A De­fen­sive De­sign: Nat­u­ral and Man-made Fea­tures

China Scenic - - Destination -

Be­ing lo­cated next to both moun­tains and wa­ter, Huangyao is well suited for both liv­ing and de­fend­ing. With the lim­ited crop­land out­side the town be­ing of great value, all of the homes, both large and small, are con­cen­trated within the town, on ei­ther side of the river. At the foot of the moun­tains there is only a nar­row strip of un­even land, which is cov­ered in stone, and the peo­ple of Huangyao built their struc­tures in lay­ers up the side of the moun­tain, atop the rocky ground. They say this stair­case style of stack­ing homes up­ward rep­re­sents “con­stant im­prove­ment”.

Huangyao once had walls sur­round­ing its perime­ter, but to­day the north strip by the east gate tower has com­pletely fallen into ruin, and is dif­fi­cult to rec­og­nize as it in­ter­min­gles with the homes, leav­ing the south side as the only ex­tant por­tion of the wall. If in the mid­dle of the road you see a two-level struc­ture, it’s sure to be an an­cient gate. The gates were once used for keep­ing watch as peo­ple passed through be­low, with an outer door of sturdy cam­phor­wood boards, and the in­ner door con­sist­ing of a round Chi­nese fir fence gate. The gate is sur­pris­ingly small and nar­row, al­low­ing only two peo­ple to pass through abreast, so that a bat­tal­ion of troops would take a con­sid­er­able amount of time to en­ter the town, thus fur­ther im­prov­ing the town’s de­fen­sive­ness.

Aside from the city gates, in Huangyao there were once also more than 30 drop gates con­structed on the streets and at the in­ter­sec­tions. The pur­poses of these gates were to pro­tect from in­vaders and in­ter­cept would-be ban­dits; once the town was breached, the drop gates could be closed, so that the ban­dits could be taken care of like fish in a bar­rel.

Some may won­der, if there was a large group of ban­dits, then wouldn’t the res­i­dents liv­ing within the con­fines of the drop gates be like sit­ting ducks? Faced with such risks, the peo­ple of Huangyao have long since come up with counter-mea­sures. When con­struct­ing the court­yards of the town’s homes, the outer walls ad­ja­cent to the street were con­nected, while the walls sep­a­rat­ing the court­yards were built with door­ways in be­tween. When the drop gates

were closed and the outer door­ways were sealed, the streets be­came an en­closed area, but the court­yards were still con­nected, so that the res­i­dents could eas­ily gather and strike against the ban­dits, and the women and chil­dren could also es­cape and hide.

Huangyao, with moun­tains at its back and rivers on all sides, is a trea­sure of a lo­ca­tion blessed by na­ture, and the town, drop, court­yard and wall gates are the re­sult of the wis­dom of the res­i­dents there as they sought to pro­tect their beloved home.

The Grape­fruit Lan­tern Fes­ti­val: A Hol­i­day Unique to Huangyao

In Chi­nese tra­di­tion, the 15th day of the 7th lu­nar month is the Ghost Fes­ti­val, on which day, ac­cord­ing to leg­end all of the ghosts and spir­its of the un­der­world would be re­leased, so most of the com­mon folk would hold events in wor­ship of their an­ces­tors and other spir­its. In my home­town, Guilin of Guangxi, the hol­i­day is called the “Half of the 7th Month”; when this day ap­proaches the adults do not al­low chil­dren to go near wa­ter, scar­ing them by say­ing ghosts will come out of the wa­ter to look for new bod­ies, so as a re­sult all the chil­dren are very fright­ened of this fes­ti­val. But in Huangyao, on the day be­fore the Ghost Fes­ti­val they have a hol­i­day called the Grape­fruit Lan­tern Fes­ti­val, when they will make fes­tooned boats and grape­fruit lanterns in wor­ship of the River God .

How did the Huangyao Grape­fruit Lan­tern Fes­ti­val come to be? The el­der host­ing the lan­tern-mak­ing ac­tiv­ity told me that, ac­cord­ing to leg­end, since Huangyao is lo­cated in a basin of low el­e­va­tion, ev­ery time there is a heavy rain or flood, much wa­ter will col­lect there. In an­cient times, Huangyao was of­ten plagued by floods, so in the town ev­ery year folks would of­fer hu­man heads to the River God and venge­ful spir­its, then even­tu­ally the hu­man heads were re­placed with grape­fruits.

For this year’s Grape­fruit Lan­tern Fes­ti­val, I made a spe­cial trip to the town just to ex­pe­ri­ence it for my­self. On the morn­ing of the fes­ti­val, the town res­i­dents were pre­par­ing to hang their lanterns. Out­side Xingn­ing An­ces­tral Hall, I saw a few town folks mak­ing frames with thin bam­boo strips, which re-

minded me of those old-fash­ioned TV an­ten­nas that look like fish bones. They com­pleted seven or eight frames about three or four me­ters in length, which, I was told, were to be hung with 108 grape­fruit lanterns. In no time at all, sev­eral dozen grape­fruits had been com­pletely peeled, the white flesh of the fruit ex­posed. The able-handed lo­cals skew­ered them on the bam­boo strips in sets of three, then used a length of red ny­lon rope to fas­ten them to­gether.

By the af­ter­noon, each of the tem­ples and shrines in the town were filled with the noises of fes­tiv­ity. Small groups of peo­ple who lived to­gether un­der the same roof would carry an abun­dant col­lec­tion of goods, which they would of­fer at each of the shrines in suc­ces­sion.

At some point the lanterns lin­ing the streets were lit, and the lo­cals flooded into the streets along with the evening dark­ness. The first peo­ple to grow bois­ter­ous were the chil­dren, who hur­riedly put down their din­ner bowls and chop­sticks, and called to their friends as they ran to the river­side. At this time ei­ther side of the Yao­jiang River was crowded with town peo­ple in wor­ship. Drums, gongs and fire­crack­ers sig­nalled the be­gin­ning of the lan­tern re­lease ac­tiv­ity. Sev­eral youths placed a painted boat in the river, fol­lowed by the “grape­fruit racks” trail­ing scores of me­ters long be­hind, each of the 108 lanterns now lit.

The team in the wa­ter de­parted from Baozhu Taoist Tem­ple, and headed down the river to the bank just ahead of Xingn­ing An­ces­tral Hall. An el­der read some prayers, ex­press­ing the town peo­ple’s hopes that Huangyao would en­joy fa­vor­able weather, and that they would be healthy and happy. Af­ter the group wor­ship cer­e­mony had ended, the chil­dren rushed for­ward, pluck­ing each and ev­ery one of the grape­fruit lanterns from the wa­ter. The chil­dren who grasped a lan­tern in hand would raise their heads high, as if what they held was not a grape­fruit, but a pro­tec­tive tal­is­man of the River God.

Photo/ Huang Xuhu

On the 15th day of the 7th lu­nar month, res­i­dents of Huangyao have a unique Ghost Fes­ti­val, pray­ing for the hap­pi­ness for the peo­ple and a good har­vest that year.

Photo/ He Faqing

The Dai­long Bridge is a nec­es­sary cross­ing along the route of crowds par­tic­i­pat­ing in the sac­ri­fi­cial cer­e­mony on the Ghost Fes­ti­val. Such a tra­di­tional event re­mains un­changed and alive amongst the an­cient streets and bridges of Huangyao.

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