A PLACE FOR EX­PLO­RATION An­cient China’s most cel­e­brated travel writer and ge­og­ra­pher con­trib­utes to Jiangyin’s ap­peal. Cang Wei and Erik Nils­son re­port in Jiangyin, Jiangsu prov­ince.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - TRAVEL | LIFE - The Travel Diaries of Xu Xi­ake,

Jiangyin’s sta­tus as the home­town of an­cient China’s most fa­mous trav­eler has made it a modern des­ti­na­tion for trav­el­ers from around the world.

Such con­tem­po­rary at­trac­tions as China’s rich­est vil­lage, a horse mu­seum and tra­di­tional neigh­bor­hoods also lure ex­plor­ers to the ex­plorer’s home­town.

But an­cient ad­ven­turer and ge­og­ra­pher Xu Xi­ake re­mains a main draw.

The county-level city in Jiangsu prov­ince is cel­e­brat­ing the 430 th birth an­niver­sary of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) lu­mi­nary, whose 2.6 mil­lion-word trea­tise,

is still widely read.

He spent over three decades roam­ing through­out 16 im­pe­rial prov­inces, chron­i­cling his ex­plo­rations in de­tail. His diaries be­long to the an­cient cat­e­gory of “travel lit­er­a­ture” that’s known not only for tak­ing travel as its sub­ject but also de­scrib­ing au­thors’ ex­pe­ri­ences with nar­ra­tive prose.

He was born to a wealthy fa­ther, who pre­ferred na­ture to power — and par­tic­u­larly, land­scapes over of­fi­cial po­si­tions.

Xu took af­ter his dad. He en­joyed books on his­tory, ge­og­ra­phy and ad­ven­ture. He es­pe­cially en­joyed read­ing about China’s moun­tains and rivers. The child de­cided he’d see them him­self when he grew up.

He took the im­pe­rial exam at age 15. He failed.

His fa­ther en­cour­aged him to study out of in­ter­est rather than a de­sire for sta­tus.

Xu’s dad died when he was 19. The son re­mained in Jiangyin out of fil­ial piety un­til age 22, when he set off to dis­cover the outside world — with his mother’s bless­ings — in the spring of 1607.

He not only recorded his ex­pe­ri­ences but also doc­u­mented such ge­o­graph­i­cal and top­i­cal fea­tures as gorges and min­eral beds with sci­en­tific ac­cu­racy.

Xu is cred­ited with dis­cov­er­ing the Yangtze River’s head­wa­ter.

Peo­ple of­ten visit his for­mer res­i­dence in Jiangyin. Cel­e­brated cal­lig­ra­phers have in­scribed stone tablets with pas­sages from The Travel Diaries of Xu Xi­ake.

The Xu Xi­ake In­ter­na­tional Tourism Re­sort is sched­uled to open in the city in 2020.

Tourism au­thor­i­ties say it re­ceived a to­tal in­vest­ment of about 30 bil­lion yuan ($4.4 bil­lion) and fore­cast it’ ll at­tract 3 mil­lion to 5 mil­lion vis­i­tors a year.

Plan­ners will de­sign is­lands with dif­fer­ent mo­tifs from Xu’s writ­ings, in­clud­ing a theme park, cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences and a wet­land area.

The city also hosted the 12th Xu Xi­ake In­ter­na­tional Trav­el­ing Fes­ti­val in May.

But the cel­e­brated trav­eler isn’t the only rea­son peo­ple travel to Wuxi.

The county also con­tains Huaxi — China’s wealth­i­est vil­lage. Res­i­dents live in posh vil­las and own cars. Grand stat­ues line the street.

The Hailan Horse Cul­ture Mu­seum claims to be the world’s only horse-cul­ture mu­seum. And its equine res­i­dents are well pam­pered — and “dressed” (many manes are braided by hair­dressers).

It set a Guin­ness World Record as the club with the great­est di­ver­sity of horse breeds.

The 8,700-square-me­ter mu­seum that opened last year hosts 48 horses of 47 breeds from around the world. It also con­tains art­works, in­ter­ac­tive dis­plays and a dres­sage- per­for­mance area. That’s not to men­tion a shop­ping mall.

The mu­seum and sur­round­ing build­ings are con­structed ac­cord­ing to Euro­pean con­ven­tions. It has sparkling chan­de­liers, grand car­peted stair­cases and gold ceil­ings.

It’s a far cry from the aes­thetic of Chang jing Road, where res­i­dents live in build­ings that bor­row ar­chi­tec­tural sen­si­bil­i­ties from both the north­ern and south­ern Yangtze River Delta, since in­hab­i­tants are de­scen­dants of An­hui prov­ince and neigh­bor­ing Wuxi city.

The homes that crowd against a kilo­me­ter-long canal hail to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (16441911) dy­nas­ties.

The area also hosts the Dafu Silk Worm Field, the Zhang Dalie Folk Mu­seum and the child­hood home of clas­sic film star Shang­guan Yun­zhu, who ap­peared in 30 movies decades ago. (The house has been con­verted into a shrine to the celebrity.)

While moder­nity and ur­ban­iza­tion re­con­fig­ure the world — with par­tic­u­lar fe­roc­ity in China — Chang jing isn’t likely chang­ing much any time soon.

But the city’s his­tory is per­haps best dis­played at the Jiangyin Mu­seum.

Ex­hibits in­clude China’s old­est ex­ca­vated med­i­cal in­stru­ments, dat­ing to about 1410 BC, a 5,000year-old skeleton and witches’ charms — plus a can­non used to de­fend Jiangyin from the in­vad­ing Eight-Na­tion Al­liance in 1900.

And, of course, there are sec­tions de­voted to Xu Xi­ake.

Con­tact the writ­ers at cang­wei@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Zhu Jing­wen contributed to this story.

PHOTOS PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

The for­mer res­i­dence of the cel­e­brated Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) trav­eler Xu Xi­ake, who spent over three decades roam­ing the coun­try while chron­i­cling his ex­plo­rations in his 2.6 mil­lion-word trea­tise, TheTrav­elDiariesofXuXi­ake.

The Jiangyin Fortress, once the site of a 1949 up­ris­ing against the Kuom­intang, is now the Jiangyin Mil­i­tary and Cul­tural Mu­seum.

Huaxi vil­lage in Jiangyin is also known as the “Num­ber One Vil­lage Un­der The Sky”. It’s China’s wealth­i­est vil­lage.

A horse show at the Hailan Horse Cul­ture Mu­seum, which claims to be the world’s only horse-cul­ture mu­seum.

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