At the initiative of a native son, the Xiang Ma Cultural Center opened on Jan 7 in preparation for the 110th anniversary since Xiangzhou began prospering as a fishing village, which gave rise to the modern city of Zhuhai.
The Xiang Ma -- Xiangzhou Port -- is a street block near the Xiangzhou Department Store on Fenghuang Road. It highlights Xiangshan Culture (Xiangshan County once comprised Zhuhai, Zhongshan and Macao) and folk arts.
Ruan Jianjing, a Tangjiawan native in his 40s, inspired the re-creation of that time by sharing scenes from his childhood and a photograph snapped in 1910.
At that time, a Portuguese photographer climbed Fengbo Mt in Old Xiangzhou and freeze-framed the town's splendid upsurge in a picture now displayed in an archive in Lisbon. A Macao resident had copied the photo in the 1990s and took it home, from where it later came into Ruan's possession.
1910 photo of Xiangzhou Village [Photo provided by Ruan Jianjing]
In 1909, during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the old port of Xiangzhou was opened and designated tax-free for 60 years. Still bustling nearly a century later despite immense social changes, the port has always found the next step toward prosperity and affluence.
Local chronicles record that in 1909, Xiangzhou Village's 25 streets and roads were crowded with thousands of businesspeople and tourists who shuttled between 1,600 commercial stores. There were 125 arcades at that time. Lights burned late into the night -- a sight comparable to the splendors of Macao.
The bustling fishing port terminal anchored vessels heading for Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Macao, and faraway places.
Today, the Xiang Ma Cultural Center offers local snack delicacies, specialties, and exquisite folk handicrafts, all featuring Xiangshan's historical legacy and culture. Various businesses, such as for barbecues, have been introduced to give the street an enticing aroma.
Yellowing arcades, strong banyan trees, and rough tile blanks give the illusion of returning to the fishing village where the Ruan family once lived.
Xiang Ma Cultural Center
In selecting the site for the center, Ruan considered nearby residential buildings and other old houses. He intended to improve their appearance from the beginning, reconstituting them to match his memory. Even a building previously holding the old finance and tax bureau has been renovated to its former splendor.
The changes over time have been good, he said, but Ruan still hopes to retain the memory of the city. He says that a city cannot live without its own culture and story; if it tries, it will lack life.
He adds that imported things do not come with a sense of ownership -- only the things we truly possess can be spread to the whole world.
From that once-small fishing village and its stalwart residents arose a city of which its original residents could not have conceived, yet one that is still filled with collective vigor, body, mind, and spirit, a municipality that protects the environment in concert with its growth -- one, the memory of which Ruan and others of like mind are preserving today.
Old-time architecture [Photos courtesy xzfamily.com]