[Photo: Shenzhen Daily]
Situated in an eastern suburb of Chengdu, capital city of Sichuan Province, Luodai Township is known as the largest gathering place for Hakka people in China’s southwest region.
Established in the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.-220), the ancient township derived its name from a legend that a belt of Emperor Liu Chan of the Kingdom of Shu Han (221-263) fell into a nearby octagonal well.
Today, there are more than 20,000 Hakkas living in the township, comprising about 90 percent of the town’s population.
Most of the Hakka people there are migrants who were forced by Manchurian rulers into Sichuan Province from Guangdong, Jiangxi and Hubei provinces during the early Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
The Hakkas in Luodai call their spoken language “vulgar Guangdong Hakkanese,” which is very close to the standard Hakkanese in Meizhou, Guangdong Province.
The township also has well preserved ancient streets and buildings, which attract tourists from home and abroad every year.
In 2005, the 20th World Hakka Reunion Conference was held in Luodai, which indicated the importance of the ancient township among the Hakka people around the globe.
On my second trip to Chengdu in December last year, I decided to make a half-day trip to the ancient township and found the trip quite worthwhile.
I bought a bus ticket for only 5.5 yuan (0.73 U.S. dollars) in the Chengdu Tourism Bus Station and got on a shabby bus.
Luodai Ancient Township is only about 20 kilometers from downtown Chengdu, but it took me about one hour on the slow bus to arrive at the bus station in the town.
When I walked out of the bus station, I spoke with a middle-aged driver of a three-wheeled cart. For 3 yuan, he agreed to take me in his cart to the rear entrance of the main avenue, called Shangxia Street, which runs through the ancient town.
Sitting in his cart, I asked the driver what places in Luodai were worth visiting for a lone tourist here for the first time, like me.
He told me there were at least four well-known ancient buildings as well as the Sichuan Hakka History Museum I must see. The four ancient buildings included the Huguang (Hubei-Guangdong) Assembly Hall, Jiangxi Assembly Hall, Guangdong Assembly Hall and Chuanbei (North Sichuan) Assembly Hall.
He also suggested I try the local snacks on the street or sip a cup of tea in any of the assembly halls.
About five minutes later, we arrived at the rear entrance.
When I asked him where I could buy an admission ticket, the driver told me there was no charge for touring the township.
At this time, I noticed the legendary well, where Emperor Liu Chan was said to have lost his belt, near the rear main gate of Shangxia Street.
The stone-paved main street was clean and the drain on the street, which seems to have been used as the sewage system in the past, but now has clean water running through it, was also impressive.
On both sides of the main street are two-storied buildings with gray tiled roofs. The rooms on the first floor are used as restaurants, teahouses or shops.
Located on the lower part of the Shangxia Street, the Huguang Assembly Hall is about five minutes’ walk from the rear main gate.
The hall is actually a compound courtyard with a theater stage, halls and houses. It was built by the Hakkas from Hubei and Guangdong provinces in 1743 to offer sacrifice to the legendary figure Dayu and was also named Dayu Palace.
What really attracted me was the Sichuan Hakka History Museum, which was established in the assembly hall in 2003.
Rich with artifacts and documents, the museum records the history, culture, language and customs of the Hakka people in Sichuan and in China.
It was interesting to learn that many late Chinese leaders, such as Sun Yat-sen, Song Qingling, Deng Xiaoping and Zhu De, were Hakkas.
I then visited the Jiangxi Assembly Hall, which was established in the central part of Shangxia Street by Hakkas from Jiangxi Province in 1753 to offer sacrifice to Xu Zhenjun, a sage and god of south Jiangxi Province. It was also called “Wanshou (Longevity) Palace.”
After visiting the Jiangxi Assembly Hall, I returned to the main street. Walking along the street, I saw a gray brick pagoda with two layers of overhanging eaves on the top and in the middle.
As I approached the peculiar pagoda, I found it was actually used by the Hakkas in the past to burn discarded books.
An inscription plate on the pagoda told me that the Hakkas revered books or any paper written with Chinese characters so much that they could not dispose of them casually. All written material had to be collected and then burnt in the pagoda regularly.
Covering an area of more than 3,330 square meters on the upper part of the Shangxia Street, the Guangdong Assembly Hall is one of largest and best preserved of its kind in China.
It was established by Hakkas from Guangdong Province in 1746 to offer sacrifice to Huineng, the founder of Zen Buddhism, and was also named “Nanhua (South China) Palace.”
In the central hall hung a pair of couplets, which really attracted my attention. The couplets read, “To taste the local flavor of Sichuan by tobacco leaves and to hear the ancient sound of the Central Plains through the Hakka language.”
The couplets have captured the strong spirit of the Hakka people in Sichuan Province trying to adapt themselves to the living environment in Sichuan while preserving their own language and culture which were handed down from generation to generation.
From the assembly hall, I walked to the front main gate, and then walked back along the main street to the Hakka Park on Fengyi Lane.
Established in 1928, the park was the first of its kind at township level in Sichuan Province.
Intriguingly, when the park first opened, it not only had a teahouse for men but also a teahouse exclusively for women.
The women’s teahouse showed the equal social status Hakka women enjoyed with men even in the early years of last century.
Hakka women are characterized by their strong personalities and for shouldering most of the heavy labor in the family.
Today, the park has become a favorite place for tourists and the elders in the township to sip a cup of tea and play cards or mahjong.