An ancient city in southwest China restores a slow-paced way of life

A rainbow hovers over a square in the ancient town of Weishan County, Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture, southwest China’s Yunnan Province, June 13, 2019. (Photo by Zhang Shulu/People’s Daily Online)

By Yang Wenming

Weishan, an ancient city located at the foot of Ailao Mountain in the western part of Yunnan Province in southwest China, was founded in 1389 with a history of over 600 years.

The ancient city is home to a number of historical relics that bear the local characteristics of the southwestern region of China. Today, it has retained its original appearance and is recognized as one of the best-preserved ancient cities in China.
Seen from above, the ancient city looks like a checkerboard criss-crossed with streets and alleys, where civil residences and ancient temples rub shoulders. Small as it is, the ancient city reflects the prosperity of Nanzhao, a kingdom that flourished in the 8th and 9th centuries.

Weishan residents start the day with a bowl of noodles at the 25-year-old “Yi Gen Mian” restaurant, which means “a sprig of noodles” in Chinese. At 5:00 am every day, restaurant owner Zhu Zhiqiu entered the kitchen for preparations.

The noodles, stretched thin and long, and with specially made toppings of diced bamboo and minced meat, represent the authentic taste of the ancient city. The technique of making noodles is also an intangible cultural heritage transmitted from generation to generation.

From around 6:30 a.m., students and regulars arrived successively at the restaurant. Zhu knows the taste preferences of each of them.

Chen Minghua eats at Zhu’s restaurant almost every day, even having a bowl and a pair of chopsticks there. “We are close neighbours. They pay me on a monthly basis,” Zhu said.

Modern lifestyles once disrupted the slow pace of life in Weishan. For a time, modern schools and hospitals were built in the heart of the ancient city.

As people increasingly realized the need to safeguard historic sites and cultural features, Weishan moved schools, hospitals and offices out of its central area, and renovated temples and other ancient architecture. A Nanzhao Culture Museum which collects more than 3,000 objects has been built.

Today, new government-funded inscribed signs and couplets can be seen on the city’s paifang, a traditional Chinese architectural arch or gateway structure typically found at the entrance to cities and towns, on which the carvings are repaired to show their ancient appearance.

Today, many old buildings have been restored to their original glory after being preserved and coloured. The easy, slow-paced way of life remains.

Fan Jianwei, who worked for the Weishan County Culture and Tourism Bureau, told People’s Daily that the resources were exploited only for better development in the past, but now they should be preserved for their values. historical and cultural.

Under the joint efforts of society and government, Weishan is making steady progress on the rational development of the ancient city and the integrated promotion of culture and tourism. The city receives more and more visitors for its attractive snacks such as dried fruits, bean jelly and green bean cake. Some even stay for days to enjoy a few more bowls of the authentic “Yi Gen Mian” noodle.

B&B hotels are springing up in the ancient city, and projects for tourists to experience the culture and history of Weishan in an immersive way are also developing. Today, Weishan County is connected to a rail network, and a highway linking the county with Dali, a popular tourist destination in Yunnan Province, is about to be put into operation.
In 2017, the ancient city was selected by Yunnan Province as one of the five world-class characteristic cities. Two years later, he officially launched a tourism project featuring Nanzhao Palace.

“The integration of cultural protection and tourism development is an inevitable choice,” said Guo Xiaobin, an official with Weishan County’s Culture and Tourism Bureau, adding that the former county needs to strike a balance between maintaining its original appearance and promoting orderly business development.

It should both retain its cultural connotation and historical elements, and take good commercial management of its ancient architectures, the official said.

Hundreds of years ago, the people of the ancient city danced and sang to express their desire to live. Today, residents inherit the desire and pass it on to the future. Keeping a slow-paced lifestyle, Weishan is exploring ways to promote its cultural protection and culture-tourism integration.

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