Exploring the many sides of Yongzhou, Hunan Province

Source:Global Times Published: 2017/12/7 21:13:50

A view of Yangming Mountain photos: IC

Many of Chinese's first impression of Yongzhou, a city located in the south of Hunan Province, comes from the opening of the great Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Liu Zongyuan's poem "Snake-Catcher": The country around Yongzhou yields a curious snake - black with white spots. Any plant it touches dies, and its bite is fatal.

However, the city has far more to offer than what is depicted in numerous poems. 

Yongzhou's other name is Xiaoxiang, named so because it is located where the Xiao and Xiang rivers meet.

The city's origins can be traced back to the legendary Emperor Shun, who is believed to have lived sometime between 2294BC and 2184BC.

For travelers, the city offers many different options, from cultural relics like the Liuzi Temple and Forest of Steles to nature parks such as Yangming Mountain in Shuangpai County and Shunhuang Mountain in Dong'an County.

To promote tourism, the local government holds many events and festivals in the city, such as the Colorful China 2017 China TV Tourism Program Awards, and invites travel programs to show off the city's many sides.

Leaves of a Ginko tree

Poetic beauty

Many people say that the first step to understanding a place is to get to know the local culture, since this is an important part of any place's genes.

With this in mind, the Liuzi Temple is the very first stop you should make on your Yongzhou trip.

Liu Zongyuan (773-819), one of the Eight Great Prose Masters of the Tang and Song, is a name that is deeply connected to the history of Yongzhou. The poet spent 10 years in the city after he was exiled there due to his involvement with a failed reformist movement. This exile gave him plenty of time, and put him in the right mood, to work on his literary career, which ranged from writing poetry and fables to travelogues and essays.

One of his best-known travel pieces is surely the Yongzhou Baji, or Eight Records of Excursions in Yongzhou, which documents the many places he traveled in the region as he sought relief from his political disappointment.

The Liuzi Temple was built during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1279) to pay attribute to Liu. Rebuilt during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the entire temple is constructed from brick and wood, and is located at the base of a small hill facing the Yu River.

Walking into the gate, you will see an ancient stage where operas were performed on important occasions. A statue of Liu, surrounded by many copies of his poetry, stands in the main hall.

In the temple yard one can find many tablets inscribed with poems praising Liu written by ancient Chinese scholars.

The biggest building on Liuzi Street - also named after Liu Zongyuan - the temple is not far from Liu's old residence and his garden, which he bought during his later years in the hopes he could finally settle down in what he considered a "barbarian" place.

One of Liu's most famous poems, Jiangxue, or River Snow, is believed to be inspired by his experiences fishing the Xiao River, which is only a few miles from his old residence.

The poem goes:

A thousand mountains, no sign of birds in flight;

Ten thousand paths, no trace of human tracks.

In a lone boat, an old man, in rain hat and straw raincoat;

Fishing alone, in the cold river snow.

Standing by the river side, especially during the winter season, you can share the loneliness that Liu felt back then. The poem has been a source of inspiration for many Chinese ink paintings.

The temple is open every day from 8 am to 6 pm, while tickets cost 25 yuan ($3.80). Getting there is easy by taxi. You can spend a whole afternoon wandering around the temple and the surrounding places including the Xiao River.

Nüshu - the women's script

If you are a movie fan, then you surely must have seen, or at least heard of, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, starring Li Bingbing, Vivian Wu and Hugh Jackman. The girls in the movie write letters to each other on a fan using a secret language called nüshu, or women's script, as well as study nüshu songs and stories.

As the only characters used exclusively by women in Jiangyong County in Yongzhou, Nüshu was listed as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage in China in 2006 and was included in Unicode Standard in June of this year.

Chinese composer Tan Dun even composed a multimedia symphony Nü Shu: The Secret Songs of Women, which quickly became a hit among music fans.

In Jiangyong, there is a nüshu museum, which is a good place to appreciate this script and learn about its history and origins. Built in 2002, the museum, which is only a kilometer away from the local train station.

Additionally, Jiangyong is also a major region for the Yao ethnic group. Heading to one of their villages, you can enjoy local cultural events like the long-drum dance, and also try different types of snacks including baba, a kind of cake. 

Dong'an Chicken


A close up of a tablet located in Liuzi Temple

Rules of thumb

Getting there: You can travel to Yongzhou by plane from major cities like Shanghai and Beijing, or high-speed rail from almost anywhere.

Where to stay: Local hotels range from 100 to 500 yuan. 

What to eat: Dong'an Chicken, one of the most well-known dishes in Hunan cuisine, is cheap and is an unforgettable spicy experience. Ningyuan Blood Duck, Daozhou Pork as well as River Sails are also good choices. 

Planning: Yongzhou is not that big, so a two-day trip is enough to see everything even if you want to explore the wild parks like Yangming Mountain and Shunhuang Mountain.

Newspaper headline: Ode to a city


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