Pre­serve Mul­ti­cul­ture and Pur­sue Green De­vel­op­ment – An Exclusive In­ter­view with Mayor Huang Zeyuan of Zhangye City

– An Exclusive In­ter­view with Mayor Huang Zeyuan of Zhangye City

China Today (English) - - CONTENTS - By staff re­porter JIAO FENG

ZHANGYE, known as Ganzhou in an­cient times and re­puted as “Golden Zhangye” to­day, is lo­cated in north­west China’s Gansu Prov­ince. It is the largest oa­sis in the mid­dle sec­tion of the Hexi Cor­ri­dor and was once the sole path to the an­cient Silk Road. Over two mil­len­nia, monks, trav­el­ers, and mer­chants of var­i­ous eth­nici - ties from East and West con­verged here. The city was thus in­stru­men­tal in pro­mot­ing East­ern and Western cul­tural ex­changes and in­te­gra ting dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups. To­day, Zhangye is home to 38 eth­nic groups – more than half of the to­tal in China. Peo­ple of var­i­ous re­li­gions and be­lief sys­tems co­ex­ist har­mo­niously here amid suit­ably di­verse styles of ar­chi­tec­ture, so form­ing a uniq ue en­vi­ron­ment of com­min­gling mul­ti­cul­ture.

Un­der the aus­pices of the Chi­nese govern­ment’s Belt and Road Ini­tia­tive, the Zhangye mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment plans to make the city an eco­log­i­cal safe shel­ter zone, a re­gional trans­porta­tion hub, a green and or­ganic agri­cul­tural prod­ucts base, and an in­ter­na­tional tourist des­ti­na­tion along the Silk Road. Huang Zeyuan, mayor of Zhangye City, in­tends to en­sure that Zhangye makes full use of its ge­o­graph­i­cal ad­van­tages and multi-cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment by adopt­ing an in­clu­sive at­ti­tude to bet­ter de­vel­op­ment in a new his­tor­i­cal era. Huang, who ma­jored in his­tory, has ex­ten­sive knowl­edge of the city’s past. He gave the China To­day re­porter an in­tro­duc­tion to Zhangye’s long his­tory and rich cul­ture, and also ex­pounded on its cur­rent op­por­tu­ni­ties and plans for the fu­ture.

Re­gional Trans­porta­tion Hub

“The Silk Road is a trade route well­trod­den by pi­o­neers be­tween East and West. Through var­i­ous busi­nesses con­ducted along it, the road evolved into a medium for cul­tural trans­mis­sion and the fu­sion of dif­fer­ent eth­nic groups. Zhangye was at the in­ter­sec­tion of the north­ern, cen­tral and south­ern routes of the an­cient Silk Road,” Huang Zeyuan said, clearly and jus­ti­fi­ably grat­i­fied at Zhangye’s ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion.

“Zhangye has the Qil­ian Moun­tains to its south, and acts as bor­der be­tween the Qing­hai-Ti­bet Plateau and the Loess Plateau. Four oases have formed out of the runoff from the Qil­ian Moun­tains. Their head­wa­ters are all lo­cated in Zhangye. The Heihe (Black River), China’s sec­ond long­est in­land river, runs through and nour­ishes Zhangye, keep­ing it fer­tile. Na­ture’s bounty has re­sulted in abun­dant pro­duc­tion and thriv­ing busi­nesses in Zhangye. From the Han (207 BC - AD 220) to the Tang Dy­nasty ( 618- 907), Zhangye was the largest trad­ing cen­ter sec­ond only to the an­cient cap­i­tal of Chang’an, to­day’s Xi’an. It was also a key stop along the Silk Road for mer­chants to trade and re­plen­ish their wares. Dur­ing the Yuan Dy­nasty (1271-1368), Zhangye was des­ig­nated the cap­i­tal city of Gansu Prov­ince, and con­struc­tion site of the coun­try’s big­gest gra­nary for army ra­tions. By the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dy­nas­ties, scores of guild halls that had been es­tab­lished in Ganzhou served mer­chants from all re­gions. Zhangye’s busi­ness cul­ture was hence a key com­po­nent of the cul­ture of the Silk Road,” Huang said.

As a main stop for re­plen­ish­ing sup­plies along the Silk Road, Zhangye ac­com­mo­dated of­fi­cials, en­voys, busi­ness­men, and em­i­nent monks such as Fax­ian (334-420) dur­ing the East­ern Jin Dy­nasty (317-420), and Xuanzang (602664) – main char­ac­ter in Wu Cheng’en’s clas­sic novel Jour­ney to the West – dur­ing the Tang Dy­nasty.

“In 1275, when he was just 19 years old, the Vene­tian mer­chant trav­eller Marco Polo vis­ited Zhangye. The Chron­i­cle of Events in Zhangye records that in the sum­mer of 1274, Marco Polo ac­com­pa­nied his un­cle to the court of Kublai Khan, Em­peror Shizu of Yuan, some­where near to­day’s Xilin Gol Grass­land in In­ner Mon­go­lia Au­ton­o­mous Re­gion, where he re­ported on the com­ple­tion of a task. As the route was im­pass­able, he stayed in Ganzhou for al­most a year. Marco Polo Street – a Euro­pean style thor­ough­fare built in 2003 – now stands in Zhangye. Walk­ing along it, vis­i­tors can get a sense of the his­tory and cul­ture

Zhangye was at the in­ter­sec­tion of the north­ern, cen­tral and south­ern routes of the an­cient Silk Road.

of the city, and ap­pre­ci­ate its open­ness and pros­per­ity in former times,” Huang said.

When talk­ing about to­day’s Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt, Huang ex­plained that in ad­di­tion to its func­tion of cul­tural trans­mis­sion, the belt is also an im­por­tant medium for eco­nomic trans­ac­tions. Zhangye is a key lo­ca­tion along it. “Un­der­ground is a pipe­line for trans­port­ing nat­u­ral gas from west to east. We also have an oil pipe­line. Above ground we have a rail­way and a high­way to trans­port coal to the east, and over­head is an ex­tra-high volt­age ca­ble to trans­fer elec­tric­ity in the same di­rec­tion. Zhangye also serves as a path­way for tourists trav­el­ing be­tween the west and the east. More­over, thanks to good nat­u­ral con­di­tions, Zhangye is an ideal lo­ca­tion for or­ganic farm­ing. Its or­ganic prod­ucts are ex­ported to re­gions in Cen­tral Asia and Europe, and are also in pop­u­lar de­mand among lo­cal cus­tomers,” Huang said.

Com­min­gled Cul­tures

Zhangye has a long his­tory and rich cul­ture. “As early as 111 BC, Zhangye was es­tab­lished as a pre­fec­ture un­der the ju­ris­dic­tion of the cen­tral govern­ment. A nexus of re­li­gious in­te­gra­tion among var­i­ous east­ern and western cul­tures, Zhangye has earned its rep­u­ta­tion as a fa­mous his­tor­i­cal and cul­tural city in China,” Huang said.

Zhangye was orig­i­nally com­posed of set­tle­ments in­hab­ited by eth­nic mi­nori­ties. In ear­lier times it was the sole route from the Western Re­gions to the Cen­tral Plains, and con­se­quently a strate­gic lo­ca­tion. In the past, sev­eral eth­nic groups, in­clud­ing the Rouzhi eth­nic group, the Xiongnu (Huns), the no­madic Rouran, var­i­ous Tur­kic peo­ples, the Tangut and Tubo peo­ples, and the Mon­gols, set­tled in Zhangye. Among them the Xiongnu, Tangut and Mon­gols ei­ther es­tab­lished their own regimes or ex­er­cised ef­fec­tive ju­ris­dic­tion. To­day, peo­ple from 38 eth­nic groups live in Zhangye, among them the Yugur, who live ex­clu­sively in China.

Zhangye was an im­por­tant node of Bud­dhism on the Silk Road from West to East. Em­i­nent monks Fax­ian and Xuanzang, re­spec­tively, passed through Zhangye and ex­pounded on Bud­dhist texts here, leav­ing a legacy of pre­cious cul­tural relics and leg­ends. The Gi­ant Bud­dha Tem­ple in Zhangye was once the na­tional tem­ple of the Western Xia Dy­nasty ( 1038- 1227). Built in 1098, the main hall is well pre­served, its style and fea­tures un­changed, which is rare in China. Zhangye has also wit­nessed har­mo­nious co­ex­is­tence of var­i­ous re­li­gions. His­tor­i­cal texts de­scribed the scenery in Zhangye as “a reedy land­scape dot­ted with pago­das.” The Trav­els of Marco Polo in­cludes a de­tailed ac­count of the re­li­gions and dif­fer­ent ar­chi­tec­tural styles of their places of wor­ship in Zhangye, ev­i­dent in churches, tem­ples and mosques. By the Qing Dy­nasty, re­li­gions prac­ticed in Ganzhou in­cluded Bud­dhism, Daosim, Is­lamism, and Zoroas­tri­an­ism.

Huang be­lieves that peo­ple of dif­fer­ent cul­tures should ap­pre­ci­ate and learn from one another. “There are Ti­betan Bud­dhist tem­ples, Han- Chi­nese Bud­dhist tem­ples, and mosques in Zhangye. Dao­ism and Con­fu­cian­ism co­ex­ist here, form­ing a multi-cul­tural en­vi­ron­ment. This makes the city more in­clu­sive of dif­fer­ent cul­tures and so of greater ap­peal to vis­i­tors from other parts of the world,” Huang said.

De­velop Green In­dus­try

Ow­ing to Zhangye’s dis­tinc­tive ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tion its eco­log­i­cal se­cu­rity is of par­tic­u­lar sig­nif­i­cance. “Any eco­log­i­cal de­te­ri­o­ra­tion in Zhangye would af­fect the Qing­hai- Ti­bet Plateau to its south and ex­pand south­ward the In­ner Mon­go­lian desert to its north. Its high al­ti­tude and droughts in land­locked ar­eas ren­der Zhangye’s eco­log­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment ex­tremely weak. As one of the most im­por­tant eco­log­i­cal se­cu­rity belts in China, there­fore, Zhangye must adopt eco-friendly eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment as a mat­ter of ur­gency,” Huang said. “We

Zhangye is an ideal lo­ca­tion for or­ganic farm­ing. Its or­ganic prod­ucts are ex­ported to re­gions in Cen­tral Asia and Europe, and are also in pop­u­lar de­mand among lo­cal cus­tomers.

need to bal­ance en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion and eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment. We also plan to de­velop tourism and cul­tural in­dus­try and make full use of our abun­dant agri­cul­tural re­sources to de­velop eco- friendly agriculture and cir­cu­lar econ­omy. On top of that, we would like to de­velop eco-in­dus­try at a mod­er­ate pace,” Huang said.

Huang ex­pounded his stand­point on tourism de­vel­op­ment in Zhangye. “Any scenic spot can be at­trac­tive if it has a cul­tural back­ground. More and more tourists come to the Hexi Cor­ri­dor be­cause the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt has po­lar­ized in­ter­est in the an­cient Silk Road. We want to make cul­ture the soul of tourism de­vel­op­ment in Zhangye. The city’s rich and col­or­ful mul­ti­cul­ture will at­tract more vis­i­tors, and through spend­ing time in Zhangye vis­i­tors get to know the city through its his­tory,” Huang said.

Huang also ob­served that peo­ple are no longer con­tent sim­ply to visit scenic spots. They also en­joy in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence, so out­door ac­tiv­i­ties are the best choice. It is far more fun to ski snow- capped moun­tains and travel off- road deserts rather than just look at them. Any­one – hiker, driver, swim­mer, or river floater – can en­joy their fa­vorite out­door pur­suits in Zhangye.

Zhangye is a tran­si­tional area be­tween the Qing­hai-Ti­bet Plateau and the In­ner Mon­go­lian Plateau. Other than an ocean, it has al­most all nat­u­ral topo­graph­i­cal fea­tures, in­clud­ing glaciers, snow-capped moun­tains, forests, grass­lands, rivers, lakes, deserts, oases, wet­lands, and Danxia land­forms. Some are par­tic­u­larly im­pres­sive. For ex­am­ple, Chi­nese ne­ti­zens have voted the Zhangye Danxia Land­form Geop­ark, with its col­or­ful rock for­ma­tions, one of the 22 most im­pres­sive scenic spots in the world. Di­verse ter­rains and land­forms pro­vide nat­u­ral con­di­tions for all kinds of out­door ad­ven­tures. Ac­cord­ing to Huang, half a mil­lion tourists vis­ited Zhangye in the year 2000. The num­ber jumped to 1.1 mil­lion in 2009 and soared to more than 10 mil­lion in 2014. “The num­ber of tourists dou­bled in the decade from 2000 to 2009, and grew al­most ten-fold in the fol­low­ing five years. Tak­ing into ac­count its boun­ti­ful nat­u­ral tourist re­sources and our ef­forts to im­prove our man­age­ment and ser­vices, we are con­fi­dent we can build Zhangye into an in­ter­na­tional tourist des­ti­na­tion,” Huang said.

When talk­ing about agriculture, a tra­di­tional na­tional strength, Huang said that Zhangye con­trib­utes half of China’s corn seed pro­duc­tion. Re­sources such as sun­shine, wa­ter, and land are suf­fi­cient, and in their best com­bi­na­tion in Zhangye. The lo­cal govern­ment plans to make the city a green and or­ganic farm­ing cen­ter, its fo­cus on pro­duc­ing corn seed, high qual­ity veg­eta­bles, fruits, and mush­rooms, as well as rais­ing beef. By strictly ob­serv­ing na­tional food se­cu­rity stan­dards and pro­mot­ing a model of or­ganic and safe food pro­duc­tion, the govern­ment plans to build a com­plete in­dus­trial chain of crop pro­duc­tion, breed­ing in­dus­try, and mush­room grow­ing and food pro­cess­ing in­dus­try, so fos­ter­ing a batch of lead­ing en­ter­prises with com­pet­i­tive prod­ucts. The aim is to make Zhangye the most im­por­tant or­ganic agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion cen­ter along the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt.

Huang Zeyuan, mayor of Zhangye City.

Zhangye Na­tional Wet­land Park is cru­cial to the city’s eco-sys­tem and plays a cen­tral role in wa­ter re­source reg­u­la­tion and con­ser­va­tion.

The Lanzhou-Urumqi Rail­way has made Zhangye an im­por­tant city along the Silk Road Eco­nomic Belt.

Lo­cally pro­duced scarves fea­tur­ing the Danxia land­form pat­tern are part of the cam­paign to dis­sem­i­nate Zhangye cul­ture through cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories.

Pho­tos by Yu Xiangjun

A flower-grow­ing base in Zhangye.

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