It is unlikely to be on many people’s list of “Ten places in China I must see before I die”.
In fact, Huichang county in East China’s Jiangxi province is so out of the way that it takes two hours to get there from the nearest big airport, in Ganzhou, and its inhabitants are generally perceived to be poverty-stricken.
However, once you set foot in Huichang you will find yourself surrounded by green mountains and rivers with clear water, breathing pristine air and getting a profound insight into China’s Taoist culture.
Huichang county, which neighbors Fujian province, and Guangdong to the south, sits at the confluence of two waterways, which form the Ganjiang River, a major branch of the Yangtze River, in Nanchang, Jiangxi’s capital. In ancient times, people from northern China used these rivers to travel and trade.
The county covers about 2,700 square kilometers and has a population of 527,000. It is widely known as one of the old revolutionary bases, one that made a great contribution in the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
In 1934, Mao Zedong lived in Huichang for a month and he climbed Huichang Mountain, which inspired him to write a poem in which he proclaimed that “the scenery here is uniquely good”.
One of the best-known scenic spots is Hanxianyan, a mountainous region covering 42 sq km, which has about 100 tourist attractions.
It was here that Han Zhongli, a legendary Chinese character and one of the Eight Immortals of Taoism, lived. The region’s steep, rocky hills with wooden steps are popular with hikers.
One of the locals, Zhou Wenrong, 83, was in the news recently for offering tourists free cups of tea for 24 years.
Apart from its Taoism, what makes Huichang unique is its folk culture. About 95 percent of its people are members of the Hakka ethnic group, one of the highest concentrations in the country. Hakka is the Cantonese pronunciation of the Mandarin word kejia.
Since 2015, a big folk culture festival has been held in Huichang to celebrate its folk traditions and this attracts tourists.
On Aug 26, an opening event was held at the Lai Gong Temple and thousands of Huichang residents attended. At the temple they worship the local god, Lai Gong, and pray for health and wealth.
The worship of Lai Gong is a ritual that has been passed down over about 500 years. After the folk performance and worship rituals, a parade takes place in the downtown area of the county.
Cai Weiping, an official of Huichang’s publicity department, said one of the big events during the worship ceremony was ducks being sacrificed outside the temple. However, in 2015, local officials decided it was time to end the custom and ordered the manufacture of paper and plastic ducks to replace real ones.
The change was partially triggered by Stan Lai Sheng-chuan, a US-born, Taiwan-based director and playwright, who for the past two years has been staging his plays in Huichang. The plays have enjoyed phenomenal success in the county, his father’s hometown.
“To my amazement, they went ahead and made these plastic ducks and gave them to anyone who would vow not to kill their ducks, and so I saved the lives of about 35,000 ducks last year,” Lai said.
Local officials have also made an effort to reduce the use of fireworks as a way of minimizing air pollution.