“Compared with the powerful and torrential Yangtze River, the Hanjiang River is limpid and joyful. She runs peacefully from the Bozhong Mountains of Shaanxi to Wuhan, singing, moving around the mountains, and bending through the canyons. Hanjiang River would flow to the sea if it weren’t for the Yangtze River lying before her, dictatorially terminating her independent journey. As one who pursues self reliance and freedom, Hanjinag River refuses to lose herself, and strives to find a way out…”
Fang Fang wrote so about the personality of the Hanjinag River in the beginning of The Vicissitudes of Hankou, a book about the past stories of local Wuhan.
Yangtze River and Hangjiang River merge and run together to the sea. So, stories which spread in local Wuhan are closely related to these two great rivers.
Zhiyinhao is one of the ships that sails up and down the rivers, silently experiencing the rising tides and ebbing levels, seeing the birds wandering above the sad and happy faces of Wuhan people. It is a theme ship based on the prototype of Jianghua, a ship forged by Wuhan Minsheng Shipping Company in the early 20th century. Built strictly according to the old fashion, Zhiyin has a rounded bow, two old-type chimneys, and more than 300,000 rivets. She can bring you back for a moment to the 1930s.
According to what Fang Fang narrates, buildings totally different in style from the local warehouses, workshops, and bungalows “appeared along Yangtze River as rapidly as the wind”. After the opening of the port in Hankou (a District of Wuhan), she said, “Locals who lived far from the sea and thus knew little about abroad were greatly stunned by the lifestyle, the material civilization, and the cultural customs of the western world.”
The shock didn’t last for long, though. Wuhan, as a port city, has rooted its open and inclusive culture into its people’s mind. In the process of economic and urban modernization, Wuhan mixed its traditional culture with western culture. Wuhan not only accepted the gardens, the western-style houses, the race course, and the ballrooms from the West, but also became the second biggest city after Shanghai around the Revolution of 1911.
The Republican period (1911-1949) has witnessed the most glorious time in Wuhan’s history. It is a period of war and also a period of peace when merchants from different places bustled about and talents of different nations were jammed.
Now, Zhiyinhao, seemly a living witness from that past period, is here to tell us about the old Wuhan. “Breaking news! Breaking news!” At the ticket entrance, a newsboy cries, giving an extra of a newspaper printed vertically and written with traditional Chinese characters to each tourist. This is what you are going to see when you arrive at the wharf of Zhiyinhao.
“Look, we have a ‘drifting multidimensional drama’ on Zhiyinhao, it’s definitely fascinating!” said the boy.
If you walk forward following the crowd, you will see a trestle bridge connecting the wharf and the pontoon. The place looks like a busy market with the old stone mill, an oldstyle newspaper stall, the jinrikisha, vintage cars, the blocky wooden floor, and the street vendors peddling local papercuttings and embroideries. All these together restore a realistic scene of the old Hankou Wharf, reminding tourists that they have stepped into a totally different space.
“Look, isn’t she beautiful in that cheongsam?” My company is talking about a couple who are carrying leather suitcases, walking arm in arm by us. The woman wears a cheongsam and the man wears a long gown.
Looking around, we see on the shipboard all those who live in the Republican period. Some of them are communicating intimately, some saying goodbye to people standing on the wharf, some getting drunk, and some looking for their cabins in a hurry. All of them have their own stories.
Little Yulan is her master’s favourite Dan actress in the Liu Theater Troupe. During the troubled times, the troupe experienced adversity. Little Yulan, who wanted only to marry the “eldest brother” in the troupe, now had no choice but to marry a general in order to save the troupe. In Zhiyinhao’s cabin, she stares at the woman’s headornaments that her master made for her before her first stage show, thinking about the happy days with the “eldest brother”, and bursts into tears.
Next to little Yulan, a dancing girl folds the ship ticket into a paper boat. She is going to leave this city in which she has lived for 20 years, because she has been given away as a gift by her love to his business partner.
“When I was a little girl, my mother told me that if I put a paper boat on the water with my wishes written on it, those wishes would come true. Now I wish to go to a rural primary school, and teach children there to read and dance.”
Each “passenger” aboard is telling his/her story emotionally, and all we
need to do is to listen. There is a man who orders the same liquor and waits for the same call every day, a drunk middle-aged man who brought his own alcohol aboard and is babbling about his heart break, and a couple who once broke up because of the obstruction of their families and reunites here delightfully. There is also a former “land king” of Hankou. He has lost the ownership of his lands because of the foreign invasion, and now announces a joint statement in order to call up the public to fight against invaders.
Love stories in turbulent times are always eclipsed by sorrow; patriotic personages in war times always become solemn and stirring.
I looked through the historical documents of Hankou and found that during the late Qing dynasty and the Republican period, there had been at least five real estate tycoons, among whom only one businessman named Liu Xinsheng had been called “Land King of Hankou.” It is said that the prosperous Jianghan Road in the center of Hankou downtown was originally named after that “king” as Xinsheng Road; and other three roads were named Xinsheng First Road, Xinsheng Second Road, and Xinsheng Third Road. (Now they are Jianghan First Road, Jianghan Second Road, and Jianghan Third Road.)
In 1938, Wuhan was attacked by the Japanese army and the puppet army; Liu Xinsheng’s garden in Xunlimen, Hankou was occupied for being the headqurters of Japanese Army. The Japanese wanted Liu to serve them and work as a “maintenance mayor,” but they could not find him. It turned out that before the Japanese approached Hankou, Liu had hidden himself in French Concession. The tycoon told his family never to do business with Japanese; he lived in refuge till his death of serious illness.
Fully loaded with stories, Zhiyin is like a microcosm of old Wuhan. Being here to witness the vivid lives in every corner of the ship, you will feel yourself become a part of that history. The ballroom, the bar, the café, and even the stairs or the corners of corridors… each part of Zhiyin is like a stage where a new episode is being performed. The tourists are so attracted that they can’t look away, almost forgetting that they are traveling on the Yangtze River. When the actors and actresses stop to invite the audiences to the fourth floor, the passengers suddenly find that the ship is already in the middle of the river, and is just passing through under the Second Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge.
The majestic bridge appears quite amazing in the light; and the passengers now have a unique perspective of the bridge. The brightly-lit buildings along the river banks drag people back to the modern reality. Watching from the deck, the lights and the moonlight add radiance and beauty to each other; the river water glitters in both. The buildings existing and those under construction are harmoniously nestling each other.
A more prosperous city by the rivers will be there.
“Wow! The Second Yangtze River Bridge! We are really travelling through time”. exclaimed the tourists.
It is said that, in the flood season, the water level will rise up and those tall people who stand on the deck of the fourth floor can even reach out to touch the Second Bridge. For this reason, the chimney of Zhiyinhao is the extendable type in order to avoid crashing on the bridge bottom.
Wuhan flourished on waterways as an important port city. The old
ship Jianghua which had witnessed the vicissitudes of old Wuhan would never imagine these many bridges across the mighty Yangtze River built a hundred years later.
With a sound of siren, Zhiyinhao docks again, and tourists disembark in succession. On the shore, I put a postcard with an address into a mailbox. It’s my own address; and it’s like a card sent by a hundredyear-ago person to his 21st-century reincarnation. I might be using my smartphone to send instant messages to my friends in foreign countries when I receive this postcard.
As people say, docking at the shore is the end of a story, as well as the beginning of another…
The Ship of Zhiyinhao, a form of grand cultural drama, is created by Wuhan Tourism Developing Investment Group and Fan Yue Team, a group of well-known directors. The drama is performed in the style of Zhiyin culture (based on the ancient tale of the friendship between musician Boya and his listener Ziqi) and set in the background of Hankou’s Yangtze River culture; it reproduces life in Wuhan in the 1920s and 1930s. The public premiere performance started on April 26 th of this year.
The ship is 120 meters long, 22 meters wide, and 15 meters high. It has 98 cabins, with a displacement of 4,015 tons. The hull is painted a deep black, while the cabins on the three floors are in faint yellow (as appeared in old photos). The timber floor, the round portholes, the one hundred guest rooms, the aisles, the lighting, the tables and chairs, the beds, and even the handles are all of exquisite antique style.
Zhiyinhao, according to some media, is not only a large theater in which tourists can experience the charm of Wuhan 100 years ago, but also a “drifting museum” that awakens the memories of the city.