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09/12/2014

Ancient Guiyang villages take visitors back centuries

If you are tired of the water towns in southern China, with their cliched red lanterns, or the uproar in commercial ancient towns such as Lijiang in Yunnan Province, the old town of Qingyan in Guiyang China vacation deals will come as a refreshing change.

Built in 1378 as a military fortress, Qingyan was where the Ming (1368-1644) government stationed its army. Some 300 years later, a chieftan of a Bouyei tribe took control of it and developed it into a town, holding the major pass between today's Guizhou Province and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

To this day, Qingyan is a quaint destination with primitive simplicity, sitting tranquilly against Shuangshi Peak.

Ascending step by step to its grand front gate, I was overwhelmed by its solemnity. One of the four renowned ancient towns in Guizhou China travel service, Qingyan is entirely built from mountain stones. Even the houses, shops and other dwellings are made with stones and tiles.

Time slowed and uproar faded as I took a walk down zigzag stone alleyways that seem to lead nowhere but always take you on a new journey. The signature alleyway is Beijie, or Back Alley. You may find it quite familiar if you happen to have seen the 2002 film "The Missing Gun" by Chinese director/actor Jiang Wen. It features in one of the key scenes where desperate policeman Ma Shan looked for his gun that has mysteriously disappeared.

In the movie thriller, Qingyan seems like a bleak backwater: the sky always dreary; the stone paths and ancient memorial archways tumbled down; people passing by with sullen faces; vendors crying out for customers in hoarse voices ...

Yet the real Qingyan is quite the contrary.

Morning sun slanted on the stone path of the Back Alley that was still wet with dew; moss covers up the stone walls and roofs; tender grasses spear out through the cracks between the stones, lending vigor and vitality. Dogs lie basking in the sun while children joyfully rush by.

In a popular destination like Qingyan, it was quite a surprise to spot few squealing tourists following guides reciting the same pat speeches to their parties, nor countless repetitious souvenir stores selling similar stuff and playing the same sounds over and over again. Perhaps the best time to visit the old town is on weekdays.

For architecture lovers, Qingyan China Holidays is an eclectic treasure trove. The unique double layered roofs of local dwellings, especially the stores, showcase folk wisdom. Since rainfall is abundant here in Guiyang, the shop owners came up with a second roof just like eyelashes protect the eyes.

The Bouyei and other minority ethnics, Han people and French missionaries have all left their stamp on the history and character of this place. Though there were bloody clashes between the locals and French missionaries in the 1860s, today Buddhist and Taoist temples stand in harmony with Catholic and other Christian churches in this town of 3 square kilometers.

Buddhist pilgrims pour into the temples on the first and 15th day of every month on the lunar calendar, while every Sunday Christians go to the church that stands opposite Chinese memorial archways.

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Three of the eight archways in Qingyan have remained intact for more than a century. It is some kind of architectural miracle as they were all stamped directly into the stoney ground without any base. Take a close look at the vivid and delicate relief sculptures at the bottom of the pillars.

Other architecture worth a visit includes the Wanshou Palace, a guild-hall-turned-Taoist-temple.

A series of marvelous wooden reliefs adorn the theater stage in the yard that features well-known stories from the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280) such as the "Hongmen Banquet," "Besieged From All Sides," and "Surrounded On All Sides."

Qingyan also accommodated many relatives of the Red Army during the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-45).

The father of Zhou Enlai, China's first prime minister after 1949, once took shelter here, as well as Zhou's mother-in-law. Their former residences are preserved for sightseers.

For most locals in Guiyang, the most appealing part of Qingyan town is the food. Take a bite of braised pork knuckle and have a spoonful of rose bingfen (a jelly desert made with seeds). Do not miss the fragrant and sweet gaoba xifan, which is a mix of lotus root starch with steamed flour paste, topped with white sesame, rose petals and nuts. Sticky rose candy wrapped in white sesame and jilajiao (fried chilies with chicken) make great gifts for friends and family.

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