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Nanyang-- An Ancient Town by the Lakeside
Weishan Lake, with a water area of 1,200 square kilometers, is located in the south of Shandong Province. It is the largest fresh water lake on the North China Plain; and it consists of four small lakes: the Weishan, the Shaoyang, the Dushan, and the Nanyang. A narrow lake stretching 150 kilometers from north to south, it accepts water from 40 rivers and streams running through eight regions of four provinces, including Jiangsu, Shandong, Henan, and Anhui. The ancient Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal passes through the lake; and it is still used for local water transportation.

With shallow water, a flat bed, and fertile mud, Weishan Lake is home to 78 species of fish, 74 kinds of economic water plants, and 87 species of birds.

Nanyang, an ancient long, narrow township, is located along the southern side of Nanyang Lake. It has been turned into a floating town due to the construction of a dam; and its 30 villages are scattered on a vast expanse of water, measuring an area of 1,000 square kilometers, each connected by either lotuses or reeds. Boats are thus the main means of transportation.

Although the town seems quiet today, Nanyang used to be a bustling commercial center during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368~1911). It became a ferry port due to the construction of a ditch during the reign of Emperor Long Qing of the Ming Dynasty (1368~1644). With the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal cutting through it, the township served as a water transportation hub between the North and South of China, allowing the transportation of goods such as fish, liquor, rice, bean curd, sheep skin, cloth, coal, sugar, paper, bamboo products, silk, and kerosene. It, therefore, enjoyed a reputation for being the Lesser Suzhou. During his inspection tour of south China, Emperor Qian Long of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) stopped at Nanyang.

In the early 1920s, as the water transportation on the ancient Grand Canal declined due to the construction of the Tianjin-Puyang Railway and the accumulation of silt deposits in the lake, Nanyang lost its glory.

With each passing year, the cargo ships on the Grand Canal have disappeared along with the small town's fortune. Nevertheless, its natural landscape remains unchanged; and the simple lifestyle and old customs of its people still attract visitors.

Nanyang Island is the town's largest island, and is where the local government and market are located. Households rest on either the lakeside or the water. People travel by boat; and stone bridges dot the water.

Most of the residents here make a living by doing business, providing water transport, or by fishing. Fishermen usually start their day when the sun rises, while businessmen set out on their journey way after the sun has set, often around midnight. The people of Nanyang are diligent and uncomplicated. They fish in spring, weave straw baskets in summer, harvest lotus seeds in autumn, and hunt wild ducks in winter.

New rules and regulations were established two years ago to restrict the hunting of wild ducks; and hunters cannot hunt unless they have a permit from the government. Thus minimizing the number of hunters and rising the price of wild ducks.

Nowadays, farm-raised ducks have replaced wild ducks. Thanks to favorable water conditions, ducks in Nanyang are tasty and fresh, especially their eggs. They are much better than the ones I've had in the big metropolises.

(China Pictorial January 29, 2003)

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