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Huizhou is located in the mountainous area of southern Anhui Province. There is no lack of beautiful scenery and outstanding people. The industrious Huizhou people created brilliant culture here, which is really extraordinary considering its influence. Unlike the Central Plain culture which benefits a lot from its position of being the political and economic center in ancient China, Huizhou culture gets its achievements mainly from the folk people. Some people may think that culture is hard to understand. However, the fact is culture is a part of our lives. When you stroll in a Huizhou village, step into a Huizhou house, have a taste of local food, talk to a Huizhou people, or rest in a Huizhou garden, it’s all a way to experience Huizhou culture.
To figure out what Huizhou culture is, we need to know what Huizhou means first. Huizhou is a generic term of a prefecture including 6 counties, namely Shexian, Yixian, Wuyuan, Xiuning, Qimen, and Jixi in southeastern China from A.D. 1121 - 1911. In the long history of 790 years, these six counties have always been subordinated to Huizhou, which provides a favorable environment for the formation of Huizhou culture. Now Shexian, Yixian, Xiuning, and Qimen belong to Huangshan City, Anhui Province. Jixi belongs to Xuancheng City in Anhui, and Wuyuan is under the administration of Shangrao City in Jiangxi Province.
Though Huizhou Prefecture is no longer an administrative region, the influence of Huizhou culture is lasting and profound. Huizhou merchants, Huizhou clans, Huizhou cuisine, Huizhou three carvings, Xin'an Neo-Confucianism, Huizhou opera, Hui-style bonsai, etc. anything related to the social and historical development of Huizhou is a part of Huizhou culture. Usually we generalize it as "the sum of material civilization and spiritual civilization" of Huizhou. Here we have chosen ten aspects of Huizhou culture for further illustration.
Huizhou geographical environment is an important factor contributing to the formation of Huizhou culture. Though Huizhou has beautiful mountains and rivers, such living environment is rather bad in an agrarian age. However, Huizhou people have not yielded to the harsh natural conditions. After generation and generation, they become more and more perseverant.
Before Qin (221-207 B.C.) and Han Dynasty (202 B.C. – A.D. 220), the main residents in Huizhou are Yue people. They advocate bravery and martial arts, which is the culture of mountain nomadic cultivation. Central Plains in north China was the political center. In the early Eastern Han Dynasty (A.D. 25-220) and afterwards, because of the turmoil brought up by changes of dynasties, many prominent families moved to Huizhou. They emphasized education, advocated Confucianism and brought Central Plain culture.
On the one hand, Central Plains culture strongly influenced Yue culture and promoted it to be more gentle and refined. On the other hand, Yue culture deeply penetrated into the Central Plains culture and made it more robust. We can see that in the basic spirits of Huizhou culture. The Confucian tradition of attaching importance to education, advocating social morality, holding a clan together are from Central Plain culture. Yue culture, however, brings Huizhou the consciousness to be actively enterprising, the endurance to bear hardships, and the courage to go out and expand business. After a long period of time, Central Plain culture and Yue culture are inseparably interconnected and form the distinctive Huizhou culture.
Culture has so wide a range that it can be found in all aspects of our daily lives. The food you eat, the house you live in, the education you receive are all part of culture. Sometimes it will breed other forms of culture that are exclusive to one region, such as Huizhou merchant or Hui opera. Though we can not discuss all the embodiments of Huizhou culture in length, the ten listed below may shed some light on what Huizhou culture really is.
Huizhou merchants began to be active in the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279), and their heyday was from the late Ming Dynasty (A.D. 1368-1644) to the early Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1644-1911). Feudal China is more of an agricultural society, but Huizhou is a mountainous area with changeable topography and dense forests. There is not enough farmland for so many people, so Huizhou people find their way out by doing business. They mainly deal in mountain products, tea leaves, cotton (cloth), scholar’s four jewels, and others.
Huizhou merchants are very hard-working and you can find them all over the country. Most of them emphasize self-cultivation. For one thing, you can not hope to achieve success with knowing nothing. For another, taking up an official career is still the main pursuit of most people. Though they may not turn out to be government officials, education has been rooted in their tradition. As Confucianism (valuing benevolence and righteousness) is the dominant idea at that time, Huizhou merchants are deeply influenced by it and are called Confucian merchants. They stress business ethics and advocate treating people with sincerity.
Apart from that, Huizhou merchants are business associations with a strong sense of kinship and geographical identity. Spending years alone at a foreign land, they will be overwhelmed with excitement when they meet their fellow-townsman. So they always help each other. It has greatly strengthened the cohesion within Huizhou merchants groups and improved their market competitiveness, which ensures their prosperity for generations. After they get fame or money, they tend to repay their hometown and make more efforts in charity or to construct ancestral halls and their own houses to make their family proud. Among all the merchants, Hu Xueyan (A.D. 1823-1885) is the most famous one. He is not only a successful merchants running more than 20 private banks and many Chinese medicine shops, but also an influential official because he has supported the army a lot for Qing government.
The distinctive Huizhou architecture has become one of the name cards of Huizhou. Residential houses, ancestral halls, and memorial archways are the three most outstanding representatives of Huizhou architecture.
Huizhou residential house looks like a quadrilateral palace with high white walls and black tiles. The horse-head wall once used to prevent the fire also presents a kind of dynamic beauty. Generally speaking, it looks relatively simple from the outside. You can only see some small windows on the wall. But the entrance gate is always decorated with an arch to show the social status of the owner. Once you step inside, you will find the building is much more complicated than you think. Huizhou residential house is measured by rows separated by doors and each row has a patio. Usually a branch family live in a row. So when you think you are at the end of the house, but open the door, you may find you just enter another row. The patio is important for light, ventilation and good luck because the rainwater can drop inside through it and Huizhou people think it means that you can keep the fortune inside. Though the house is in large scale, the decoration inside such as the three carvings are rather exquisite. As mentioned above, Huizhou people love reading and they have an eye for beauty. The World Heritage Site Xidi village has 124 well-preserved ancient residential houses left from the Ming (A.D. 1368-1644) and Qing (A.D. 1644-1911) Dynasties. It is a good place for both building and natural beauty appreciation.
Ancestral halls are allowed to build since Jiajing period (A.D. 1522 - 1566) in the Ming Dynasty. The strong clans in Huizhou have always lived together, especially after the influence of Neo-Confucianism (see below). It has become an important idea and principle of Huizhou people to respect ancestors and advocate filial piety. Ancestral hall is such a place to worship ancestors, discuss important clan issues, hold wedding ceremonies and funerals. Therefore, the ancestral hall is the core of a clan or a village. The scale of an ancestral hall can reflect the historical background, social economy, family prosperity of a clan, so it is always of the top grade in design, crafts, or carvings. Nanping village still preserves 8 ancestral halls in both small and large sizes where you can get a overall understanding of the ancestral hall culture. Luo Dongshu Memorial Temple built in 1539 in Chengkan village is also an essence of ancestral hall building and worth a visit.
Memorial archways represent a kind of traditional Chinese culture showed in architectures. It is usually built by the permission of the emperor to commend meritorious deeds in feudal China. Building an archway is one of the highest pursuits of the ancient people. It brings great honor to the man himself and his whole family, and his name will perpetually be remembered by posterity. The memorial archway looks like a grand arch with a roof (or not) and 4 or 8 pillars. It is usually carved with some patterns of flowers or animals. Sometimes there will be Chinese characters carved on the top to praise the person it is built for or show its significance, for example, “御制” means that it is built by the order of the emperor with the money from the National Treasury. Memorial archway is more than an archway, it is the story of the people that touches one’s heart most. In Tangyue Village, there are 7 majestic memorial archways arranged in the order of "loyalty, filial piety, moral integrity and righteousness". After hearing the stories of Tangyue Memorial Archways, I’m sure you will better understand Huizhou people and Huizhou culture.
Know more about Huizhou architecture: Huizhou Architecture - Important Branch of Traditional Chinese Architecture
Brick carving, stone carving, and wood carving are called the three carvings in Huizhou. They originated in the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279) and thrived in the Ming (A.D. 1368-1644) and Qing (A.D. 1644-1911) Dynasty.
Brick carving is a kind of architectural decoration exquisitely carved on the solid bricks specially produced in Huizhou. It is widely used in the arches, doorsteps, lintels, eaves, roofs, roofs and other places, endowing the buildings with a sense of elegance and solemnness. It is an important part of the Hui-style architectural art that has risen since the Ming and Qing Dynasty. Brick carving includes flat carving, relief carving and three-dimensional carving. They usually choose birds, flowers, auspicious dragons, tigers, lions, gardens, and opera characters as their carving themes, which conveys distinctive folk characteristics.
Stone carvings are widely distributed in urban and rural areas of Huizhou. They are mainly used for decoration of corridors, doors, walls, and archways in temples and houses. It enjoys a high reputation as a kind of relief and round carving art. Limited by the carving material itself, stone carving is not as complex as wood carving and brick carving. It is mainly about animals, plants, and calligraphy. Landscapes and images that tell a story are relatively rare. Stone carving tends to combine the patterns as an integration. It was graceful but relatively simple and unsophisticated.
Wood carving is usually can be seen on the beams, screens, windows, handrails, beds, tables, chairs, almost everywhere in a house. Huizhou wood carving has a wide range of subjects, including people, landscapes, flowers, animals, insects, fish, clouds, Chinese characters, and various auspicious patterns. In the early Ming Dynasty, Hui-style wood carving began to take shape, taking flat carving as its main techniques in an unadorned style. Then with the noticeable growth of Huizhou merchants’ financial strength, wood carving got improved, too. The more complicated multi-layer carving replaced flat carving as the mainstream. The famous architecture complex of 7 ancient residences in Lucun village has the most amazing wood carvings. They can be as beautiful as you can imagine. If you are interested in wood carving arts, don’t miss it.
Huizhou has a long history of tea cultivation, which began in the Southern Dynasty (A.D. 420-589) and has become a famous tea producing area in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). Huizhou merchants have been doing tea business since the Ming Dynasty according to existing historical records. During the centuries of Huizhou merchants' prosperity, Huizhou tea has gradually gained its reputation. Qimen black tea, Taiping Houkui, Huangshan Maofeng, Tunxi green tea, are all widely known in China. Especially Huangshan Maofeng, one of China's top ten famous tea, it is always given to foreign friends as a national gift!
Huizhou people love tea. They drink tea all year round and treat their guests with tea. Drinking tea is not just to quench one’s thirst, but more of a cultural activity. It requires a quiet environment, elegant wares, and certain knowledge of the all kinds of tea leaves. No matter you are drinking alone or with your friends, it will help to mould your temperament and make you feel peaceful. What’s more, the tea polyphenol, alkaloid, amino acid, and vitamin contained in tea leaves are beneficial to people’s health.
In recent years, there have been tea ceremony performances in some tea houses to reproduce the ancient tea drinking etiquettes, including 13 procedures from eliminating the distractive thoughts to finally tasting it. It must be a special experience to better understand Huizhou tea culture.
Huizhou people value the concept of “family”. The family members always help each other, dedicative to their family no matter in business or politics. So their family can be prosperous for many generations. At that time, there are several famous families such as Wang family, Jiang family, Bao family in Shexian, Wu family in Xiuning, and Zhu family in Wuyuan.
Take the Wang Family as an example. In China, it is said that “All people surnamed Wang are from Huizhou”. It may be a little exaggerated but also shows how large Wang family is. In the past, no one was surnamed Wang in the south. It is Wang wenhe that brought the Wang family here. Wang Wenhe was promoted to general in A.D. 192 for pacifying the rebels. Later, because of the constant wars and chaos in Central Plains, Wang Wenhe moved to the south. Huizhou at that time is desolate and remote, so the family Wang settle there contentedly. Without external disturbance, the family gets larger. After several hundred years, another important person in family Wang appears, Wang Hua (A.D. 587-649), Duke Yueguo of Tang (a symbol of honor and a high rank of title in ancient China that the emperor granted to those who made great contributions to the country). Wang Hua is free from corruption, clear in rewards and punishments, and concerned about the people. Thanks to him, the people can live a peaceful life in a turbulent period. During the 1000 years, Wang Hua was worshipped by the local people and regarded as the "Lord of Peace". In A.D. 623, in order to show gratitude to the emperor of the Tang Dynasty for his kindness to Wang Hua and his descendants, Wang Sili (one of Wang Hua’s descendants) decides to build a village imitating the standard and scale of the Tang Dynasty and it’s called Tangmo ancient village. Many members in family Wang are in important positions in the government in the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907). The family further expanded. Due to the large population, some of them started to move to other provinces like Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Sichuan. Until now, every year on Tomb-Sweeping Day (5th, April), many descendants of family Wang will come back to Huizhou to honor their ancestors.
Huizhou cuisine is one of the eight traditional Chinese cuisines originating in the Southern Song Dynasty (A.D. 1127-1279). There are four major features of Huizhou cuisine. First, Huizhou is rich in all kinds of food materials such as bamboo shoots, mushrooms, agaric fungus, chestnut, yam, game meat, poultry, and freshwater food, so Huizhou cuisine usually adopts local materials to maintain its freshness and regional characteristics. Second, Huizhou cuisine requires very good heat control according to different cooking ingredients and expected flavor of the final dish. Third, apart from the various cooking techniques like quick-frying, stir-frying, deep-frying, boiling, roasting, Huizhou cuisine especially stands out in stewing, fumigating, and steaming dishes. Fourth, you are what you eat. Huizhou cuisine pays much attention to its regimen effect.
There are five or six hundred varieties of Huizhou cuisine in history. After selection and innovation, now more than 120 remain. "Stewed Turtle with Ham" is one of the specialties. Using the unique "Sandy Horseshoe Turtle" in Huizhou as the main ingredient, it is stewed with ham and ham bones. Extra crystal sugar will maintain its umami. The heat control is important here. A soft charcoal fire would be the best. After it’s done, the sweet fragrance will greet the nose. Then it’s time to taste the mellow broth and gender meat.
Scholar's Four Jewels refer to the four writing instruments in ancient China: writing brush, ink-stick, art paper and ink stone. The name originated in the Northern and Southern Dynasties (A.D. 420-589). Though there are many places to produce those items, Anhui has always been the home to the Four Jewels and it produces the best of them.
Huizhou is especially famous for the ink stone in Shexian and ink-stick in Jixi. The stones used to produce Shexian ink-stone generally need 500 million to 1 billion years’ geological change to take shape, among which the phyllitized slates are the most suitable. She ink-stone has prominent pattern structures, fine mineral particle size, and even particulate quartz distribution. With Shexian ink-stone, the ink-stick can be used to the fullest in making smooth ink. Therefore, it has been praised by calligraphers of all dynasties.
High-grade Huizhou ink-stick is made of more than 10 kinds of materials such as China wood oil soot, musk, borneol, gold foil and Pearl powder. The ink-stick itself is a comprehensive art treasure because it is always decorated with beautiful painting, calligraphy, or carving. It is strong as jade, black as lacquer, and won’t make noises when grinding. The words written with Huizhou ink-stick are durable in color and give off a pleasant smell. Hu Kaiwen Ink Factory in the center of Huangshan City is a time-honored factory to produce traditional Chinese ink-sticks. More than a factory, it is also a museum where you can witness the working process of making ink-sticks and make an ink stick on your own.
Xin'an (the old name of Huizhou) Neo-Confucianism, also called Xin’an Li Theory, has played an important role in the history of Chinese philosophy. Its founders, Cheng Hao (A.D. 1032-1085) and Cheng Yi (A.D. 1033-1107), and the epitome Zhu Xi (A.D. 1130-1200) are all from Xin’an. Zhu Xi integrated Taoist and Zen thoughts into Confucianism, which transformed Confucianism into the classical theory of the ancient society of the country, Neo-Confucianism with a rigorous ideological system. He believes that "Li" is supreme and all-inclusive, so it is called Li Theory. “Li” here actually refers to the outline of feudal ethics, which includes the three cardinal guides (the emperor is the guide of the officials, the father is the guide of the sons, and the husband is the guide of the wife) and the five constant virtues (benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom and trust) as specified in the feudal ethical code. Zhu Xi received a wide range of students and delivered lectures in person. His students were all over the country, and many have made academic and political achievements, which further strengthen his influence, especially in his hometown Huizhou.
Zhu Xi believes that reading is essential in achieving Li, which promoted the education atmosphere in Huizhou. Some learned families compile their own textbooks about Confucianism and teach their brothers and sons. The innovative development of Confucianism and the exchange of new ideas enhance the rational thinking of Huizhou people. The feudal ethics praised constantly has gradually grown into the behavior codes of Huihzou people and cultivated their filial piety and principled characters. Therefore, there have been many ancestral halls to memorize the ancestors and archways to honor the good deeds.
Hui Opera has a history of more than 300 years. It has played an important role in the development of Chinese opera. It not only gave birth to Peking Opera, but also has a close relationship with dozens of local operas in other parts of China. There are 1404 traditional Hui Opera repertoires and 753 of them are in archives. Its content ranges from disputes among nations, major events of the dynasties, fairies and ghosts to folk life stories. It mainly adopts the tunes called Chuiqiang (gentle and mild), Bozi (loud and sonorous), and Pihuang (common and smooth).
The performance of Hui Opera is full of variety with superb skills. The actors are required to be good at singing, dancing, acting, and even martial arts. 10 minutes’ performance on stage may need 10 years’ practicing. The outfits and facial makeups are not chosen in random. The clothes are usually in red, yellow, blue (green), white, black. For official characters, blue is always chosen over green, while walk-on parts choose green clothes in most cases. The rich facial makeups are roughly similar to Beijing Opera and show the personality or story of the character. For instance, there is a big peach painted on the forehead of Zhang Fei, indicating his story of becoming sworn brothers with Liu Bei and Guan Yu in a peach garden. All the three persons are famous heroes in the Three Kingdoms Period (A.D. 220-280). Zhang Fei and Guan Yu helped Liu Bei establish Kingdom Shu in Sichuan.
Hui-style bonsai can date back to the Song Dynasty, about 900 years ago. It implies spirit through shape. Dragon in China is an auspicious animal indicating flourish. The main body of dragon-style bonsai is usually in an “S” shape like a wandering dragon with some branches on both sides indicating the dragon claws. Guest-welcoming bonsai is also very popular. Two branches are extended at nearly the same height of the trunk, just like a man is stretching his arms welcoming you. Hui-style bonsai is usually used to decorate the house and they have enhanced each other’s beauty. Pine and cypress are very common in Hui-style bonsai, their evergreen appearance is a perfect symbol of the resolved and upward spirit of Huizhou people.
Of course there are more than two shapes or two plants in Hui-style bonsai and it is unlikely to write all of them down in these several hundred words. But you can have a close-up view of them in Bao Family’s Garden, the largest and most beautiful Hui-style private garden in China. It covers an area of more than 360 mu (about 24 hectares), dotted with lakes, bridges, pavilions, and above all, nearly 10,000 precious bonsai. There is no other place you need to go if you want to see Hui-style bonsai.
Having reading so much about Huizhou culture, do you want to experience it in person? To plan a Huizhou culture tour, you can start with visiting the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage Site Huangshan Mountain. Here you can not only behold the wonder of nature, but also learn some knowledge about its history and the connection with Huizhou culture. The next day, go for a relaxing stroll on the 900-year-old Tunxi Ancient Street to immerse in the fragrance of tea and taste some local snacks. Then pay a visit to Hu Kaiwen Ink-stick Factory to find out how ancient Chinese people produce ink sticks. On the last day, Hongcun and Xidi ancient village would be a good choice because you can have a closer contact with the local life of Huizhou people while enjoying the idyllic scenery and typical Huizhou architecture. The detailed itinerary is in 4 Days Huangshan Tour with Hongcun & Xidi.
In addition, China Discovery is specialized in tailor-made tours according to your travelling time, budget and interests. The itinerary is adjustable. We will provide you with the best service, knowledgeable tour guides and professional drivers. Here are some other recommended tours listed below about Huizhou culture for your reference. If you have any questions or other requirements about the trip, please feel free to contact us.
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Tunxi - Huangshan - Tunxi
Tunxi - Huangshan Mountain - Hongcun - Xidi
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[Important] Travel News for Expats: China travel is reopening now! Travel with China Discovery and learn about where to visit & requirements for each destination! Read Details >