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The Big Kaiping Village Diaolou Cluster Adventure

Hey Hey and a Big G'Day toya,

Mate, I’m clusterberried. Awesomely clustered and confused. All clustered out and totally clusterfaaaar…um…finished!

I had the most wonderful day which began with a coffee and noodles at ten this morning below a very threatening sky that thankfully slowly raised a smile my way and by mid afternoon we had fluffy white sheep dancing across a huge happy sea of blue. My driver and I covered all the main Diaolou Clusters and even when I was all clustered out he proudly continued to drive me to other far off Diaolou Houses and by the end of the day I felt like giving him my camera and telling to;

Go my son and be cluster and merry! But I didn’t because I simply couldn’t get enough of them. They are so strange and wacky and out of place compared to what I am used to here in China.

I think the only let down for the entire day was, sorry Canadians but it was the Canadian Village Cluster which to get ready for tourism they would actually have to knock the entire village down and rebuild a new village with something more worth visiting. Needless to say it was boring and without any feeling what so ever. Second on the list would be the historic town of Chikan and if it wasn’t for the amazing tofu and baked rice and lamb lunch we had there I would tell people not to add it to their cluster list.

But I simply can’t as the food was to totally die for! But don’t tell my driver that…please!

I won’t give you a rundown of my day cluster by cluster as I’d rather people visit and make up their own minds but I’ll give you some prices and stuff instead. Within seven hours we visited most of what I think there is to see or worth seeing and I sneakily asked some other people what they were paying for their Driver for the day and most were paying somewhere around three hundred Yuan and thanks for Brian I paid somewhat far less than that.

With a small group that is a tiny sum to pay for what you get to see and there is actually no other way to do it, as I think a local bus will only take you 'somewhere’ near the Zili and LiYuan Gardens but I am unsure even as to how close the local bus station is to them when you arrive from Kaiping.

The entrance fee for each Cluster is fifty Yuan or you can grab the Big Daddy Ticket (90 Yuan) which gets you into all of the main sites. The most beautiful building is easily located in the Diaolou Cluster in Jin Jiang Li and there is no cost to visiting BUT if you wish to climb it, it will cost you thirty Yuan simply because you are a foreigner. Thankfully my driver was a bloody ripper and ripped the lady to shreds for charging the Chinese people ten Yuan who entered before me and I soon entered for the same price. The Historic Town of Chikan looks beautiful on the pamphlet but that was taken on a sunny day and strangely the river looks blue so I take it there has been a hint of Photoshop at play.

Also what you see on the pamphlet is actually all there is. I thought it was going to be a nice little village but all there is, is a small line of shop fronts.

Other than that the only other thing I would loved to have changed was ‘time’ as there simply wasn’t enough time for me to do what I love to do and that is to walk out into the fields here and there to take better photos, so most of my photos are simply of the buildings themselves. I would of loved to have included rice fields with them in the background etc but the only way to do such a thing is to hire a motor bike and go there yourself. I’m sure you can do this if you have enough faith to ride on Chinese roads on a motor bike but I don’t. I have enough problems getting into a cab and sitting in the back seat here in China.

And after today even a hired van is questionable.

As my driver could speak a little English and also little Mandarin I gave him the foreigners bird’s eye view of Chinese drivers and that was that it’s all about ME ME ME so he then began playing the ME ME ME game where when we came to a main road full of trucks and buses speeding along he would then drive out in front of them yelling ME ME ME while laughing hysterically. I sat there dreaming of the nights Beers & Noodles silently hoping I would get to taste them. He laughed and nudged and prodded his way in front of them all BUT here I am with beer in hand. Does this mean that there really is a God or does it simply mean that my love for Beers & Noodles and Chinese girls in tiny denim shorts and high heels outweighs his trust of ‘the other driver’ when it comes to the ME ME ME game all Chinese seem to play.

HHHmmm I’m going for ME ME ME and that my love for Beers & Noodles and Chinese girls in tiny denim shorts and high heels totally outweighed his belief in the other driver!

Last night I spent many hours researching the places I was going to see today and below is what I decided to offer. The first part is a news paper article about a local Kaiping elderly and until I found this I did have pages of ‘stuff’ to sort though and rearrange but after reading it I decided that it told most of what I wanted to tell about where I am and the history of the Kaiping immigrants and their return to China with their new found knowledge, ideas and wealth along with information on the reason behind such structures.

I will tell you this though, my visit to Kaiping has been an amazing adventure and I have gained so much knowledge on those that left China for foreign lands and returned to their mother land and I hope I have passed a little of that on to the rest of the world. Kaiping still remains unknown to the world as do the stories it has to offer.

Kaiping is totally worth adding to your China adventure no matter who you are.

If you can’t be bothered reading it all at least read the article below as that will give you some understanding of why these crazy buildings can be found here in the middle of no-where in the middle of rice paddy fields, after that scroll down to the photos below all text.

<u>AS FOR WHERE I WILL BE FOUND TOMORROW! </u> It is getting very near Chinese New Year and things are already beginning to heat up including the noise level. I will either stay here for one more day and relax and do sweet bugger all or move on. BUT right now I have to decide what I want to do for the Chinese New Year. Do I want to play the noise game or do I want to get away from it all and find a quiet place to hide? At the moment (this being my seventh new year in China I'm leaning towards the latter and believe I will choose between two destinations, both of which are small towns that offer hiking and mountains upon which to play. BUT then again, me being me I might just meet a beauty in tiny denim shorts and high heels, change my mind and join in with the rest of them and throw fire crackers at everyone walking past. Beers N Noodles toya…..shane ___________________________________________________________

The soundtrack to this entry was by Bodyjar The album was &#8216;Singles And Stuff’ ____________________________________________________________

<u>Towers of Strength (news article)</u>

Originally built as luxury homes by returning &eacute;migr&eacute;s, the recently Unesco-listed towers of Kaiping were later enlisted for a more warlike purpose.

She hangs a framed, black-and-white photograph of herself on the wall.

&#8216;It’s to help me remember who I am,’ says 83-year-old Wu Dongjiu, widow of Situ Yao, who was killed in 1945 by Japanese troops. Wu was just 20 years old and they had been married for only six months. The sun beams into her one-room home through a gap in the roof, casting the stone patio in a shaft of light. The rest of her home is dark, save the shock of silver hair crowning her head. Somewhere above, a lone tower watches over her village of Xuan Qi Li. It is not the South Tower, where Situ Yao was captured, but it is one of the nearly two thousand towers that bear witness to the extraordinary trials of the daughters and sons of Kaiping, a city in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong.

Kaiping’s watchtowers (Diaolou in Mandarin) rise over the western reaches of the Pearl River delta. Built between the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Kaiping &eacute;migr&eacute;s returning from overseas, the towers exhibit a harmony of Chinese and Western elements rarely matched today. From imposing military structures to opulent castles with their turrets in the clouds, they are as diverse as the dreams of &eacute;migr&eacute;s returning home.

&#8216;Some say Kaiping’s watchtowers are symbols of decadence’, says Ms Zhou, assistant director of Kaiping’s largest watchtower cluster, Majianglong but that is wrong. Kaiping’s &eacute;migr&eacute;s suffered a lot and struggled hard. The watchtowers are their history and culture and each one has a story to tell.’ The stories are harrowing and heartening and now Kaiping is telling them to the world. For years government leaders petitioned Unesco and academics published their findings, while locals spoke with journalists and overseas descendents stormed the blogosphere. In June 2007, their efforts paid off when a handful of watchtower clusters became the first Unesco World Heritage sites in the manufacturing-intensive Guangdong.

It is the week before Chinese New Year and the country is caught in the grip of the worst winter storm in fifty years. Bitter winds blast the tropical Pearl River delta, a hive of activity that is home to some sixty million people and is responsible for around twenty per cent of China’s GDP. But the Kaiping road leaves the belching factories behind, tunneling west through a low mountain range and descending silent foothills to a broad flood plain. At the confluence of the Tan and Cang rivers the bustling city of Kaiping sprawls over a series of islets and channels thronged with old wooden boats. Though no towers stand in the city any more, their gothic spires, Byzantine domed roofs and castle-like battlements soar over nearly every surrounding village and town.

At the tiny village of Gu Juan Bei Zha, 34-year-old Xie Chunzhi is returning home from the booming city of Shenzhen to celebrate the new year. Like so many young Chinese born in the countryside, he and his wife work in the city while his parents raise their grandson in the ancestral village. Their village has two towers, one now used for storing hay and an old villa. Inside, an old photograph of the owner, who returned from Canada to build this home in the 1920s looks out over a roomful of dusty hand-carved wooden furniture. His slick, pomaded hair contrasts with the surroundings of chaff sieves, rain-darkened walls and a millstone built into the floor. From the fourth-floor patio Xie looks down at the village’s smooth, paved road and says: &#8216;The returnees built that road; they linked our village with the outside world. They came back and built schools.’ Troubled times drove Kaiping’s &eacute;migr&eacute;s overseas. As the Qing Dynasty (1644-1914) declined in the mid-19th century uprising and rebellion, combined with mounting population pressure spurred Kaiping natives to seek work in South-East Asia and the Americas.

Departing from nearby ports Hong Kong and Macau, they hoped to return one day.

&#8216;Most had lost their land and they had no other choice,’ says Situ Family Library director, Situ Liang. &#8216;Why else would they go dig mines and build railroads so far from home?’ Conditions for &eacute;migr&eacute;s overseas were often dire but many of the survivors returned with dreams of buying land, building a home and finding a spouse. In a sense, the dream lives on today. &#8216;I hope to retire here,’ says Xie. &#8216;We pretty much all do. I’ve been in Shenzhen for fifteen years but I still prefer Kaiping.’ From the patio, the village looks like an island in a rice-paddy sea, linked to other islands by dry, earth embankments and smooth, returnee-built roads.

But for Kaiping, things were not so smooth. As the Qing fell, &eacute;migr&eacute;s returned to build a new China. They found chaos and unrest, exacerbated by opium addiction and gambling.

Exposed on the flood plain, Kaiping was ravaged by a typhoon in 1908, driving destitute villagers to banditry. The desperate outlaws targeted rich returnees and crime soared. Then, in 1923, villagers posted in an old Qing watchtower foiled a kidnapping attempt, galvanising Kaiping residents into a watchtower-building boom. Villages and families built towers for communal defense while the wealthy turned towers into dream homes, incorporating styles and materials gleaned overseas.

On a hilltop, surrounded by graves the five-storey, reinforced-concrete Unesco heritage-listed Fang Clan watchtower stands alone. Built to defend the region its balconies, domed roof and spire conceal a deadly grace.

Deep loopholes peer out from thick walls, once equipped with a searchlight, guns, generator and siren, all shipped back by family members overseas. winds whip the rain clouds on towards the nearby Zili Village. The name zili roughly means &#8216;do-it-yourself’ and fittingly, the villagers continue building new tourist paths through the rain. &#8216;Becoming a World Heritage site is a source of pride,’ says resident Li Qiuyang. &#8216;Nobody ever came to visit before. Now, we’re fixing the place up and creating new jobs.’

Enterprising residents offer tourists home-style meals inside their watch-tower and villa kitchens.

Sandwiched between Baizu Mountain and the Tan River, Majianglong’s towers and villas poke out through lush bamboo thickets and banana tree groves. It is another area where Kaiping’s local government has been instrumental in promoting preservation and tourism. &#8216;Thank goodness for these towers,’ says a middle-aged local called Hu. &#8216;Kaiping’s Watchtower Office helped us fix-up our village so I renovated my home and they picked up the tab.’

In Majianglong, where the watch towers are also on Unesco’s list, incense smoke hangs fragrant and thick in the cold damp air. Beneath a tent, men prepare food for a New Year’s feast and on the village’s stone edifices, block red Chinese characters remnants of communist propaganda, fade in the rain as development redraws party lines.

On Sunday, villagers come to market in Chikan Town, where colonial-style row houses line the narrow lanes. Their square columns vault residential balconies out over street-level store fronts, full of lanterns, fireworks, auspicious door hangings and kumquat trees. The sun is out, breaking the storm for the first time all week. In Chikan’s Situ Family Library, elderly director Situ Liang sits with his grandson. Scholarly, in a wool cap and oversized spectacles, he is responsible for promoting local culture and liaising with Situ clan members around the world. Across the street, on the Tan’s banks he has erected a memorial to the Seven Martyrs of the South Tower. &#8216;We must learn history, not hatred,’ he says. &#8216;History teaches us to work together for a better future. We must seek out improvement for all’ and it is a tough lesson for the Situ clan.

In June 1945, seven of their young men (including Situ Yao) rushed down to the Tan to defend the strategic South Tower from advancing Japanese forces. Outnumbered and outgunned, they fought for seven days and nights, exhausting all supplies. They were captured, tried in their own library, executed, dismembered, hung from the banyan trees where the memorial stands today and then cast in the river.

&#8216;Hatred won’t help,’ says Liang, who, with contributions from family members, is now expanding the memorial’s poetry garden. &#8216;We cannot allow grudges of the past to hurt us today. We must find a way to move forward for peace.’ Wu Dongjiu, Situ Yao’s widow, is the last survivor of the invasion in Chikan. Her village is near the shrapnel-scarred South Tower. &#8216;We have to help young people understand the chaos of war,’ she says, &#8216;to understand how hard it’s been just to reach today.

This good life came from those hard times!

<u>Now for some HISTORY</u>

Since the 14th century, Kaiping has traditionally been a region of major emigration abroad, and a melting pot of ideas and trends brought back by overseas Chinese. Diaolous of Kaiping were first constructed in the early Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911). Initially they were constructed to guard against floods. During the waning years of the Qing reign and the early years of the Republic (1911 - 1949), overseas Chinese and local people from Kaiping built more castles to guard against continuing wars, rampant banditry and rapacious robbers.

Diaolou of Kaiping reached its peak in the 1920's and 1930's when there were estimated to be more than three thousand of these structures.

In the mid-19th century, many people from Jiangmen migrated to Canada, the U.S, and Australia for the "gold rush," railway building, or similar purposes that called for massive infusions of labor. If you ask contemporary overseas Chinese where their hometown is, this place is one of the four most often cited in response. The air of American and Canadian "Chinatowns" is even today dominated by Jiangmen dialects. Reciprocally, these pioneers brought back to China the Western culture and lifestyle they practiced, which in turn gave birth to unique residential constructions, including diaolou blockhouses.

<u>The Diaolou of Kaiping</u>

Late one night in 1922, more than two hundred bandits advance single file in the darkness.

They have just abducted the twenty three pupils and headmaster of the Chikan village school and they are leading them back to their hideout. Their route takes them past the village of Yingcun, dominated by the Hongyi Lou, a diaolou built by Chinese &eacute;migr&eacute;s on their return from the United States for the protection of their families. They stored their weapons in it and installed an electric generator and an alarm siren, brought back from overseas.

As soon as the sun sets, men stand guard at the top of the fortified tower, where villagers sleep.

That night they spot odd, furtive shadows and immediately they turn on the searchlight and sound the alarm. The petrified bandits are trapped in the glare and din of these unknown devices. From the top of the diaolou, the guards open fire. Panic ensues. Several bandits are shot; others head for the hills, while some of the prisoners flee. The villagers capture twelve bandits and save seventeen pupils and the headmaster.

Word of this exploit spreads far and wide. Now every town wants its own diaolou.

<u>A matter of prestige </u>

The Diaolou display a complex and flamboyant fusion of Chinese and Western structural and decorative forms. They reflect the significant role of &eacute;migr&eacute; Kaiping people in the development of several countries in South Asia, Australasia, and North America, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the close links between overseas Kaiping and their ancestral homes. The property inscribed here consists of four groups of Diaolou, totaling some one thousand, eight hundred tower houses in their village settings."

The diaolou represented prestige as they were status symbols, flaunting the prosperity and power of their owners, who consequently spent lavish sums on them. Some of the towers belonged to a single family and were used as residences. Others were funded by a village or several families, with everyone getting a small room in which to store valuables or take refuge in case of danger. And some (like the Fang Clan watch tower near Zili) were lookout points, erected in strategic places on the outskirts of villages.

The diaolou built by communities were often named after the village or the traditional chieftain, while others were described by their function. Once the name was chosen, renowned artists were called in to trace the characters in calligraphy, which were then carved or molded and displayed at the top of the main fa&ccedil;ade. The inscription adorning Ruishi Lou, a nine-storey diaolou in the village of Jinjiangli, is the work of an abbot and celebrated calligrapher from Canton’s Temple of the Six Banyan Trees. Most of these diaolou are abandoned today, but nothing about their appearance evokes desolation. At nightfall, their somber silhouettes stand at attention above the houses and continue to watch over the villages of Kaiping.

<u>LiYuan Garden</u>

Of all the tower residences in Kai-ping, Liyuan Garden is probably the most luxurious and impressive. Completed in 1936 after ten years of construction and refinement, it became the pride and joy of its owner Xie Weili, an overseas Chinese settled in the United States. The garden, offspring of a joyous union of Chinese and Western cultures, incorporates traditional Chinese landscaping, water gardens, and a cluster of Western-style villas. Xie had dreamed of a garden with pavilions, towers, winding brooks and ornate stone bridges like those found in China's Suzhou, but all rendered into a Western architectural form. Only Xie, with his poetic temperament and familiarity with the classics, could make this happen.

Amazingly, the garden houses a huge Italian style aviary. The four characters bai niao gui chao, or, one hundred birds return home, are still visible on it today. The aviary was a gift for Xie's fourth wife Guan, a bird lover who reportedly kept it lively with species of various kinds.

Due to wars before 1iberation the Liyuan Garden was at many times on the point of destruction. After liberation, Tao Zhu and other government leaders came to visit it in 1957. They gave instruction to protect the garden but it soon became the sanitarium of the Zhaoqing District in l959 but now the flowers of Overseas Chinese blossoms in their hometowns here and the South China pearl sparkles with pride.

<u>Chikan Town</u>

Chikanzhen Yinglong Lou is the oldest preserved diaolou in Kaiping.

It was built during the reign of Emperor Wangli of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and is located in Sanmenli Village, Chikanzhen Township about six kilometers east of downtown Kaiping. 'Yinglong' in Chinese means 'welcoming or greeting dragons'. In the Chinese culture, the dragon is the symbol of auspiciousness. The name 'Yinglong' implies that the construction of the diaolou will bring people safety, fortune and happiness. With three hundred and fifty years of history Chikan evolved from a country market place into the business center of Kaiping. The prosperity of this ancient town was mostly attributed to the business competition between the Guan and Situ families. Memorial family libraries were built by each family and both libraries became landmarks of Chikan. The streets and buildings in Chikan, as they currently exist, were mostly built during the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century by Overseas Chinese returning to their village. The Overseas Chinese incorporated of Western architecture into their new homes. The buildings are three-story structures with a store front on the street level and two residential upper floors. Although the buildings do not have much decorative details, each building was built with a balcony facing the Tanjiang River which flows along and divides the town. The balcony, called Qilou in local dialect became a prominent architectural feature in Chikan. While Chikan evokes fond memories of a past glorious life, it is still very lively with delicious local foods, folk arts, fishing boats, old banyan trees, six hundred old Qilou buildings and friendly people.

It is a town with a unique presence in the middle of the surrounding crop field and Tanjiang River.

<u>Majianglong Diaolou Cluster</u>

Majianglong Diaolou Cluster, Castles in Forest

Situated 15km away from Kaiping city, the Majianglong Villages are composed of five villages. They sit in green mountains and clear waters with an elegant ecological environment. Most diaolou buildings were constructed in the early 20th century and eighty percent of the Majianglong villagers had emigrated to the United States, Canada, Mexico and Australia. Thirteen diaolou buildings, hidden among the fondant woods, are like the castles scattered in forest, harmonious with the surrounding resident houses and natural environment.

In June 2007, the World Heritage Committee of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization ("UNESCO") inscribed Majinglong Villages on its World Cultural Heritage List.

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Posted by eddakath 17:00 Archived in China

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