Hengli is famous for its cattle market, which started during the Ming Dynasty, a time around 600 years ago when farmers were unequipped with modern scales and animal weight was determined by sight.
Five centuries later, the cattle market is still going and its importance to Guangdong’s history was recognized as a cultural heritage site.
Hengli is still strongly associated with its cattle market. More than 1,000 head of cattle are sold every trade day, which occur on days ending in 1, 3, 6 or 9. Over 100,000 cattle are sold a year, makng it among the biggest in Southern China.
Like so many other towns in Dongguan, Hengli has developed into a booming factory town. The Xicheng Science Park and Sanjiang Industrial Park have so many factories and their own supermarkets and restaurants that they are practically towns within a town.
The boom in the economy can be partly attributed to the fact Hengli is only a ten minute drive from Changping Railway Station. This has made the town a practical location for foreign businesses to set up factories.
The economic boom has transformed the population of Hengli. A recent government survey revealed around 85 percent of the town’s population are immigrants from the rest of China.
WHAT CAN I DO?
With Hengli’s beef loving reputation, there are statues of water buffalo in the street, the soccer team’s mascot is a Buffalo, and whenever the locals are asked about their town they are sure to start talking about the cattle market. Some refer to it as Ox Town.
It is no surprise then that one of the most important dates on the calendar in Hengli is the Cattle Festival. Held annually in late October or early November, it is an opportunity to display beef snacks and cattle handicrafts. There is also a painted cattle parade as well as competitions in brokering and cooking. The Cattle Festival is a fantastic chance to see the town celebrate its cultural identity.
However you do not have to wait until the cattle festival to enjoy this local custom. Near the cattle market is a restaurant called Hengli Niu Zhang, which is known for the quality of its beef. The restaurant also has a museum where you can see how the farmers used to work during the Ming Dynasty.
Xinbuzheng Street represents the old. The street was built in 1929 by locals who had travelled around the world and returned to Hengli. The street is designed in the style of Qi Lou, combining European and Asian architecture. Xinbuzheng Street is similar to some of the streets in Guangcheng and is regarded as the finest example of its kind in Dongguan.
While Xinbuzheng Street represents the old, the Soho district represents the new. When the economy started to boom in Hengli, the local government tried to imitate the success of towns like Changping and Zhangmutou by creating an area of restaurants, bars and shops in the downtown area. Despite investment from Hong Kong, Soho failed without support from locals. One by one all the businesses closed.
In recent years, however, business has returned to the abandoned shop fronts of Soho. There are dozens of hole-in-the-wall restaurants offering cuisine from all over China while out on the street choices are plenty for BBQ restaurants. There are a growing number of cafes and half a dozen bars including a German bar that stays open until the early hours.
To get to Hengli from Dongguan by car take the East Motorway. Keep an eye out for road construction, which may lead to detours. Hengli is also easily reached by bus. From Dongguan East Bus Station you can take the 116. From Dongguan Wanjiang Bus Station take the K18, 70 or 76.
Area: 50 sq. kilometres
Journey time: Around 30 minutes
Local Attractions: Cattle market, Tianraobu Ecology Garden, Soho District, Xinbuzheng Street, Hengli Niu Zhuang Beef Restaurant