Tourism development in China is, like most other aspects of the Chinese economy, forging ahead at a dramatically impressive rate. Most of the investment is focussed on already well known and established sites, such as The Great Wall, The Terracotta Warriors, near the western city of Xian, the haunting karst limestone landscape around Guilin, in the southwestern province of Guangxi, and, of course, the numerous sites in and around Beijing, as the capital prepares for the global spotlight that will be afforded by the 2008 Olympic Games.
A disturbing trend of this burgeoning economy is the seemingly unabated migration of young people, from the less developed provinces, to urban centres like Beijing and Shanghai. This is a global phenomenon, and not one that China is alone in confronting. Indeed, to their credit, the Chinese government has taken a number of steps in order to see that the vast expanses of provincial China are not forgotten by those that flock the cities. In recent years there have been several initiatives put in place to encourage people to travel more within China. This has been assisted by an efficient, if at times overcrowded, rail and long distance bus network, that is both reliable and affordable.
There is also considerable tourist development occurring in pockets of rural China, albeit on a much smaller scale. One such destination, attracting modest investment and increasing attention from domestic tourists, is Zhongduo City in the historic town of Feng Yang, Anhui Province.
Anhui is a landlocked province that straddles the lower reaches of the Changjiang (Yangtze River). Once famous as a haven for beggars and bandits, Anhui, along with Jiangsu, Jiangsi, Zhejiang and Shanghai, fell under the control of many puppet governors who, during the Qing Dynasty and First Republic era, were strongly influenced by the then dominant colonial powers.
The terrain of this province, along with the wealth, is divided unevenly either side of the great river that carves off the famous and historic mountain resort of Huangshan, with its many preserved heritage towns, from the flatter more arable and poorer rump in the north.
Today Anhui forms an integral part of, what economists refer to as, the Yangtze River Development Zone, or Y.R.D. As part of this important developing region Anhui is well placed to benefit from the booming Chinese economy. Manufacturing and hi-tech industries are relocating from the increasingly expensive Shanghai coastal region, while labour is drawn from the less developed provinces to the west. Inevitably such development is producing a not always beneficial effect on China's heritage, but Feng Yang provides a positive model of how heritage preservation and tourism development can be managed together, for the initial benefit of the domestic tourist market.
Now a seemingly run of the mill market town, servicing the rural community, Feng Yang was once a proud and important walled city and hometown of Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming dynasty.
Zhu Yuanzhang spent his formative years in Feng Yang, where, following the death of his parents in a disastrous flood, he studied as a novice monk at Longxing Temple. Today Feng Yang boasts many sites of interest that are related to the rise of Zhu Yuanzhang and the founding of the Ming dynasty. What is said to be the tallest drum tower in all of China is situated in the centre of contemporary Feng Yang. On the southern perimeter, amidst fields of rice and corn is a, reasonably, well preserved tomb, dedicated to Zhu Yuanzhang's parents.
Here one can find excellent examples of Yuan and Ming Dynasty stone carving, particularly worth viewing are the larger than life figures of lions, goats, scholars, military men and the unique Qilin, sometimes mistakenly called a Chinese Unicorn, withs its reptilian skin and single horn folded back over its head.
The Longxing temple and monastery can be found on the northern edge of town, and although, like many other buildings of this kind, it has suffered at the hands of the invading Japanese forces and subsequently the Red Guards, during the Cultural Revolution, it is worth a visit simply to view the remarkable adobe statues and centre pieces. It is, however, the substantial remnants of the old city walls on the western perimeter, and the area contained within, known as Zhongduo City, that is currently receiving much attention in the form of an extensive renovation and rebuilding project.
The above picture (fig. 4) shows the reconstruction of an arched tunnel with elbow, while (fig. 5) below shows the reconstruction of the same tunnel from the front.
Figure 6, below, shows the three main arches, almost completed.
Figure 7, below, shows the same three arches from the front, while on the right of the foreground is a large stack of repossessed bricks to be used in further reconstruction. In the past the local peasant farmers have benefited from the abundance of ready made building material and pillaged the wall for bricks to build cottages, sheds, barns and outhouses. Now many have reaped a profit once more from the same bricks, as the government buys them back.
I addition to the renovation of historic architecture, this project is also unearthing some exciting stone relief detail, at the base of the wall. Unseen for hundreds of years, these works of art are in excellent condition and include the traditional Peony study, as seen in the newly exposed footing in figure 8 below, and the lion looking backward, figure 9. These reliefs are found separately beneath entrance ways and form long unbroken friezes at the base of the wall.
The initial intention of this project is to increase tourist traffic to the region. At present all visitors are domestic, most arriving on chartered bus trips from nearby metropolitan centres. However, it is anticipated that, with the development of Zhongduo City, Feng Yang will attract an increased number of domestic tourists, together with special interest groups from China and overseas.
David L Hume