Last standing with traditional architecture of Southern China
Yanshan, China: Somehow it reminds me of the Colossus of Rhodes when I first saw the 32-meter tall statue of Xin Qiji standing against the sky upon the northern dyke of Xin river. In his right hand holds a reel of book, and the other a sheathed sword. He faces north where his homeland was and he dreamed throughout his life to recover from nomad’s hand. Nothing around could match the statue’s height; trees looked like meadow under its feet.
The statue was built on Dec. 11, 2014 of concrete. The government led this project to commemorate Xin Qiji, a great patriotic poet and general lived in the Southern Song Dynasty (A.D.1127-1279) when the imperial domination of Han people was diminished to the southern part of China.
Under the statue lies the town of Yanshan, little known in modern days, but ranked as one of the top three river ports in ancient China. It not only harbored Xin’s last days, but also chains of junks laden with tealeaves heading to the north. Though time has bereft the town of the thronging merchants and exalted fame, antique architectures and lanes scattered in the community are still reminiscent of its long gone prosperity.
Dust of history. It was until a recent international conference did Yanshan be uncovered from the dust of history. People from China, Russia and Mongolia rallied in this small town to seek for their joint memory: Before the British forced open the Chinese market in 1840, Yanshan had functioned for hundreds of years as the first wharf of the tea-trading route extended thousands of miles across Mongolian Plateau and Siberian forests to Moscow.
Why visit now. The town has just made its plan to develop tourism. Everything here is still crude and pure. If you want to visit an original antique Chinese town as it is, now it is the time.
Tea time. Yanshan sits in the Xin River valley where hills around are fertile and ideal for tea plantation. The river flows from Sanqing Mountain, one of the World Natural Heritages, to the largest freshwater lake Poyang Lake in China. The area has been famous for beautiful scenes since it was first dwelled in by Han people. The Sage of Tea, Lu Yu (A.D.733-804), was attracted to spend his twilight years exploring this area where he completed his masterpiece the Classic of Tea. Soon, merchants and tea-masters all over the country crowded this region for either profit or tea’s own sake. Naturally Xin River became the main route for tea trading. And this is why Yanshan was also named Hekou in the past, which means “River Port”.
Wealth and culture. Walking into the heart of Yanshan is like travelling back through time. Every step leads you a little bit more back to history. The most ancient part was buried deep in the heart of modernity, and surrounded by soviet remains on its direct outskirts. As you keep on walking, you may finally find the diminishing memory of the bygone prosperity this town had enjoyed long time ago. Commerce brought wealth and culture into this little town and left it with inerasable remains. Wooden doors and mossy tiles survived greedy merchants and self-contained scholars, reminding passers-by of their past glory. Along the flagstone-paved streets flanks the last standings of traditional architectures of southern China in multiple forms as residences, pharmacies, banks, stores and brothels.
The food. Nowadays, the main reason for people from nearby areas to come to Yanshan is the food. Yanshan rice noodle has already conquered the breakfast market of surrounding regions, and at its heels follows other cuisines of Yanshan style which would open a new door of sensation for those who like spicy food.
The locals. During traditional Chinese festivals like Spring Festival and Lantern Festival, there will be local opras and lantern performance on stage inside the Old Town. Most locals here are very hospitable and ready to perform at anytime during the day. Don’t be surprised if an elder insists to sing you a soviet song in Russian at his door.
Shopping. Yanshan brown tea was popular along the Tea Route and Silk Road. You may easily find it in any tea stores here. If you are a fan of artifacts, you are also at the right place, stores providing various antique stuffs like coins, statuettes and revolutionary posters.
Make it Happen!
Touch Down: The nearest international airport is located at Shanghai, 2.5 hrs by CRH to get to Shangrao, Jiangxi province. Yanshan is 40 minutes away from Shangrao by bus.
Stay: Fuxin International Hotel is the best choice if you want to stay in Yanshan. It provides authentic Chinese food, swimming pool, SPA, saunna, etc. This hotel accomadated embassodors from Russia and Mongolia not long ago. Hilton is also under construction in Shangrao, supposed to be available soon.
Eat: What to eat is the least thing you should worry about in Yanshan. Rice noodle, face-sized baked pork pie and Dengzhanguo (like a mini pizza with choped vegetables and mushrooms on a rice pie) are three musts here. River products in Yanshan style are also very popular around the area. These foods are served in every family-run restaurants along the streets as long as you stay inside the town.
Play: If you are tired from walking in the town, speedboat may take you for a quick view of the beautiful landscapes along the river side.
Mini Guide: For normal visit in Yanshan, 500RMB per day would be more than enough including but not limited to costs in hotel, food, vistit. Everything is cheap for the present. Also there is no need for taking any vehicle, because the town is so small that you can amble through it without feeling tired. However, it’s better to find a guid when you visit ancient maze-like lanes.