Ancient town creates new history

0 CommentsPrintE-mail CRI, September 8, 2009
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The photo taken on September 3, 2009, shows the entrance of the Fenghuang Ancient Town in China's Hunan Province. [Photo:]

The photo taken on September 3, 2009, shows the entrance of the Fenghuang Ancient Town in China's Hunan Province. [Photo:] 

Located in southwest China, the ancient town of Phoenix is waking up from its centuries-long sleep.

The history of the town, called "Fenghuang" in Chinese, could date back as early as the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC). The town is in Fenghuang County of Hunan Province, where Tujia and Miao ethnic groups have lived for thousands of years. Historically, Fenghuang remained poor, with only small-scale agriculture and industry. It may have been hard for local residents to imagine that one day tourists to the ancient town would bring the town 190 million yuan, or 27.8 million US dollars, in income per year, almost 58 percent of the GDP of the whole county. But today it is actually the truth.

The government of Fenghuang County decided to develop the tourism industry after the South Great Wall was discovered in 2000. In 2002, an experienced touring company that marketed the famous nearby tourist attraction Zhangjiajie was authorized to manage Fenghuang's tourism industry. That was the beginning of the ancient town's remarkable story.

"At first, the infrastructure in Fenghuang ancient town was really poor," says Xia Xinheng, vice president of Fenghuang Ancient Town Touring Co. "To increase its capacity for tourism, we collaborated with the government and invested more than 40 million yuan to upgrade the infrastructure here. This amount of money is not common for a tourist attraction the size of Fenghuang."

Xia says the first thing they did was move all the electric wires underground to restore the ancient appearance of the town. Then they reconstructed the flagstone road, a feature of the Fenghuang architectural style, and de-silted the Tuo River that runs through the town.

Restoration alone was not enough for the ancient town. Now you can see its alluring modern face at night, with bars similar to those in Beijing's Shichahai and lights shining along the quiet Tuo River.

"The lights we added actually created another Fenghuang town," Xia says. "People are more likely to stay in the ancient town for a night now, while they usually left after a day previously."

Fenghuang is best looked at as more of a brand than just a tourism site.

For the past seven years, the company has tried to market Fenghuang in smart ways and feature more of its rich local culture. You hardly see any traditional ads here; instead, various events spread the name of "Fenghuang." The most renowned is the International Weichi(or Chess) Tournament that takes place at the South Great Wall every other year. This year was the fourth tournament, and the event attracted a large audience and wide media attention. Two top players of the complex board game similar to chess went head-to-head on the South Great Wall as Kungfu boys acted as living chess pieces, performing Chinese Kungfu with every move.

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