Saturday, April 19, 2008

Hancheng (韓城)

Hancheng was Sima Qian’s (司馬遷) hometown. And it has one of the most well-preserved, yet living old cities dating back to the Ming (明) and Ching (清) dynasties. This is one of the main streets in the old city. On both sides of the street are houses built of bricks and wood, in the old styles. Hancheng today is an industrial town emphasizing on mining. Yet the city has decided to preserve the old city and develop the new one outside. This has long been practiced in many European cities but is a relatively new phenomenon in China. For example, there is not much of the old Beijing left today besides the Forbidden City. And it is true of most of the famous historical cities.

Here is a closer look at some of the houses. I was intrigued by the wood and brick construction, the big wooden beams, walls, doors, balconies, windows, ... Many houses have a dilapidated look to them. It is of course a pity. Yet at the same time it is strangely comforting because that also means that they have not been beautified too much yet. There are signs that is happening here - I saw quite a few house being built or refurbished in the old style.

Here is a smaller street where the houses are mostly built with bricks. There is no doubt this is still a living town with people buying their groceries, getting off from school, buying snacks, buying household items, clothing, toys and the like. In other words, they are just going on with their lives right here. There are some tourists, mostly from other mainland cities. I don’t remember seeing one Caucasian face. And I don’t get the feeling yet that the residents are staging for tourists. But I don’t know how long that will remain. The city seems to be investing heavily on promoting tourism. So get there soon if you want to see it as it is, not an idealized version.

One of the problems is that it is not easy to get to by yourself. It is 230 kilometers east of Xian, requiring a 3 hour bus ride on the highway. But it is worth it. I will post more about it when I have time.


Anonymous said...

Your first picture reminds me of the movie, 大紅燈籠高高掛. It real-ize the scenes in the movie.

StephenC said...

Wait until you see the photos of courtyards in Dang Village (黨家村)- they look exactly like the courtyard of the house where the man lived with his 4 wifes in the movie. Just give me some time to sort them out.