Where rivers are pure and the sac­ri­fi­cial ducks are plas­tic

It takes some ef­fort to get to Huichang county, Jiangxi prov­ince, but it’s worth it

China Daily European Weekly - - Spotlight - By CHEN NAN

It’s un­likely to be on many peo­ple’s list of “Ten places I must seen in China be­fore I die.”

In fact, Huichang county in Jiangxi prov­ince is so out of the way that it takes two hours to get there from the near­est big air­port, in Ganzhou, and its in­hab­i­tants are gen­er­ally per­ceived to be poverty-stricken.

How­ever, once you set foot in Huichang you will find your­self sur­rounded by green moun­tains and rivers with clear wa­ter, breathing pris­tine air and get­ting a pro­found in­sight into China’s Taoist cul­ture.

Huichang county, which neigh­bors Fu­jian and Guang­dong prov­inces, sits at the con­flu­ence of two wa­ter­ways, which form the Gan­jiang River, a ma­jor branch of the Yangtze River, in Nan­chang, Jiangxi’s cap­i­tal. In an­cient times peo­ple from north­ern China used these rivers to travel and trade.

The county cov­ers about 2,700 square kilo­me­ters and has a pop­u­la­tion of 527,000. It is widely known as one of the old rev­o­lu­tion­ary bases, one that made a great con­tri­bu­tion in the found­ing of the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China.

In 1934 Mao Ze­dong lived in Huichang for a month and he climbed Huichang Moun­tain, which in­spired him to write a poem in which he pro­claimed that “the scenery here is uniquely good”.

One of the best-known scenic spots is Hanx­i­anyan, a moun­tain­ous re­gion cov­er­ing 42 sq km, which has about 100 tourist at­trac­tions.

It was here that Han Zhongli, a le­gendary Chi­nese char­ac­ter and one of the Eight Im­mor­tals of Tao­ism, lived. Its steep, rocky and wooden steps are pop­u­lar with hik­ers.

One of the lo­cals, Zhou Wen­rong, 83, was in the news re­cently for of­fer­ing tourists free cups of tea for 24 years.

Apart from its Tao­ism, what makes Huichang unique is its folk cul­ture. About 95 per­cent of its peo­ple are mem­bers of the Hakka eth­nic group, one of the high­est con­cen­tra­tions in the coun­try. Hakka is the Can­tonese pro­nun­ci­a­tion of the Man­darin word ke­jia.

Since 2015, a big folk cul­ture fes­ti­val has been held in Huichang to cel­e­brate its folk tra­di­tions and this nat­u­rally at­tracts tourists.

On Aug 26 an open­ing event was held at the Laigong Tem­ple and thou­sands of Huichang res­i­dents at­tended. At the tem­ple they wor­ship the lo­cal god, Laigong, and pray for health and wealth. The wor­ship of Laigong is a ritual that has been passed down over about 500 years.

Af­ter the folk per­for­mance and wor­ship rit­u­als there was a pa­rade that took in the down­town area of the county.

Cai Weip­ing, an of­fi­cial of Huichang’s pub­lic­ity de­part­ment, said one of the big events dur­ing the wor­ship cer­e­mony was ducks be­ing sac­ri­ficed out­side the tem­ple. How­ever, in 2015 lo­cal of­fi­cials de­cided it was time to end the cus­tom and or­dered the man­u­fac­ture of pa­per and plas­tic ducks to re­place real ones.

The change was par­tially trig­gered by the US-born, Tai­wan­based di­rec­tor and play­wright Stan Lai, who for the past two years has been stag­ing his plays in Huichang. The plays have en­joyed phe­nom­e­nal suc­cess in the county, his fa­ther’s home­town.

“To my amaze­ment, they went ahead and made these plas­tic ducks and gave them to any­one who would vow not to kill their ducks, and so I saved the lives of about 35,000 ducks last year,” Lai says.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials have also made an ef­fort to re­duce the use of fire­works as a way of min­i­miz­ing air pol­lu­tion.

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