of Jiangxi’s wondrous sights, such as the area of Wuyuan, Jinggangshan, Longmen and many more; you will undoubtably find yourself passing through. So what to do?
Hang out in the Parks
There is something for everyone in Nanchang’s central parks (these photos were taken in Ren Min Gong Yuan 人民公园 people’s Park in the center of the city). A cold beer on a hot day, warm tea and opera singers brighten up any dull moment in the winter, and Taijiquan 太極拳 practise all year round.
Martial Arts masters teach young enthusiastic kids the ropes: the expert we saw had drawn a huge crowd of onlookers and his pupils must have felt like the Kung fu stars of old as people applauded their every move (especially the parents). The master was always less impressed, finding fault in everything and urging improvement and concentration.
Musicians playing traditional Chinese instruments and Chinese opera singers show off their skills in front of large spontaneous audiences.
The clanging and bashing of drums and symbols reverberate around every corner of the huge park as does the high pitch shrill of the singers.
Then there are the various Karaoke competitions. Young wannabe stars blurt out famous Chinese pop songs to mixed reactions.
A critical and discerning audience never doubted in giving the thumbs up or down. In China, that means a rapturous applause, or a stony, uncomfortable silence at the end of each song.
Peace and Quiet
For those looking for more peaceful activities, they seem to while away their time away playing Chinese chess, sipping tea and chatting to friends. And for the one day visitor, there is plenty of activity to keep you enticed during an afternoon, and if tea is not to your liking, there are plenty of vendors selling beer and snacks.
Looking out over the beautiful scenery below, swaying bamboo, azaleas and landscaped lakes, I couldn’t help congratulating Mao Zedong on his choice of a hideout: what could be better than an abundance of fresh water, healthy crops and great scenery on top? I find it difficult to believe that this was once a remote impoverished area, ripe for revolutionary mobilization. Jingganshan is where Mao and his faithful right-hand man Zhu De built up the Red Army almost from scratch, after a number of failed uprisings in nearby Nanchang and Changsha in1927.
A Brief History
Mao used his stay in Jinggangshan to put into practice his ideas on rural revolution; testing what type of peasants would support revolution – generally the poorest ones – and which peasants would oppose it. Quite often, the analysis simply came down to whether the peasant owned a pig or not. Any pig-owning peasant could be considered rich, and therefore reactionary. Besides theorizing, Mao relentlessly worked on consolidating his position in power, ruthlessly exterminating any opposition, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of loyal members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Still, Mao found his fortunes in Jinggangshan rise and fall several times. He was successful in repelling efforts by Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Army to take Jinggangshan by using guerrilla tactics to make up for the double drawback of the Red Army’s inferior numbers and the Nationalists’ modern weaponry. However, he found his position in the CCP continually challenged, especially when the party leadership was forced out of the cities and moved into Jinggangshan. They often criticised Mao over his military tactics, and eventually they won the day. Mao was sidelined and the CCP leadership, under the instruction of Russian advisors, decided to abandon the guerrilla strategy and engage the Nationalist forces head on. The consequences were disastrous and resulted in a series of heavy reversals for the Communists. Eventually, finding themselves completely surrounded, the Communist forces broke out of their Jinggangshan stronghold and embarked upon what became known as the Long March.
Today, Jinggangshan is a must- see tourist hotspot for millions of Chinese. However, the reasons for visiting have radically changed over the years. Long gone are the days when millions of Red Guards would descend upon the town to pay homage to the Great Helmsman. These days, tourists come to enjoy Continue reading “Jinggangshan 井冈山 ( The red Cradle 红色摇篮)”
As we had established on yesterday’s exploratory visit to the bus station, there were two buses, a modern one and an old one, covering the Changsha – Jinggangshan route. And, as Adam had already glumly predicted, today’s bus is the old one…
Imagine a city where the street lights, traffic lights and just about any other public amenity are made of porcelain: this is Jingdezhen, one of China’s foremost Porcelain Cities!
Here, crowded street markets flog almost anything imaginable, from plain crockery to huge, tacky vases and life-size Buddha’s, all made of porcelain, while the chimneys of the kilns belch black smoke into the sky.
Porcelain from the Imperial Kilns is what converted Jingdezhen into a household name in China and worldwide too; at least for those in the know. Production dates back well over a thousand years.
In times past, the finest pieces would be sent to the palaces of China’s emperors and the ruling elite. In the 17th and 18th centuries, Europe discovered the quality of the porcelain produced at Jingdezhen and, as a result, a huge export market sprung up, which only added to the city’s prestige.
While location and river transportation may have contributed to Jingdezhen’s growth, it is the reputed quality of the eponymous clay found at Gaoling village, just a few kilometres outside the city that has turned it into the centre of China’s porcelain industry.
Today, the business is still thriving with factories continuing to pump out a haze of dirty smoke. While most of these factories have now been moved to the outskirts, the occasional hidden kiln can still be found in what remains of the dwindling, historic old town.
Street markets sell the bulk of the cheap and roughly made porcelain goods, while plusher shops deal in the more exquisite pieces. If you are not an expert, the rule of thumb is caution, as there are apparently many fakes that abuse the trade mark ‘made in Jingdezhen’. However, there are plenty of cheap curios that make good souvenirs.
Whether you are interested in buying porcelain products or not, we certainly weren’t, as a backpacking overland trip to Tibet is hardly the ideal way of transporting a fragile vase, a visit to Jingdezhen is well worth it. For one, Continue reading “Jingdezhen (Porcelain City)景德镇”
About 3 years ago while killing time between classes, I lazily typed into Google “the most beautiful village in China” and up came a few entries, one of which was written by a local girl from a place called Wuyuan. In poor English she raved about the beautiful scenery in this remote area of Jiangxi province. The few photos that accompanied her article showed picturesque white villages of superb Huizhou Architecture and rolling green fields brightened by the stunning yellow of ripening rape seed.
Immediately hooked, I typed in the word “Wuyuan” directly into Google and found a few more entries, which enabled me to locate the place and figure out how to get there. Over the following months and years the number of entries for Wuyuan in Google increased steadily, as did my interest in visiting the area. Last year we finally had the chance to do so, and below is what we found.
Wuyuan TownThe actual town of Wuyuan is not particularly attractive; in fact, it is fairly boring. Wide avenues streets, white-tile buildings and Chinese-style town planning – i.e. a newly-built ‘traditional’ wooden bridge leading up to a giant empty square with bizarre sculptures and tacky fairy lights – have left Wuyuan devoid of any character it might once have had.
However, don’t be put off by first impressions; the town of Wuyuan is really nothing more than a gateway to a fascinating area of the same name which is home to some of China’s most charming and unspoilt villages. Moreover, if you need to spend a night here, hotels are cheap and plentiful and the restaurants around town aren’t bad.
The villages of Wuyuan are a showcase of China’s Huizhou architecture, developed by rich merchants from the area of Huangshan (as Huizhou is now known). Having made their fortunes from the relocation of the Imperial capital to Hangzhou in 1132, they wished to construct houses and temples that reflected their wealth. Huizhou mansions are two or three-storied white-washed buildings, set around one or more courtyards with sloped roofs, designed to collect the maximum amount of rainwater. Principles of geomancy were extremely important to the layout of the houses, as the merchants were interested in accumulation riches and good fortune. The collection of rainwater was symbolic of their desire for accumulation. Over time, the merchants branched out into other areas of business and spread all over China, leaving behind a legacy of beautiful mansions.
Nowadays, the valleys and hills of the lush and fertile area of Wuyuan are still dotted with whole clusters of these beautiful, white two-story buildings with eaved roofs and exquisitely carved beams and doorways. Spring is the ideal time to visit…..For more go to:HolaChina: Your Gateway to China