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Huangshan History & Culture


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Tang Xianzu(汤显祖), the greatest dramatist of ancient China and the writer of classic Kunqu Opera Masterpiece, The Peony Pavilion(牡丹亭), once highly commented Huizhou in poem:”一生痴绝处,无梦到徽州” (Huizhou is a dreamland and is always my most-adored place all the life). Speaking of Huizhou(徽州), maybe majority of people do not known where it is, but mentioning Huangshan Mountain, people of the world probably hear and also want to have a visit. However, in history, Huangshan Mountain is just a part of Huizhou, and Huangshan City of Anhui province administrating today’s Huizhou is also smaller than Huizhou of ancient times, for ancient Huizhou included today’s Wuyuan of Jiangxi province. Internationally, Huanghan Mountain and Xidi and Hongcun Village are globally famous as the sites of UNESCO World Natural and Cultural Heritage, and the base and origin of these well-known sites are deeply rooted in the regional culture and tradition of Huizhou, which are mostly featured of the Confucianism. Huizhou in history was famous for its respectable businessmen who were mostly well educated with essence of Confucianism. There used to be a saying: Huizhou businessmen get possession of Confucianism on the left and business on the right(左儒右贾), traditionally the left is superior than the right, so in their minds, they were apt to Confucianism. In other words, their business is based on their educational background of Confucianism). So they were crowned to be Confucian Businessmen represented by Wang Maoying(王茂荫), Jiang Chun(江春), Hu Guansan(胡贯三) and Hu Xueyan(胡雪岩). Huizhou is a special region not only for its visual geography but the local intangible culture or humanity. Currently, the Academic Study of Huizhou Regional Culture has been one of China’s Top Three Local Superior Academic Studies, as famous as Tibetan Regional Culture Study and Studies of Dunhuang or Dunhuangology. Huizhou in Chinese culture is a unique term that has attracted many scholars and learners from different circles of life.

The History and Culture of Huizhou (Huangshan)

huizhou trip
Ancient Architecture of Huizhou
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Huangshan Mountain Scenic Area

Today, officially named Huangshan City, Huizhou traditionally is called Xinan(新安) and Hui in abbreviation. In 1121 during the reign of Emperor Huizong of Northern Song Dynasty, After suppressing the insurrection of Fang La(方腊), a local of Huizhou, Huizou was officially changed to Huizhou from its former name Shezhou(歙州). Since Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties, Huizhou was the center of region and supervised one center and six counties(一府六县): Huizhou Administration Center(Huizhou Fu, 徽州府, located in She County), She County(歙县), Yi County(黟县), Xiuning County(休宁), Wuyuan County(婺源), Jixi County(绩溪) and Qimen County(祁门). In history, Huizhou as the name of this region lasted for more than 850 years. However, in 1934, Wuyuan, a county of Huizhou was cut away and became a part of Jiangxi province. Though in 1947, Wuyuan returned to Huizhou temporarily and later was redivided as a part of Jiangxi province in May, 1949. From then on, Wuyuan becomes a part of Jiangxi. As the cradle of Huizhou Businessmen and Huizhou Regional, Huizhou became a miracle in ancient China for its considerable achievements both in culture and economy. Huizhou Businessmen led China’s economic development for more than 500 years during Ming and Qing Dynasty. There are some folk sayings: The town could not be shaped without Huizhou businessmen, and Huizhou businessmen were throughout the world. As the ancestral home of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jingtao, Huizhou is quite highlighted both in political and cultural study.

In 1987, Huizhou was changed to be Huangshan City. However, many experts are afraid that the change of name would be harmful to the preservation and improvement of Huizhou regional culture. And it would undermine the reputation, culture and history of Huizhou in the impression of the public, though it would bring more international fame, praise and rewards. Changing Huizhou to Huangshan in the name of Huangshan Mountain is an obvious lack of self-confidence of local authorities, even the central administration to the past glory of Huizhou culture and history. Huizhou as a geographic name died out for the quick development of lcoal tourism. For putting Huangshan Mountain into the local administrative region, the local authorities finally selected Huangshan as the regional name instead of Huizhou. This is the success of utilitarianism for GDP or local economic development, but shamefully, they put away their roots and the prime mover of the development of the local tourism industry. This is the real story of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs taking place in hometown of Zhu Xi and Hu Shi.

The glory and splendor of Huizhou culture is based on the long-standing tradition of believing sincerely and following firmly what Confucianism said and advocated. Historically, the local residents of Huizhou almost immigrated from northern China due to the warfare and escaping from the natural or political calamity. They used to be the privileged families or classes and also had a superior or better education, which mainly featured the Confucianism. Hence, the lifestyle and value of life of theirs are engraved with philosophy of Confucianism. They kept the belief of reading and education from generation to generation even if their life became extraordinarily poorer. For hundreds of years, this belief became their automatic need in spirit. They maintained this tradition to learn themselves and also teach their next generation with their all-out efforts. So these people with blue blood continued their value up to today: Education of Confucianism and Brilliance of Commerce. No matter how poor they were, they never quitted the education, and they believed the knowledge of saints and the morality of individual were the basics of a man's growth and success. That is why they maintain Confucianism for many generations. To lead a better life and honor their ancestry, being a brilliant and successful merchant would be also an accepted alternative if they failed in being an official of government through imperial examination. But to be an individual, they strictly followed the regulations and thoughts of Confucianism, and this was nothing to do with their changing identities: officials or businessmen. In a way, to be a dependable and honorable man based on Confucianism is the root of their lifestyle and life philosophy.

Moreover, the local residences comprised of different families with different family names also competed together. So for showing their superiority, they had a quite strong sense of clanism. Such an interior competition was also an objective promotion to the extension and improvement of Huizhou in culture and economy. Therefore, some won in the imperial examination and became the backbones of the country, and this surely was the pride and honor of whole family, and the whole town. Certainly, the most of the examinees concluded in failure, and this was the rule of imperial examinations, though in Ming and Qing Dyansties, a large number of Huizhou examinees won the imperial examination, but they were just a tiny part of the whole group of examination participants. Majority of losers had to think about their future. Due to the geographic inferiority of Huizhou, many people had to move out for living. There used to a saying: Seven parts belong to mountains, two water areas and one farmland(七山二水一分田). It is obvious that the severe short supply of farmland to the increased population. So the old local of Huizhou used to complain in a folk poem:"前世不修,生在徽州,十三四岁,往外一丢" (Due to the less self-cultivation in preexistence, and being born in Huizhou of this life is a penalty. At the age of 13or 14, the children had to leave hometown to live by themselves).

Because of the strong sense of existence, these Huizhou's people living outside worked quite harder than others. Plus their brilliance and well-built social interpersonal network based on "信(personal dependability)"and "义(personal loyalty)" of Confucianism, their business developed fantastically, and in Ming and Qing Dyansties, Huizhou businessmen extended nearly all over China, especially in some big cities like Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Suzhou, Yangzhou and Hangzhou. Some of them also became the high officials and the bosom friends of emperors like Hu Xueyan(boasting the red-crown businessman of Qing Dynasty ) and Jiang Chun(one of folk friends of Emperor Qianlong in Yangzhou). These Huizhou businessmen played the leading role of Chinese economic and business development for over 500 years. They were highly respected in the society; even some prime minister once married his daughter to a Huizhou businessman without any special official and family background. This was impossible in ancient time, so many experts of Huizhou regional culture always marvel at their achievements and think they always created the wonders or made the day-dream come true.

Traditionally, the successful men had the habit to revisit their hometowns or share his achievements and happiness with locals of their hometowns. In China, we call it "衣锦还乡", literally means: return to hometown wearing the brocade-made clothes). These famous businessmen largely built the beautiful mansions, gardens, halls, pavilions or other gorgeous architectural complexes. These buildings are totally characterized of the local architectural style of Huizhou and they are the main representative of China’s outstanding ancient architectural culture and history. Today’s old streets of Huizhou still keep the original styles and become a highlighted part of Huizhou culture. Due to the sufficient fund support, they paid more attention to the detailed design or layout of architecture, and then Huizhou woodcarving art and Huizhou horticulture were tremendously improved. Though they were greatly successful, but they still thought they were partially unsatisfied, because in ancient China, businessmen were discriminated for they belonged to the lower level of classes, also the government had the policy of emphasizing the agriculture and lowering the commerce. For avoiding such an embarrassment and discrimination reaching to their next generation, they invested a lot to the education of their next generation, and then Huizhou education developed dramatically in nearly all the aspects, so the art of Huizhou represented by Xian Painting School(新安画派) was quite famous all over the country. What is more, many great figures appeared from Huizhou continually such as Zhu Xi(朱熹), the founder of neo-Confucianism and one of Saints of Confucianism in Chinese history; Bi Sheng(毕昇), the inventor of movable-type printing, one of Four Greatest Inventions of Ancient China; Hu Zongxian(胡宗宪), an authoritative official of Ming Dynasty; Dai Zhen(戴震), an authoritative scholar of Qing Dynasty; Zhan Tianyou(Jeme Tien Yow, 詹天佑), the most famous railway engineering expert of modern China and the designer and operator of China’s first railway: Beijing-Zhangjiakou Railway(京张铁路); Hu Shi(胡适) was the greatest reformer of Chinese new-culture movement and father of colloquial Chinese literature movement in the early 20th century;and Tao Xingzhi(陶行知), the greatest educationist of modern China. They were all the best witnesses of Huizhou education.

Huizhou medicine was also quite unique and perfectly improved. These rich businessmen never considered the expenditure of traditional medicine study; on the contrary, they were willing to pay more to the development of medicine, for the improvement of medicine can help them live longer and healthier. These businessmen were also quite brilliant to show their uniqueness and advantages, so the tea culture of Huizhou represented by Maofeng Green Tea of Huangshan Mountain and Red Tea of Qimen, or Keemun Tea(祁门红茶), quickly welcomed at home and abroad. Maofeng Green Tea(毛峰绿茶) became the top representative of Chinese tea, and Red Tea of Qimen is internationally famous and authoritative. The history of tea culture of Huizhou is actually also as long as the history of Huizhou itself.

The time-honored Four Treasures of Study(文房四宝: Brush, Ink, Paper and Inkstone, 笔墨纸砚) became more and more welcomed and famous around the world, and to a most degree to be the symbol of Chinese elite culture and traditional scholars’ culture. These local resources rewarded them many great deals and perfect reputations.

Huizhou Cuisine is also famous as one of China Eight Top Cuisine. Before 1949, Huizhou Cuisine absolutely predominated in Shanghai and became the main cuisines in majority of Shanghai restaurants. Actually, the raw materials of Huizhou Cuisine are quite common and ordinary. But after the cooking procedure, it becomes quite delicious and tasteful.

Huizhou Opera is the origin of Peking Opera, which was finally shaped when Four Famous Team of Huizhou Opera(四大徽班) arrived in Beijing for commemorating the 6oth birthday of Emperor Qianlong. The leading figure was Cheng Changgeng(程长庚). Since then Peking opera on the basis of Huizhou opera was quickly popularized all around the country. Huizhou Opera is also a source of nutrition of development of Kunqu Opera.

Compared to Jinshang(晋商, Businessmen of Shanxi Province), Huizhou Businessmen made a highlighted contribution to the internationalization of China’s business and development of regional culture. In Karl Marx’s masterpiece Capital, three Chinese businessmen were highly mentioned, and they were all from Huizhou, exactly, Wang Maoying, Hu Xueyan and Jiang Chun, three figures firstly as the representatives of China’s businessmen were widely known by westerners via this classic book of economics. Besides, Huizhou businessmen also made an unprecedented contribution to the cultural development of China, which is never surpassed by other reigional businessmen. Huizhou businessmen historically were the best and most authoritative representative of China in Ming and Qing Dynasties. They nearly mastered the whole China’s economic development tendency. Suzhou, Beijing, Yangzhou, Hangzhou, Nanjing and Shanghai were all their business centers. Today, a large number of the historical sites and cultural attractions of these cities like the White Pagoda of The Slender West Lake in Yangzhou(扬州白塔) and Huqingyu Medicine Hall(胡庆余堂) of Hangzhou were all built by Huizhou Businessmen.

Huizhou is just a common region in southeast China, but it has the dreamlike beauty as attractive as Hangzhou, boasting the Paradise on Earth. It is elegant eternally for its miraculous history and glorious culture based on the Confucianism, the secret of Huizhou’s permanence of elegance and glory.

 The Highlights of History and Culture

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Kunqu Opera Culture China Guqin Culture China Calligraphy Culture Classical Garden Art
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Wang Xizhi Hu Xueyan Tang Bohu Dong Qichang

Editor: Julius from Mildchina
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