FENGHUANG
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Written in 2004
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Fenghuang - Rainbow Bridge

"This place's original name was Zhenhuang; this was later changed to Fenghuang Garrison, and after the establishment of the Republic it became Fenghuang County."

"Its centre, this lonely border town with its round city wall of big, solid, rough-hewn stones, is encircled by over five hundred Miao villages with garrisons between them."

"There are also approximately five hundred forts and two hundred barracks. The forts, built of big stones, stand on the tops of the winding mountain ranges, while the barracks are excellently disposed by the post roads, spaced out evenly."

"Now all this has changed. Most of the forts are in ruins, most of the barracks are occupied by civilians; half the minority people have adopted Chinese ways."

"High hills, swift rivers, barren soil often shrouded in mist are other factors shapig the local people's character."

Extracts from FENGHUANG in «Recollectios of West Hunan», written by Shen Congwen.

 

Fenghuang is the home town of Shen Congwen (1902-1988), a great Chinese writer who "brought the China of his past and present alive without the overburdening and unreal pressure of trying to save it. Nostalgia breathes through his pastoral countryside scenes, and his urban landscapes reveal a fractured, paradoxical consciousness--both unsure and hopeful. " (Review from Amazon.com).

In 1933, he chartered a little boat with a bamboo canopy from Taoyuan to sail upstream the River Yuan and reached his hometown Fenghuang 25 days later. During his journey, he wrote the picturesque landscapes along the Yuan River, the joys and sorrows of boatmen. Fascinated by his accounts, I paid a visit to his home town Fenghuang after my journey to Gongtan in May 2004.

Unfortunately I found Fenghuang had already been heavily developed. This beautiful town was packed with modern bars, restaurants and shops catering to mass Chinese tourists, too commercial and expensive. Hardly could I sight anything traditional described in Shen Congwen's essays, except the scene of locals using the river to wash their clothes.

A major attraction was to take a craft drifting on the Tuo River, winding around 1 km through the old town of Fenghuang. How could it not be romantic to sit on a traditional bamboo raft with a canopy placed in such a picturesque scene (see photos above and below)?

But it was not. Too many tourists squeezed on some dozen rafts floating on the narrow water channel. Animated by their charming guide girls dressed up in Miao style who sang them local songs, tourists on the boat either sang together loudly or shouted out to each other.

During the day, such noises got on my nerves constantly while I rambled on the street along the river. Neither could I enjoy a moment of tranquility in my room facing the elegant Rainbow Bridge in a traditional stilt wooden house built on the river bank (see photo below).

During the night, songs and noises were replaced by modern music dispatched from bars. I fled away from Fenghuang the next morning and regretted not being able to visit this town in its original state before the massive development taking place several years ago.

There are many Miao villages and relics in the outskirts. I visited one village and was asked to pay a ridiculous Y30-entrance-fee. It was reported by some travelers that locals were not friendly in some villages. Besides, the surrounding mountains are less impressive than those around Gongtan.

Accommodations: The old town has a lot of cheap and clean family-run hostels. Dormitory rooms with shared bathroom starting from Y20 per bed. Midrange hotels gathered in the new town. A clean standard double room with air-condition and bathroom can be negotiated to Y80 per night.

Getting there: To find its location, see the map in Central China.

The nearest airport is in Zhangjiajie.
The nearest railway station is Jishou. Trains from Guangzhou, Shanghai, Beijing and Zhangjiajie, Changsha all stop at Jishou. Buses run between Fenghuang and Jishou every half an hour.

In Fenghuang, you can catch a bus heading for Tongren in Guizhou if you want to visit Fanjingshan Nature Reserve, or a bus to Youyang if you want to go to Gongtan.

Rating: . Fenghuang is a destination catering to ChineseTourists which doomed to be noisy, crowded and expensive. Go to Gongtan if you want to walk away from modern life, search for the traditional culture and a wild nature.

Links: Rambling in Fenghuang at www.china.org.cn.

Brief Introduction to Fenghuang at www.4panda.com.


«Fenghuang», written by Shen Congwen. (Only in Chinese).

Traveled to Fenghuang in May 2004
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