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Lil' Red Shanghai, Hakka Homeland
(Click Thumbnails for larger images)

Click for Changting Page 2 (Hakka Museum)
Click for Changting Page 3 (Hakka Cuisine and "Drinking Culture")
Click for Changting Page 4 (Changting--Lil' Red Religious Center)
Click for Changting Page 5 (Hakka Hamlet of Tufang)

“China’s two most beautiful small cities are Fenghuang in Hunan, and Changting in Fujian.” Rewi Alley

Changting arched bridge in the 1930sThe sign above the “Great Western Gate” (西大门, Xi Da Men), 12 km west of Friend’s Crossing (朋口), reads “ The Open Changting Happily Welcomes Guests All the World.” This one tunnel cuts out hours of hairpin curves on which landslides and accidents used to block the highway for hours on end.
Before the era of roads and tunnels, Changting was so remote that Xiamen University relocated to Changting in the 30s and 40s because the Japanese could not find it. But what a beautiful place to hide out.

Ting—Mother River of Hakkas (客家母亲河汀江) Changting straddles the Ting, Mother River of the headstrong Hakka, who have produced men like Taiping Rebellion leader Hong Xiuquan, and Deng Xiaoping, leader of the Revolution in Socialist Marketing.

Fujian’s only major river flowing north and south, the 285 km Ting was West Fujian’s commercial highway, flowing from the Dragon Gate ((汀江龙门, Tingjiang Longmen), about 31 km outside Changting, to the sea at Shantou, 285 km away.

A Hakka said, “There were no roads then, and we sang songs about the river men—the real men.” Back in ’29, when Mao the poet penned, “Red banners leap over the Ting River!” the Ting was a torrent.

Nowadays, the legendary river men are probably pedaling pedicabs, because between the silt and the dams I could leap the Ting myself.

The Warrior and Serpent Legend has it that a giant serpent wreaked havoc on the Ting until the Tang Dynasty warrior Yangwen Guang (杨文广) intervened. After fighting 300 rounds, the serpent escaped into the river. After Yangwen Guang had lurked on the bank for days, the serpent cried, “I won’t come out for 1,000 years. Why wait?”

Yangwen Guang said, “If you won’t come out for 1000 years, I won’t leave for 10,000 years!” He turned into a rock and the serpent has hid in the river ever since. This tale reminds me of an ancient Chinese story, "When I'm Ready!" (Click here for more Chinese Humor).Cartoon of Susan Marie with a broom and brave Dr. Bill hiding under the bed saying he'll come out when he's good and ready to come out.

A henpecked husband hid under the bed after his wife had thrashed him thoroughly. “Come out from there right now!” she screamed.

“I’m the head of this house,” he answered, “And I’ll only come out when I’m good and ready to come out.”

Changting at first glace is just a typical mountain town surrounded by regulation ancient temples, villages and fields. But a local guide can bring to life the ancient city’s Tang Dynasty temples, walls, gates, narrow cobblestone streets, and old granite and timber houses.

Changting joined the Empire during the Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – AD 220). Today, this archaeological treasure trove boasts the Tang Dynasty SanGuan Gate Tower and Pearl Gate, portions of the Tang Dynasty Wall, the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) Temple of Literary Glory (汀洲文庙 Tingzhou Wenmiao), and the topsy-turvy Eight Diagrams Dragon Spring (八卦龙泉 Bagua Longquan)—ancient wells built like inverted pagodas. (the only pagodas in China you can fall into rather than off of). Even a humdrum hill behind a nondescript SinoPec gas station turned out to be a Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) “dragon kiln.”

Hakkapreneurs Industrious Changting Hakka are prime examples of why overseas Hakka thrive. Changting streets are abuzz with streets are alive with industrious pork and veggie vendors, cyclists, pedicabs, kids, cats, and sidewalk chefs wokking their dogs. Hakkas perched in doorways fashion aluminum pots, wooden brushes, candles, matchboxes, and incense sticks. They knit slippers by hand, repair umbrellas, resurrect weary shoe soles, and mend clothes.

Hakkas exported cash crops like indigo even centuries ago. Nowadays, the chief cash crop is tobacco, though the fertile soil also puts out a prodigious amount of rice, sweet potatoes, beans, red peppers, watermelons, mandarin oranges, dried mushrooms, edible fungi, dried tofu (China’s best, they claim), and tea, as well as forestry and bamboo products. But Changting’s #1 product has always been people—great philosophers, artists, scientists, government officials, warriors, and doctors (like Song Ci, the father of forensic medicine).

Have a Heart? After checking into the Hakka Guesthouse (客家宾馆) I lunched at a stall across the street, where elderly proprietors happily prattled away in the local dialect while chopping and frying and stewing. Within minutes they had served up a hearty soup and bowls of tasty noodles. I hesitated over the soup, knowing the locals’ predilection for fine canine cuisine. But it was pig’s heart, not puppy, so I took heart (though the pig might have thought me heartless).

Babushka After lunch I met Changting’s premier photographer, Mr. HuXiao Gang (胡晓钢). Locals call him “Babushka” because he came from Manchuria, and had blond hair in his youth. Babushka loves local customs and architecture, and his nonstop monologue brought to life places, people, even ancient trees, that I’d have never given a second thought to.

“Just three days ago,” Babushka said, “I found a marvelous old home down the street that nobody even knew about! Three Shanghai artists were so excited they wanted to rent it!… And on the road to TuFang, I found revolutionary era artwork in an abandoned farm… And the source of the Ting River (汀江龙门 Tingjiang Longmen) is so clean and the air so pure that the ancients flocked there to find the elixir of immortality…”
It seemed that Babushka knew everything about everywhere, but it turned out he has a prodigious memory. He said, “I remember seeing you and your family in the dining hall the last time you passed through here.”

That had been 8 years earlier!

The night before I left, Babushka and his wife and daughter visited my room with several albums filled with priceless photos of places, people, and festivals. “Use anything you want!” he said. “I’m happy to help.”

If you too fall in love with Changting, thank Babushka, the matchmaker...

Please Click Here for Changting Page 2

P.S. Don’t miss these great Changting Sites!

Source of the Ting River

Ancient Well (老古井Laogu Jing)
Changting’s oldest well, considered a miracle because it never dries up, whatever the conditions. On top of that, while Mao ZeDong lived in Changting, every morning he used the well to wash his face, brush his teeth, and clean his clothes (not necessarily in that order). And to make the well healthier, he brought in a well specialist, which I thought was a well-meaning gesture.

Tingzhou Hakka Research Institute (中国汀洲客家研究中心 Zhongguo Tingzhou Kejia Yanjiu Zhongxin)

Tingzhou Ancient City Wall (汀洲古城墙Tingzhou Gucheng Qiang)
Tang Dynasty, at least 1200 years old.

Dragon Hill against White Clouds (龙山白云—Longshan Baiyun) – the Jin Sha Temple.

Zhongshan Park and the Qiu Bai Pavilion (秋白亭 Qiubai Ting).
Every two-ox town in China has a Zhongshan Park (named after Sun Yat-sen, but called Lenin Park during the Soviet Chinese days). The Qiu Bai Pavilion is named after Qiu Bai, the young revolutionary martyr. To the rear of the Hakka Museum you can see where he was imprisoned, and where he was shot.

Hakka Girls. They’re everywhere. Please just take photos, not the girls.

Chaodou Rock’s Shuiyun Temple. The Buddha is said to have his back to tourists because he’s piqued that so few people repent and begin life anew.

Xiamen University’s Former Campus (厦门大学校本部旧址)

A Xiamen University professor told me China had 5000 years of history but that was 18 years ago, so now its 5018 years of history.

And 3 months.

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