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Huangshan: An Untouched Treasure Trove

Huangshan, a 2,200-year-old city in east China's Anhui Province, was known as Xin'an, or Huizhou Prefecture, in ancient times. The present name, bestowed a few years ago, comes from its world-renowned Huangshan Mountains (the Yellow Mountains).

The city governs the districts of Tunxi, Huangshan and Huizhou and the four counties of Shexian, Xiuning, Yixian and Qimen.

The Yellow Mountains

The greatest pride of the city is, of course, the Yellow Mountains, which have for many years been attracting tourists of all ages and nationalities.

Lying north of the city, the mountains are noted for their infinitely enchanting scenery and fantastic peaks.

They offer a constantly changing panorama that stir up vivid images.

From one season to another, from rain to shine and sunrise to sunset, the mountains take on different expressions.

If you visit the mountains a thousand times, you will discover new beauty and enjoy new experiences each time.

The Yellow Mountains are not merely mountains, but a sea -- a sea of mountain peaks, a sea of clouds, a sea of pine trees, a sea of flowers and a sea of light.

They are characterized by quaint pines, unusual rocks, a sea of clouds and hot springs, which are recognized as their four wonders.

Where there are peaks, there are wonderful rocks. The steeper the rocky peaks, the more irregular the shapes of the pines.

The pines take root deep in the rocky crevices and display a myriad of postures. The Guest-greeting Pine at Jade Screen Peak is a prominent example with its boughs outstretched like arms welcoming mountaineers.

More interestingly, the peaks, rocks, pine trees, waterfalls and springs all bear descriptive names.

The peaks are called by such names as Lotus, Celestial Capital and Jade Screen and the rocks by such names as Golden Rooster Crowing Towards Heavenly Gate, Squirrel Skipping to the Celestial Capital and Monkey Gazing at the Sea.

Apart from Guest-greeting Pine, the pine trees are also called by such names as Probing the Sea, Black Tiger and Hidden Dragon.

Seen from right angles, these scenic spots live up to their names.

Not relying on artificial decorations, the Yellow Mountains look simple and natural, manifesting youthful vigor and heroic grandeur.

The peaks vie with one another as they thrust to the sky, the rocks vie to be the most grotesque and the pine trees compete in terms of elegance.

The clouds cover the mountains and the sky as if they were a mystic sari, blending them together. And the hot springs, forever bubbling, give us an endless flow of warmth and fervor.

Scenic sites

Unfolding a map of Huangshan City, you will be surprised to find that the towering and undulating Qingliang, Qiyun and Guniujiang mountains and the Yellow Mountains are like four lofty warriors guarding the city on each of the four sides.

And the Xin'an River and Taiping Lake dance like jade ribbons, one up and the other down in tacit harmony.

Qiyun Mountain in Xiuning County is a sacred Taoist area south of the Yangtze River.

Though not high, the mountain is attractive with its peculiar antique appeal of endless, fantastic peaks, colorful cliffs and layers of sandstone shaped like a multi-storied house, with caves, gullies, springs and waterfalls scattered here and there.

About 100 temples, palaces, pavilions and altars were built on the mountain and nearly 1,000 inscribed tablets and steles were set up, making it one of China's four time-honored sacred Taoist mountains.

Qingliang Mountain and Guniujiang Mountain stand facing each other at the city's eastern and western ends, like two huge green screens of natural defense.

As a result of varied topography, the area beyond is rarely seen by humans. The warm and rainy climate and abundant vegetation, on the other hand, have provided a cozy home for the little-known rare animals and plants there.

Huizhou culture

It is these loving mountains and rivers that have nurtured generation upon generation of Huizhou people.

The rivers have also linked Huizhou with other places, thereby playing an important part in its growth and civilization.

The mountains have served as great shields warding off danger from outside, ensuring the unimpeded development of Huizhou culture.

With a marked local color, Huizhou culture carries regional significance.

It is almost inclusive in terms of the social economic base and ideology it reflects, the folk activities and customs it retains, the feudal ethics it has upheld vehemently and the academic ideas it has failed to resist.

Huizhou culture encompasses Xin'an painting, Xin'an medicine, Xin'an engraving, Huizhou architecture, Huizhou carving, Huizhou epigraphy, Huizhou opera and Huizhou cuisine, to name but a few.

The bounty of nature and diligence of local residents resulted in the emergence of successive talented scholars.

Since ancient times, literary learning has been a prevailing practice in Huizhou.

A common purpose for friends to meet was to discuss each other's writing. At a flourishing age, Huizhou scholars could be found in practically every domain.

For hundreds of years, the first of all virtues stressed by Huizhou families is none other than persistence in academic studies.

And the local people write their own Spring Festival couplets, which are usually done by calligraphers in other parts of China.

It is then small wonder that so many famous scholars have emerged from Huizhou through the ages.

Over 800 Huizhou names are listed among the 40,000 celebrities living before the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Ancient architecture

There are over 5,000 sites of cultural vestige in Huizhou. Among all other places in China, the city boasts the most and the best-preserved ancient architecture of the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

Ubiquitous are ancient streets, lanes, houses, pavilions, bridges, pagodas, temples, arches, ruins, graves and steles, which differ greatly in function and design.

The streets and lanes are all paved with flagstones, which incline gently to one side.

The pavement is neat and smooth, but the stones are pitted so that they are not slippery in rainy days.

Official residences and ancestral temples are similar in style with whitewashed walls and gray tiles. The enclosing walls are higher than the houses. The top of the wall goes up in steps here and there.

The common people's houses, on the other hand, are generally compounds with houses around a courtyard on three or four sides. The doorframe is built of stone, with a roof or an arch over the gateway.

In feudal China, standards of dwelling places were officially stratified according to the owner's social position. Any house constructed beyond the restriction was an open snub to the owner's superiors and would induce severe punishment.

Therefore, the local gentry, in their effort to avoid appearing ostentatious, went for exquisite interior decorations.

Beams, pillars and purling are all gilded or painted and the art of carving on wood, brick and stone is displayed to the full.

Exquisitely carved on the brackets, upturned eaves, lattice, arches, balustrades and shrines are landscapes, animals and plants, legendary stories, mythical figures, historical events and common practices.

The carvings, undertaken with superb workmanship, cover a large range of subjects and contain substantial content, which now offer a true gallery of the local conditions during the Ming and Qing dynasties.

(China Daily May 19, 2004)

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