Huangyao: A Mil­len­nial An­cient Town in Karst Moun­tains

China Scenic - - Contents - By Qin Nina

Among the ver­dant moun­tains found through­out the karst land­scapes of Guangxi, there is a se­cluded town that has stood for thou­sands of years. It is like a piece of raw jade, rus­tic and charm­ing in its plain­ness. In a so­ci­ety where an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture is grow­ing scarcer, in this an­cient town, called Huangyao, over 300 com­plete struc­tures from the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties can still be seen.

A Mil­len­nial An­cient Town in Karst Moun­tains

Among the ver­dant moun­tains found through­out the karst land­scapes of Guangxi Zhuang Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, there is a se­cluded town which has stood for thou­sands of years. It is not nearly as em­i­nent as the an­cient towns and vil­lages of the Jiang­nan re­gion (south of the mid­dle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River), nor does it stand out as much as those of Sichuan Prov­ince; it is in­stead like a piece of raw jade, yet to have been carved, rus­tic and charm­ing in its plain­ness. In a so­ci­ety where an­cient ar­chi­tec­ture is grow­ing scarcer by the day, in this an­cient town, called Huangyao, over 300 com­plete struc­tures from the Ming and Qing dy­nas­ties can still be seen. he an­cient town of Huangyao, lo­cated in Zhaop­ing County, Hezhou City, Guangxi, sits qui­etly among the Mengzhu Moun­tains, along an an­cient trans­porta­tion route dat­ing back more than 2000 years. This area is where the South­ern Moun­tains come to an end, the to­pog­ra­phy con­sist­ing of typ­i­cal karst for­ma­tions, fea­tur­ing karst de­pres­sions al­ter­nat­ing with moun­tain peaks.

Some say that Huangyao is like a col­lec­tion of clas­si­cal po­etry, and must be sa­vored at one’s leisure. For­go­ing stren­u­ous ex­pan­sion through­out the sur­round­ing bar­ren ter­rain, and tur­moil in tur­bu­lent days, when faced with the changes brought on by mod­ern so­ci­ety the peo­ple of Huangyao in­stead de­cided to con­tinue their lives in this tranquil moun­tain town which ap­pears to be some­thing straight out of a land­scape paint­ing. Dur­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val of 2013, af­ter hav­ing read nu­mer­ous vol­umes on the his­tory of Huangyao, I was no longer able to hold back my cu­rios­ity, so I threw down my books and headed out to see this mys­te­ri­ous an­cient town with my own eyes.

Huangyao: A Hid­den Gem on an An­cient Trade Route

there are also about a dozen pavil­ions and tow­ers, over 20 Bud­dhist and Taoist tem­ples, and an­ces­tral halls. The re­li­gious struc­tures stand along the river, and all of them are quaint in their mod­est scale, most be­ing open on three sides like pavil­ions, with slick carved stone slabs for the floors, and of­ten filled with the aroma of freshly lit in­cense. The lo­cals are also very fond of hang­ing door­way cou­plets, and over 100 an­cient in­scribed door­way tablets can be seen in the town.

Why would such a small town be home to such a large num­ber of Ming and Qing struc­tures? And what are the ori­gins of the trade route?

About 2200 years ago, when the Qin (221–207 BC) Em­peror united the Cen­tral Plains, the Qin forces spread through the South­ern Moun­tains via five dif­fer­ent routes. Among these, one route passed from Daox­ian County to Jianghua County of Hu­nan Prov­ince, then af­ter pass­ing through the Mengzhu Moun­tains it split into two routes, one of which con­tin­ued from Fuchuan County, Guangxi via the West River to Guang­dong; while the other trav­eled south­ward, from Huangyao, also by wa­ter, to Wuzhou, go­ing against the flow of the var­i­ous trib­u­taries of the West River, be­fore fi­nally ar­riv­ing in sev­eral dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions of Guangxi.

Ac­cord­ing to the records found in Map­sofzhaop­ing county, by theQing Dy­nasty Huang ya oh ad al­ready de­vel­oped into Huangyao Port, which thrived on com­merce. South­bound car­a­vans, af­ter travers­ing the Mengzhu Moun­tains to the north, would pass through Huangyao, the hooves of the horses clack­ing

Huangyao has an area of about four square kilo­me­ters, the roads are all made of flag­stone, and there are about 300 old-fash­ioned homes of var­i­ous styles, ar­ranged in pic­turesque dis­or­der. Aside from these Ming and Qing res­i­den­tial build­ings, in the town

across the cob­ble­stones to the rhythm of the vil­lage’s theater stage.

At the same time, com­mer­cial ships on the West River, af­ter hav­ing stopped at Fengkai and Wuzhou, along the vast emer­ald wa­ters, also ar­riv­ing at Huangyao. Af­ter ex­changes of goods were made on both land and wa­ter routes, each of the mer­chants would then make his own way home.

If be­gin­ning from 221 BC, when the Qin sol­diers first be­gan their jour­ney south­ward through Huangyao, the an­cient road has a his­tory of over 2200 years. And Huangyao, due to the con­ve­nience of its lo­ca­tion, be­came an im­por­tant place of con­ver­gence for mer­chants, de­vel­op­ing from a sim­ple cross­roads to a flour­ish­ing port town. The struc­tures built dur­ing Huangyao’s hey­day give us a glimpse of the pros­per­ity and promi­nence that the town once en­joyed.

An Ideal Feng­shui Ar­range­ment

Some say that the lay­out of the build­ings in Huangyao An­cient Town teems with the prin­ci­ples of feng­shui . As an ar­dent lover of go­ing out of my way to get to the bot­tom of things, I re­ally wanted to see how, among these karst peaks and basins, to cre­ate a “Eight Tri­grams city”.

Upon hear­ing that I wanted to see the lay­out of the town, our driver in­sisted on let­ting me know that the best way to get a bird’s eye view was from atop the Ge­jiang Moun­tain across the river on the south side of the town. Af­ter reach­ing the peak, I could see that nu­mer­ous other moun­tains sur­rounded the town en­tirely, with nine peaks al­to­gether, which the peo­ple of Huangyao proudly re­fer to as a “nine-dragon lair”. Among the nine peaks the most highly re­spected is

Zhenwu Moun­tain, lo­cated to the north­east, as the res­i­dents of Huangyao be­lieve that only with the town’s back to the “dragon vein” could the peo­ple there be blessed with pros­per­ity and for­tune.

Huangyao is en­cir­cled on three sides by wa­ter­ways, namely the Yao­jiang, Baozhu and Xingn­ing rivers, cre­at­ing breath­tak­ing scenery, and upon the land ris­ing from the point where the three rivers meet, the peo­ple of an­cient times built a town of which the streets were ar­ranged like the pat­tern on a tor­toise shell. The Yao­jiang River, flow­ing from the east, draws from the wa­ters of the Baozhu River then con­tin­ues south­ward, cre­at­ing an S-shaped chan­nel run­ning through the cen­ter of the town, which is where the no­tion of the town’s re­sem­blance to the Taoist yin-yang tri­gram orig­i­nates.

The teach­ings of feng­shui say that wa­ter can col-

lect qi (“ma­te­rial en­ergy”) and con­glom­er­ate wealth, and with the en­cir­clement of the three rivers in a tri­gram pat­tern are cer­tain to bring for­tune to the town. Wa­ter sys­tems that are looped or ringed in shape are known in feng­shui as “coro­nary wa­ter­ways”, and are among the most highly sought af­ter lay­outs, as they rep­re­sent in­fin­ity. In ad­di­tion, if the exit of a wa­ter­way is in the south­east, it’s even luck­ier. From a sci­en­tific per­spec­tive, a curved river with slow mov­ing wa­ter makes it con­ve­nient for the res­i­dents there to take wa­ter they need, as well as for trans­porta­tion to and from mul­ti­ple lo­ca­tions of the town.

As for the streets here, ev­ery 50 or 60 me­ters there will be a turn, block­ing your line of sight, and there are vir­tu­ally no straight paths which ex­ceed 100 me­ters. Although this lay­out aes­thet­i­cally cre­ates a sense of mys­tery of the town, I was still cu­ri­ous, since in

some places it seemed there was no topo­graph­i­cal rea­son for this, as if it was done in­ten­tion­ally…but why?

Later I read some books about feng­shui in an­cient China, and learned that in those times peo­ple be­lieved that a path lead­ing di­rectly to the door of one’s home would re­sult in qi be­ing un­able to re­main in the house, in­stead surg­ing waste­fully into the streets, which was very omi­nous. For this rea­son, the streets of Huangyao are al­ways twist­ing and turn­ing, and the res­i­dences are all built to the side of the paths, or with their en­trances placed af­ter a bend in the road. There are none of the four-way in­ter­sec­tions we are most fa­mil­iar with, most of the roads split­ting in T-shaped junc­tions, and by fol­low­ing any of the paths you will even­tu­ally reach a loop that will bring you back to the main axis road. To a vis­i­tor, get­ting around here is just like nav­i­gat­ing a maze, but this also serves a pro­tec­tive pur­pose for the local res­i­dents.

Photo/ Zhao Fuzhu

This is the Yingxiu Street of Huangyao. The name of the street in­vokes the mean­ing of“greet­ing schol­ars who passed the impe­rial ex­am­i­na­tion.”ac­cord­ing to the Countyan­nal­sofzhaop­ing , Huangyao cul­ti­vated 20 schol­ars and three of­fi­cials who suc­ceeded in the impe­rial ex­am­i­na­tions.

Photo/ Zhong Wei

The streets and lanes of Huangyao are too nar­row for cars to squeeze in so that this the town can main­tain its an­cient charm, sim­plic­ity and tran­quil­ity. On a 100 me­ters long lane, two local farm­ers are col­lect­ing their air-dried corns.

Photo/ Zhong Wei

In Huangyao, res­i­dents have a long tra­di­tion of writ­ing and hang­ing po­etic cou­plets. To­day in Huangyao, one can still find dozens of an­cient cou­plets on the door­frames of many an­cient pavil­ions, an­ces­tral halls and tem­ples.

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