Hidden History: Peeking through Village Relics

BRIDGES TO NOWHERE
DAFEN VILLAGE (WANJIANG DISTRICT)

Progress encroaches to the very edges of ancient craftsmanship, and though village planners have maintained these links to history, the bridges of Dafen are mostly aimless.

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LIANBU BRIDGE (CIRCA 1522-66)

He Chenggen, a village elder, tells the story of an old ficus tree that once stood where villagers took rest at sunset. He says, at the time, and extolled by a local poem, when a soft wind came from the north, a quiet melody would arrive with it.

He Chenggen, a village elder, tells the story of an old ficus tree that once stood where villagers took rest at sunset. He says, at the time, and extolled by a local poem, when a soft wind came from the north, a quiet melody would arrive with it.

 ZHONGDE BRIDGE (CIRCA 1522-66)

Built by villager He Yingyang, a man that is said to have saved the village from an epidemic by providing, unpaid, a secret prescription.

Built by villager He Yingyang, a man that is said to have saved the village from an epidemic by providing, unpaid, a secret prescription.

QINGYUN BRIDGE (CIRCA 1573-1620)

The hand railing, added by He Tailun, is not original. Upon passing the imperial exams and returning from Beijing, the 19th century official, who as a child fell into the river during a nap, had them installed.

The hand railing, added by He Tailun, is not original. Upon passing the imperial exams and returning from Beijing, the 19th century official, who as a child fell into the river during a nap, had them installed.


THE FORGOTTEN GENERAL

HUANGDONG VILLAGE (FENGGANG TOWN)

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OLD HOME OF HONG QUANFU

Listed just more than a decade ago for safe keeping under Dongguan’s historic relic program, this site, the home of an exiled rebel general, has fallen into disrepair.

Listed just more than a decade ago for safe keeping under Dongguan’s historic relic program, this site, the home of an exiled rebel general, has fallen into disrepair.

After an uprising against the Qing Dynasty fell to a bloody end in 1864, differing reports show that Hong Quanfu, prince of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1851-1864), escaped South, settling in Dongguan or Hong Kong. This home is in Fenggang, but his tomb was found hidden in Hong Kong’s Happy Valley Cemetery.

After an uprising against the Qing Dynasty fell to a bloody end in 1864, differing reports show that Hong Quanfu, prince of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom (1851-1864), escaped South, settling in Dongguan or Hong Kong. This home is in Fenggang, but his tomb was found hidden in Hong Kong’s Happy Valley Cemetery.


 

LEGEND OF THE DRAGON HEAD

SHANGJIA VILLAGE (WANJIANG DISTRICT)

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DRAGON HEAD TEMPLE

A story is told by village elders from the banks of the Dongjiang (East River). Long ago, in a time when dragon boat races were controlled by the wealthy, the people of Shangjia Village, unwilling to miss the festival’s most significant rite, took it upon themselves to craft a vessel. Without a skilled artisan among them, there was to be no dragon head, until a mysterious Taoist priest appeared from Luofu Mountain to carve a miniature. Day by day, the little vanguard grew until it fit perfectly, ready to be mounted on the villagers’ dragon boat. It is now stored in the Honghua Temple, so all can see the charm that allowed a boat to skim above the water and drift over obstacles set by the spiteful incumbents.

A story is told by village elders from the banks of the Dongjiang (East River). Long ago, in a time when dragon boat races were controlled by the wealthy, the people of Shangjia Village, unwilling to miss the festival’s most significant rite, took it upon themselves to craft a vessel. Without a skilled artisan among them, there was to be no dragon head, until a mysterious Taoist priest appeared from Luofu Mountain to carve a miniature. Day by day, the little vanguard grew until it fit perfectly, ready to be mounted on the villagers’ dragon boat. It is now stored in the Honghua Temple, so all can see the charm that allowed a boat to skim above the water and drift over obstacles set by the spiteful incumbents.


LOST IN THE JUNGLE

NIUGUOMENG VILLAGE (CHASHAN TOWN)

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Most of what is left standing are fortifications. This watch tower (above) and what is left of its curtain walls (below) are the highlights of the village, but also standing is the Mai Clan Temple and two old gates (not pictured).

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The Old House of Mai Ritao, chairman of the Hong Kong Businessmen’s Association from 1912 to 1914, took 33 years to build and was completed in 1908. The remnants of political banners (left-center) hung during the Cultural Revolution can be read, “Listen to Chairman Mao. Follow the Communist Party.”

The Old House of Mai Ritao, chairman of the Hong Kong Businessmen’s Association from 1912 to 1914, took 33 years to build and was completed in 1908. The remnants of political banners hung during the Cultural Revolution can be read, “Listen to Chairman Mao. Follow the Communist Party.”

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 SHIELDED BY TURTLE SHELL

SHUIWEI VILLAGE (HUMEN TOWN)

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THE PRINCE’S MARK

According to Zheng Guochen, 78, a descendent of the official and custodian of the village, Zhang escaped Beijing’s fallen Ming Dynasty in 1644 with a son of the last emperor. The home that hosted the exiled prince was marked with dragons (right), the imperial symbol, and beautiful carvings under its eaves (not pictured).  The only functioning well (below) is still in use

According to Zheng Guochen, 78, a descendent of the official and custodian of the village, Zhang escaped Beijing’s fallen Ming Dynasty in 1644 with a son of the last emperor. The home that hosted the exiled prince was marked with dragons, the imperial symbol, and beautiful carvings under its eaves (not pictured). The only functioning well (below) is still in use

This manmade island has proven its protective capacity by surviving. Built between 1628 and 1644 by an imperial official named Zheng Yu, Turtle Village (locals call it Shuiwei Village) is surrounded by a moat with one visible way out, a bridge that was, up until sometime in the 80’s, a wooden drawbridge. Five towers take the shape of a head and feet, while the bridge makes up its tail. Inside, the keep was originally made up of two cannons, 72 houses and nine wells, one of them with a hidden escape tunnel.

This manmade island has proven its protective capacity by surviving. Built between 1628 and 1644 by an imperial official named Zheng Yu, Turtle Village (locals call it Shuiwei Village) is surrounded by a moat with one visible way out, a bridge that was, up until sometime in the 80’s, a wooden drawbridge. Five towers take the shape of a head and feet, while the bridge makes up its tail. Inside, the keep was originally made up of two cannons, 72 houses and nine wells, one of them with a hidden escape tunnel.


AS THE WATERS ASCEND

YANWO VILLAGE (SHIPAI TOWN)

For hundreds of years in the times of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911), red stone was chiseled from the red rock in Shipai. It’s how the town’s name, which means “rows of stone,” came to be. Pocketed through the area are hidden quarries, with one large site taking notice from historians and a bygone merchant.

Over the centuries leaders from imperial and modern Chinese officials halted the excavation of the stone that was shipped throughout the region to Guangzhou, Foshan and Zengcheng by way of the Dongjiang River. For 16 years starting from 1628, 59 years starting from 1736, and then twice in the modern era, work was halted, with mining stopped now since 1999.

Local Shipai residents say the stones were used last to repair the retaining wall and doors at the tomb of the Nanyue King, China’s second emperor Zhao Mo, after his untouched burial mound was discovered in 1983.

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Concealed within the nature that overlooks the quarry is a 20-meter-high fort hiding in the thicket, and scored into the rock wall for posterity, a wealthy merchant and settler, Sun Shi, carved antiquated Chinese characters To express his feelings of the area’s serenity in 1890.

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By Stephen O. Roberts with reporting by Tracy Lu

Read the article in Chinese.