Hon­our­ing Vil­lage His­tory

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Wang Wei, Re­becca Lou Edited by Justin Davis Pho­tos by Chang Xu, Sang Yi

There are many vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls across Bei­jing that doc­u­ment ru­ral cul­ture and his­tory, which help peo­ple from these ar­eas re­con­nect with their me­mories and be­liefs.

In one of his po­ems, Wang Wei (AD 701–761, a poet) of the Tang Dy­nasty (AD 618–907) de­scribed a feel­ing about his home­town: “You who have come from my old country, Tell me what has hap­pened there! Was the plum, when you passed my silken win­dow, Open­ing its first cold blos­som?” Nowa­days, peo­ple still think aobut their home­towns and how they used to look. Peo­ple can see the orig­i­nal ap­pear­ances of their home­towns at vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls in Bei­jing's ru­ral ar­eas. They have been pre­served here in var­i­ous ways, though many changes con­tinue to oc­cur in the towns and vil­lages.

His­tory of Zhangji­awan

There is a mu­seum in Zhangji­awan Town in Tongzhou District that serves as a vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion hall. It is also China's first town-level mu­seum. Lo­cated near the Zhangji­awan Vil­lage Com­mit­tee, the mu­seum has a to­tal area of about 2,000 square me­tres (sq.m.). One can learn about many sto­ries of Zhangji­awan there.

Zhangji­awan is a thou­sand-year-old town and boasted “the first wharf of the Grand Canal [Bei­jing–hangzhou Canal]” in an­cient times. The Grand Canal was one of the great­est engi­neer­ing works in an­cient China and en­abled smooth wa­ter transportation be­tween the re­gions south of the Yangtze River and north­ern China. The Grand Canal played a role in de­vel­op­ing Bei­jing into a ma­jes­tic cap­i­tal, en­sur­ing the sup­ply of grain to north­ern China and pro­mot­ing pros­per­ity in the ar­eas it ran through, which led to nu­mer­ous thriv­ing towns. Zhangji­awan was one of them. The Grand Canal led to a boom­ing econ­omy in Zhangji­awan and also pro­moted its cul­tural de­vel­op­ment. Zhangji­awan fea­tures many her­itage sites, in­clud­ing the Tongyun Bridge, the Guangfu Tem­ple and Youmin­guan (a tem­ple in honour of a god­dess), which at­tracted Em­peror Shun­zhi (reign: 1644– 1661) of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644–1911) to pray for a son ac­cord­ing to leg­end. More­over, in his­tory, many celebri­ties, such as Em­press Dowa­ger Xiao (re­gency: AD 982– 1009) of the Liao Dy­nasty (AD 907–1125), Mat­teo Ricci (1552–1610, an Ital­ian Je­suit priest) and Cao Xue­qin (1715–1763, the au­thor of A Dream of Red Man­sions), vis­ited or lived in Zhangji­awan.

One can learn about the his­tory of Zhangji­awan through its tan­gi­ble and in­tan­gi­ble her­itage housed by the Zhangji­awan Mu­seum. The Zhangji­awan Mu­seum was com­pleted and opened to the pub­lic in 2015. Fa­mous Chi­nese scholar Feng Qiy­ong did the cal­lig­ra­phy for the name of the two-storey mu­seum, which is in­scribed on the wall above its main gate. The ground floor con­tains ex­hi­bi­tion halls about the his­tory and cul­ture of Zhangji­awan; the ex­hi­bi­tion on the first floor show­cases the rise and pros­per­ity of Grand Canal cul­ture.

At the mu­seum's lobby, one can have an overview of Zhangji­awan's his­tory. An an­cient boat in the hall wit­nessed the hey­day of Zhangji­awan and rep­re­sents the crowded ships and boats in the town. Pho­tos on the walls show­case at­trac­tions in ci­ties along the Grand Canal. One can also learn about the his­tory of Zhangji­awan by watch­ing pro­grammes on LED screens.

The Dream Back to the An­cient Town Ex­hi­bi­tion Hall is next. Walk­ing on “Tongyun Bridge,” a 1:4 scale replica, and touch­ing var­i­ous stone lion sculp­tures on balustrades, one can see sim­u­lated Grand Canal wa­ter, as if it were end­less stretches of his­tory. Another name for the Tongyu River is the Xiao­tai­hou River (re­fer­ring to Em­press Dowa­ger Xiao of the Liao Dy­nasty). There­fore, the Tongyu Bridge is also called the Em­press Dowa­ger Xiao Bridge. In an­cient times, grain, tim­ber and pas­sen­gers were trans­ported to Zhangji­awan and went into ur­ban Bei­jing by land. The tim­ber bridge could not bear the heavy loads as time went on though. In 1603, Em­peror Wan­gli (reign: 1573–1620) of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368–1644) is­sued an im­pe­rial edict to re­place the bridge with a stone bridge and gave the name: tongyun (“con­nec­tion and transportation”). Stand­ing on the replica bridge, one can see the copy of a paint­ing from the Qing Dy­nasty de­pict­ing a busy wa­ter transportation scene along the Grand Canal. Tongzhou fu ( The Ode of Tongzhou) writ­ten by Wang Zifu (an au­thor who was born in Tongzhou) is show­cased at the ex­hi­bi­tion hall. Tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ings and cal­lig­ra­phy are pro­jected on a wall and dis­play spe­cial re­lief ef­fects, en­abling vis­i­tors to be im­mersed in his­tory as if they were trans­ported to Zhangji­awan Town in an­cient times, with streams of peo­ple busily com­ing and go­ing and crowded boats and ships trav­el­ling along the Grand Canal. At the end of the replica bridge, one can see a stone stele with an in­scrip­tion of one of the im­pe­rial edicts that was is­sued by a Ming Dy­nasty em­peror and three stone ste­les that came from guild halls in Shanxi Prov­ince that were made dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty.

Af­ter vis­it­ing the Dream Back to the An­cient Town Ex­hi­bi­tion Hall, one can visit the Main Hall to learn more about Zhangji­awan's cul­ture. A photo wall, porce­lain wares and civil­ian kilns help vis­i­tors ex­pe­ri­ence the busy wa­ter transportation of the Grand Canal. Some arte­facts show­case the re­la­tion be­tween Zhangji­awan and Cao Xuqian and his fa­mous work A Dream of Red Man­sions. Ex­hi­bi­tion halls on the first floor in­tro­duce food, at­trac­tions and celebri­ties from the Grand Canal re­gion.

Cao Xue­qin and Zhangji­awan

Redol­ogy, the aca­demic study of Cao Xue­qin's A Dream of Red Man­sions, is the theme of the Zhangji­awan Mu­seum. Zhangji­awan is where Cao Xue­qin's tomb­stone was un­earthed and fea­tures the in­spi­ra­tions for Shili Street and Huazhi Lane, which are part of the set­ting in A Dream of Red Man­sions. Zhangji­awan has be­come a treasure for peo­ple who re­search this book and re­lated in­for­ma­tion.

When Cao Xue­qin's tomb­stone was un­earthed, it caused a sen­sa­tion in redol­ogy cir­cles. It is now lo­cated in the main ex­hi­bi­tion hall of the mu­seum. At first glance, it looks like an or­di­nary stone and is about one me­tre (m) long, 40 cen­time­tres (cm) wide and 15 cm thick. Its sur­face is not flat, and there are many par­al­lel notches. The side of the tomb­stone is rougher and also not straight. How­ever, the let­ter­ing on it, read­ing “the tomb of Cao Zhan,” makes it ex­tra­or­di­nary. The char­ac­ters for “Ren Wu” are in­scribed on the bot­tom left cor­ner of the tomb­stone. Though in­com­plete, the char­ac­ter “Wu” can still be iden­ti­fied.

Cao Xue­qin is the pseu­do­nym of Cao Zhan. Most peo­ple know that Cao Xue­qin is the au­thor of A Dream of Red Man­sions, but few know Cao Zhan is his real name. A Dream of Red Man­sions is a mas­ter­piece of Chi­nese lit­er­a­ture, but there are not many records of the au­thor's life ex­pe­ri­ences, re­sult­ing in count­less mys­ter­ies. Re­searchers and aca­demics are al­ways ex­cited when new in­for­ma­tion has be­come avail­able about him.

It is said that in the au­tumn of 1968, 20-year-old vil­lager Li Jingzhu found Cao Zhan's tomb­stone when he was work­ing on a farm at “Dashaner Land” to the west of Zhang­wan vil­lage. Li Jingzhu, a ju­nior high school grad­u­ate, recog­nised it was the tomb­stone of Cao Xue­qin. A male skele­ton was also un­earthed with the tomb­stone. At that time, the vil­lagers spec­u­lated that a buried male must have a lu­mi­nous pearl in his mouth, but noth­ing but earth was found. Dis­ap­pointed, they buried the scat­tered bones in a hap­haz­ard man­ner. The tomb­stone was pre­served by Li Jingzhu at his home un­til 1992 though.

When the tomb­stone be­came known by the pub­lic, it caused a tit-for-tat de­bate about the two ma­jor mys­ter­ies in redol­ogy, i.e. the place of burial and the year of death of Cao Xue­qin, which had been heat­edly de­bated for over half a cen­tury, with­out re­sult­ing in any con­clu­sive an­swers. Prior to the un­earthing of the tomb­stone, the views of schol­ars were based on tex­tual ev­i­dence. The un­earthing of the tomb­stone pro­vided ma­te­rial ev­i­dence for the two mys­ter­ies.

Judg­ing by the area where the tomb­stone was un­earthed, it is doubt­less that Cao Xue­qin was buried in Zhangji­awan. Schol­ars pre­vi­ously in­ferred from the clues in A Dream of Red Man­sions that he died on the eve of Chi­nese New Year of Ren Wu, i.e. on Fe­bru­ary 12, 1763. In the Chi­nese lu­nar cal­en­dar, the year of Kui Wei started on Fe­bru­ary 12, 1763, and the days be­fore that still be­longed to the year of Ren Wu. In 1947, Zhou Ruchang judged that Cao Xue­qin died in the year of Kui Wei ac­cord­ing to rel­e­vant his­tor­i­cal ma­te­ri­als.

Whether Cao Xue­qin died in the year of Ren Wu or Kui Wei has al­ways been a fo­cus of de­bate, giv­ing rise to two dis­tinct schools. The char­ac­ters for “Ren Wu” on the bot­tom left cor­ner of the tomb­stone pro­vided self-ev­i­dent proof. Feng Qiy­ong wrote that he pre­vi­ously con­sid­ered Cao to have died in the year of Kui Wei, but he changed mind af­ter see­ing the clear­lyin­scribed char­ac­ters on the tomb­stone.

Although there is no more heated de­bate, the story of the tomb­stone is still pop­u­lar. Af­ter the Zhangji­awan Mu­seum was es­tab­lished, some schol­ars of redol­ogy do­nated aca­demic books. Ev­ery two years, the schol­ars gather at Zhangji­awan, par­tic­i­pate in sem­i­nars, ex­plore the mys­ter­ies of redol­ogy and make redol­ogy more widely known through the plat­form built by the mu­seum.

Con­tri­bu­tions from Vil­lagers

The Zhangji­awan Mu­seum has rich col­lec­tions. Some of the items were pro­vided by the Tongzhou District Mu­seum and the Grand Canal Mu­seum, in­clud­ing trea­sured relics such as the mon­u­ment of Shanxi Guild Hall, an im­pe­rial edict mon­u­ment, the tomb­stone of Cao Xue­qin and an­cient iron an­chors. Other items were do­nated by ex­perts

and vil­lagers, such as aca­demic books, porce­lain frag­ments and the an­cient ship.

Ac­cord­ing to Yan Xi­uli, a staff mem­ber from the Pub­lic­ity Depart­ment of the Zhangji­awan Town Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party of China, the govern­ment of Tongzhou District and Zhangji­awan Town called on the vil­lagers to do­nate ex­hibits when the mu­seum was es­tab­lished. The vil­lagers showed great pas­sion. Zhang­wan vil­lage pro­vided a free 800-sq.m bad­minton sta­dium as the venue. Liersi vil­lage do­nated bricks from the Han Dy­nasty. The vil­lagers do­nated more than 6,000 relics and old ob­jects fea­tur­ing the lo­cal flavour and cus­toms of Zhangji­awan Town.

The valu­able cul­tural relics and old ob­jects do­nated by the vil­lagers are dis­played in the mu­seum, wait­ing for vis­i­tors to ex­plore the his­tory and cul­ture be­hind them. The an­cient ship is said to be over 100 years old. It is 6.4 m long and 1.6 m wide, with three large cab­ins and one small cabin. It is made of Chi­nese fir and is light, flex­i­ble and re­sis­tant to cor­ro­sion. It has been iden­ti­fied by ex­perts as a barge that was used to ship grain dur­ing the Qing Dy­nasty pe­riod. Barges were mainly used for the trans­fer of small goods from river banks to rivers and big ships. Zhangji­awan was the north­ern­most port of the Bei­jingHangzhou Grand Canal. In an­cient times, large cargo ships from south­ern China were parked here and their goods were de­liv­ered to dif­fer­ent parts of the city by barge. Ac­cord­ing to Yan Xi­uli, this barge was found in the home of a res­i­dent of Cang­shang vil­lage, Zhangji­awan Town, which he in­her­ited from his an­ces­tors. In 2015, when the mu­seum was built, the vil­lager do­nated this barge to the mu­seum and men­tioned that “the barge is the best re­main­ing wit­ness of the Grand Canal's pros­per­ous grain ship­ping in­dus­try.”

In the main ex­hi­bi­tion hall, there is a wall with over 100 old pho­tos do­nated by Zhou Feng­guo, a vil­lager of Zhang­wan vil­lage. It is said that these pho­tos were col­lected by Zhou Feng­guo from the Pan­ji­ayuan mar­ket over the course of seven or eight years. The Grand Canal is full of sails and ships in the pho­tos, and count­less peo­ple are load­ing and un­load­ing cargo onto and off of the dock, pre­sent­ing a spec­tac­u­lar scene. Gate bridges, the name of which is widely known but the shape of which is sel­dom seen, can be seen in the old pho­tos. There are also records of an­cient post­men, Xi­haizi Tower and the pe­riod when Tongzhou was in­vaded and oc­cu­pied by the Ja­panese. These pho­tos re­stored the ar­chi­tec­ture, cus­toms and his­tor­i­cal events of Tongzhou.

The porce­lain ex­hibit of the main ex­hi­bi­tion hall fea­tures ex­quis­ite porce­lain frag­ments and some pieces of molded folk kiln sal­vaged from the Grand Canal. They were do­nated by Wang Shi­wei, a li­brar­ian at the Bei­jing In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies Univer­sity. These porce­lain frag­ments and molded folk kiln pieces were un­earthed in Zhangji­awan and were iden­ti­fied by ex­perts as relics from the Yuan (1271–1368), Ming (1368– 1644) and Qing Dy­nas­ties. There is also a huge iron an­chor that was also sal­vaged from the Grand Canal. It is on loan from the Tongzhou District Mu­seum.

These cul­tural relics and his­tor­i­cal ob­jects do­nated by lo­cal peo­ple rep­re­sent the pas­sion of vil­lagers for their home­town and their in­ter­est in the in­her­i­tance and de­vel­op­ment of lo­cal cul­ture.

Fur­ther De­vel­op­ment

Some peo­ple are un­will­ing to leave their home­town due to home­sick­ness. Me­mories of one's home­land are pre­cious for the rest of one's life. Vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls help peo­ple pre­serve their me­mories about their home­towns and also serve as a plat­form to pass on cus­toms and cul­ture.

From 2013 on­ward, the Of­fice of the Bei­jing Civic En­hance­ment Com­mit­tee and other govern­ment agen­cies be­gan to de­velop vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls. Ac­cord­ing to the re­quire­ments of a doc­u­ment re­leased by the Peo­ple's Govern­ment of Bei­jing Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls should be de­vel­oped in “Na­tional Civilised Vil­lages and Towns,”“the Cap­i­tal's Civilised Vil­lages and Towns” and “Bei­jing's Most Beau­ti­ful Vil­lages.” The se­lec­tion of sites for ex­hi­bi­tion halls should fol­low the prin­ci­ple of fo­cus­ing on vil­lages and towns with his­tor­i­cal her­itage re­sources, im­por­tant his­tor­i­cal events or celebri­ties; vil­lages and towns with cul­tural re­sources, tak­ing ad­van­tage of ru­ral tourism and rapid changes due to ur­ban­i­sa­tion; and vil­lages and towns with good rev­o­lu­tion­ary tra­di­tions and emerg­ing role mod­els. The vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls help lo­cals re­mem­ber the his­tory of their home­towns by sort­ing out a va­ri­ety of lo­cal his­tor­i­cal re­sources.

Ac­cord­ing to The Bei­jing News, 290 vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls with a to­tal area of more than 100,000 sq.m. have been de­vel­oped on the ba­sis of ac­cu­mu­lated in­vest­ment of 466 mil­lion yuan, in­clud­ing fi­nan­cial sub­si­dies of 63.8 mil­lion yuan pro­vided by the mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment. Dur­ing the next three years (2019–2021), the mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment will invest 50.82 mil­lion yuan to sup­port the fur­ther de­vel­op­ment of 231 vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls, sup­ply 432 video screens for civic en­hance­ment and ex­am­ine the util­i­sa­tion of com­pleted ex­hi­bi­tion halls and video screens for fur­ther up­grad­ing.

Apart from the Zhangji­awan Mu­seum, Tongzhou District has es­tab­lished vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls in Xi­ax­inpu Vil­lage and Qi­uzhuang Vil­lage. Vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls with lo­cal char­ac­ter­is­tics have been es­tab­lished in other dis­tricts, in­clud­ing Dougezhuang Town­ship and Nan­mo­fang Town­ship in Chaoyang District, He­bei Vil­lage and Shi­ji­ay­ing Vil­lage in Shunyi District, Hei­douyu Vil­lage and Yuzis­han Vil­lage in Pinggu District, Shatang­gou Vil­lage and Penyao Vil­lage in Yan­qing District, and Sheng­shuitou Vil­lage and Dal­ing­cun Town­ship in Miyun District.

As a plat­form for pass­ing on tra­di­tional cul­ture, vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls show­case lo­cal his­tory and so­cial changes. For ex­am­ple, the Zhangji­awan Mu­seum com­bines the cul­ture of the Grand Canal and redol­ogy; the Qi­uzhuang Vil­lage Ex­hi­bi­tion Hall fea­tures lo­cal fil­ial piety cul­ture; the Wenyuhe Cus­tom Mu­seum doc­u­ments its so­cial and eco­nomic changes by dis­play­ing black-and-white tele­vi­sions, sewing ma­chines, food coupons, can­dle­sticks and other his­tor­i­cal items; Penyao Vil­lage Ex­hi­bi­tion Hall fea­tures ex­hibits about the cre­ation of ce­ram­ics, which is some of its ma­jor lo­cal in­tan­gi­ble cul­tural her­itage.

Vil­lage ex­hi­bi­tion halls play a ma­jor role in serv­ing as ed­u­ca­tional cen­tres in ad­di­tion to pro­mot­ing lo­cal cul­ture. Many ex­hi­bi­tion halls fea­ture a va­ri­ety of lec­tures that in­tro­duce and talk about the con­tin­u­a­tion of lo­cal vil­lage cul­ture and cul­tural re­sources.

The replica of Tongyun Bridge at the Zhangji­awan Mu­seum

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.