From our diary: August 2003
Anshun Sunday Market used to be one of the biggest and most spectacular in China. However, China has changed so much and so rapidly over the last twenty years that trying to make sense of what has been happening can be almost impossible. In such a short space of time China has been catapulted from a largely agrarian society into a modern industrial and high tech country. While pockets of old China remain, evidence of modernization reaches even the most remote corner.
If the old doesn’t go, the new won’t come
The Chinese have a saying: If the old doesn’t go, the new won’t come ( 旧的不去，新的不来， jiù de bù qù , xīn de bù lái ). Nowhere is this saying more appropriate than when used to describe the virtual disappearance of the Sunday Farmers Market in Anshun; a quirky barometer to show just how far and fast China has changed.
just over a decade ago hordes of peasants, farmers and merchants, who made make up a vast array of a jack of all trades, would descend upon the Sunday market in Anshun in their thousands to sell their wares and ply their goods:
The Traders and their Customers
Some would produce their wares on the spot; basket makers, tobacco pipe craftsmen, chili sauce grinders all jostled for space with sellers of human hair, street dentists and Taoist soothsayers.
Professional pickpockets took advantage of non-too street wise peasants from the countryside to relieve them of their hard earned profits.
It was organized bedlam that now, due to modernization, has been reduced to a few dilapidated streets and left waiting for the final death knell.
Below is our account from our diary of the first of our three visits to Anshun’s Sunday Market 安顺星期七农民市场. Some of the photos are from our later visits in 2005 and 2007.
Anshun 2003 安顺星期七农民市场
The receptionist looked at us with a puzzled expression and asked: “What market?”.
“The Sunday market”, I replied, almost in despair, in my faltering Chinese. My spoken Chinese tends to lose a lot of its coherence when the reply to a question is not at all what I’m expecting.
“There are some good shops near the bus station, all the tourists go there”, she insisted.
“No not those; we have already seen those”, I responded.
“Oh I don’t know. There is a local market where all the villagers come to buy and sell their products, but you wouldn’t be interested in that one; there are no souvenirs, or anything else for foreigners to buy”.
Locating the Market
“Yes, that’s the one!”. I could have given her a hug. “How do we get there?”
The city of Anshun, a mere two-hour bus ride away from Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, is a pretty ordinary modern town.
Nowadays, its new concrete buildings are encroaching relentlessly upon the few remaining pockets of old wooden architecture.
Worth the trip
However, we had been told that Anshun’s Sunday market was well worth seeing and, as it turned out, we were not disappointed.
Compressed into the north-western part of town, the market mostly follows one long street, spilling over into side streets and small squares.
All goods are rigorously divided into sections: there is a square for vegetables and chillies, an alley dedicated to tobacco and pipes, a hairdressers’ and dentists’ corner, streets full of artisans, another square where carpenters work on wooden and wicker furniture, etc. etc.
Watching the artisans at work is fascinating, especially now that so many of the old trades have become redundant and have almost disappeared from the modern cities.
Here, you can still observe street dentists extracting a tooth, see people having their bodies cupped, or watch a bearded sage selling ancient Taoist tracts.
You can try and guess which of the five bamboo poles that the farmer is carefully inspecting and testing, he will eventually buy. Marvel at how quickly the wicker workers can put together a chair or a basket.
Encourage groups of young men pounding mounds of chillies into a pulp. Work out how much that mass of human hair, lying on a set of portable scales, might be worth.
Finally, you might also catch a professional pickpocket at work, using a giant pair of tongs to extract a purse or wallet from his unsuspecting victims.
A sea of blue.
However fascinating the artisans are, the real highlight of this market are the people. Anshun is the heartland of the Bouyi ethnic group, whose origins are Thai, and who are related to Guangxi’s Zhuang nationality.
Many of the Bouyi, as well as a few Miao, come to the market, dressed in their Sunday finest, for a few hours of hectic buying and selling.
Most of the women wear indigo blue tunics over baggy black trousers and aprons. On their heads they wear black or white headscarves, folded into small turbans.
A few of the younger Bouyi girls wear brighter colours, such as turquoise or light-green, and combine their traditional clothes with high-heeled shoes, creating quite a stylish and fashionable look.
The Old Men
The older men tend to dress in blue Mao jackets and cloth caps. Many of them have distinguished long grey wispy beards and smoke elongated and extravagantly carved pipes.
Try and find a quiet spot from which to observe this blue-grey sea of shoppers and traders, pushing and shoving their way through the jam-packed, narrow streets.
Most of the time you will pass unnoticed, as the people are so engrossed in their shopping; other times you might become the actual focus of attention, as many of the Bouyi from further afield have rarely seen foreigners.
What to eat
Food at the Sunday market is not that appetising: fiery dog- meat hot pots and other such local specialities very much dominate the menu. It might be worth waiting for the excellent daily night market to set up its stalls to enjoy a decent meal.
What to buy
Finally, as far as shopping is concerned, our receptionist was right: apart from the delicately carved tobacco pipes and rustic wicker products the market hasn’t got much to tempt travellers with.
If you really want to buy something in Anshun, you are better off going to the shops on Nanhua Lu, next to the bus station.
Here you can find a good selection of Batiks, a Bouyi and Miao speciality, such as wall hangings, table cloths, ethnic jackets and bags at a fraction of the price you will be charged in touristy places such as Kunming or Dali, or around Beijing’s Houhai lake.
Other Anshun Attractions
The countryside surrounding Anshun is dotted with Karst Mountains, jutting out the ground, with the medieval, stone villages of the Bouyi nestled in between. Some of these, such as Shitou Zhai and Tianlong, have become tourist attractions in their own right and can easily be visited by bus.
Moreover, some 64 kilometres from Anshun is Guizhou’s number one tourist site and China’s most famous waterfall, Huangguoshu. In full flood the waterfall is a spectacular sight, while the surrounding area, with other, smaller falls and little villages, offers wonderful opportunities for walking and exploring.
Coming and going:
Anshun is easily reached by frequent buses from Guiyang. It is also on the Guiyang – Kunming train line. Moreover, buses link Anshun to the interesting town of Xingyi (starting point for exploring the Maling Canyon) and other destinations in the remote western part of Guizhou.
Update; Anshun is now connect by high-speed trains to various parts of China.
Places to stay:
In recent years, Anshun has been put firmly on the Chinese tourist trail, not for the market but because of the waterfalls, and hotel prices have risen accordingly.
Bear in mind that at weekends and especially during the summer months the city can get quite full and finding a reasonably priced room may take a while. Most of the hotels that feature in the popular guidebooks seem to be eternally full.
We stayed at the clean, bright and friendly Huayou Binguan n Tashan Xilu (tel. 322 6020) , excellent value for 150 Yuan. The hotel is in the centre of town, to the left of the roundabout on Tashan Donglu. Unfortunately, it was completely full on our last visit.
In 2007 we really had a hard time finding a room. Eventually we were pointed to the huge Fu Yun Hotel, right next to the bus station on Guihuang Gonglu lu. Light, airy rooms, arranged around an atrium, were 210 Yuan, a modest breakfast included. Staff were extremely friendly.
Other cheap options that may have vacancies are the Ruo Fei Binguan on Nanhua Lu, and the Anju Binguan next to the train station.
Places to eat in Anshun:
There are restaurants all over town, but nothing beats the night market. Try one of the many tents, where you can roll your own pancakes with an incredible selection of cold vegetables, pickles and noodles. The hot pots are good too, though they are not for those with a weak stomach. The food is spicy enough in Guizhou to rival any of its neighbouring provinces, such as Sichuan or Hunan.
For vegetarians there is a real treat, something that seems unique to Anshun: at the top end of Gufu Jie there are two tents that specialise in vegetable pancakes. For 4 Yuan you get ten small pancakes that you can stuff with any of the vegetable fillings, meticulously prepared and attractively laid out on plates. Sauces and chilli are provided for dipping.