The eastern Zhejiang route : the ancient road of Shaoxing
by Zhou Xiaofang
I. Starting point: Rizhuling Ancient Road
Rizhuling Ancient Trail is located in the south-eastern part of Shaoxing, about 30 minutes' drive away and has been used as a post road connecting Shaoxing and the Kuaiji Mountains for more than 2000 years. There was once a link connecting Rizhuling Ancient Road with the Wanghuaxi and Wangyanling Ancient Road, which was the main route from the ancient city of Shaoxing, passing through the hinterland of the Kuaiji Mountains, to the famous road praised in Tang poetry, which leads to Shengzhou County, passing by Sanjie and Xiangyan, in eastern Zhejiang. It was an important point where waterways and land-based routes connected. From the southern point of Sanjie Post Road, you can reach Taizhou, Wenzhou and Fujian. The Rizhuling Ancient Trail was named after the Kingdom of Yue that existed more than 2,500 years ago, when King Gou Jian of Yue defeated the Kingdom of Wu and became one of the Five Hegemons of the Spring and Autumn period. The high-quality bronze swords used during battles originated in this area, and it is said that Ou Yezi cast bronze swords here in one day, hence the name Rizhuling. More than 900 years ago in 1129 AD, Emperor Gaozong of the Song dynasty travelled along the Rizhuling Ancient Trail, reached Wenzhou and then returned to Yuezhou, which then became Shaoxing prefecture. Shaoxing was adopted as the residence of the Southern Song Emperor.
Rizhuling is a trail of great significance in people’s lives. It is an ancient trade route along which tea, bamboo shoots and firewood were transported. It also has links to poetry and literature as writers and poets used to travel along it and enjoy the scenery of the mountains, crafting many beautiful written works in the process. The road is about 2,000 metres long and runs from Suosi Bridge in the village of Meiyuan up to the Wanghua stream in the village of Shangzhu. It is flat and slightly sloping, and was built using cobblestones and machine-built stones.
This ancient trail, in use for more than 2,000 years, has had declining levels of traffic and has become increasingly deserted since the construction of the Panshan Old Road in the 1960s and the road tunnel in 2010. Thanks to its proximity to the city and its pleasant surroundings, it was discovered by a group of volunteers in 2012 who then raised its profile. Following that, maintenance and renovation work on it was completed in 2014, which included the reconstruction of the original ancient trail, the tea pavilion, the Xiama Bridge, the ruins of the Palatial Pavilion and the Rizhu Temple. Renovation work was also completed on the Panshan Old Road (which no longer had any traffic), additional facilities such as a car park were provided and other ancient trails in the area underwent maintenance work. These included Taoyanling Ancient Road, Wanshoushan Ancient Road, Shunjiashan Ancient Road, Wanghuaxi Trail, Pingwangxian and Huanpo pathways, which have varying lengths, climbs and have been combined to form the Rizhuling Ancient Trail. The trail connects the ancient villages of Meiyuan, Shangzhu, Songjiadian, Xishang, Wanghua, Anxin with other villages nearby and several tourist facilities in the rural area. It draws attention to the villages dotted along it and the beautiful rural experiences it offers, and also promotes rural tourism.
II. Conservation and utilisation of ancient roads in Shaoxing
Besides Rizhuling Ancient Trail, a number of ancient roads in Shaoxing have been repaired and had their profiles raised since 2013. This has brought people and vitality to the villages along the routes. Shaoxing is famous for its history and culture and has abundant resources in terms of points, lines and surfaces. The roads, which link the ancient cities, towns and villages of Shaoxing, have started to be used for leisure activities in recent years. The work to preserve and utilise the ancient roads of Shaoxing followed a period of rural stagnation in Shaoxing. After a decade of rapid urbanisation, the countryside had been rapidly decaying following the exodus of its population. What’s more, the rural housing stock is still in the process of being expanded, new houses with poor levels of efficiency stand alongside old, empty houses and the countryside lacks vitality. To counter this, Shaoxing carried out rural projects for 18 consecutive years from 2003 to 2021, which led to significant improvements in housing and the environment. Ancient roads and villages also benefited from investment. The ancient roads have been utilised for four key purposes: research, action, community and awareness.
1. A study initiated in ancient villages
As part of a study conducted in the ancient village of Shaoxing, it was decided that the Shaoxing Ancient Road would be used to bring in visitors and preserve the village. Three methods were used to locate the ruins of the ancient roads, namely ‘in the book’, ‘in the mouth’ and ‘under the feet’, which provided the basis for subsequent planning. ‘In the book’ involves looking at ancient maps and history books and identifying ancient waterways, land-based routes, mountain villages and businesses in the region. ‘In the mouth’ means listening to the stories told by the elderly, enquiring about their lives in the past, visiting them and obtaining information in order to locate physical ruins. ‘Under the feet’ entails organising groups of volunteers to explore the roads, creating dedicated technology, recording routes and, under the leadership of older villagers, cutting through thorns and traversing mountains and hills to find ancient post roads and pavilions. This enabled us to locate the ruins along each route using geographical data and became the basis for subsequent planning.
2. Action predominantly based on multi-level government projects
There are four approaches to organising the excavation and reconstruction of ancient roads so that they can be incorporated into rural tourism and transformed into sustainable routes.
a) A practical government project
This involves a closed-loop system of planning, policy, structure and ensuring effectiveness with a clear schedule. This model served as the basis for works on ancient roads and trails, including the Special Plan for the Shaoxing Kuaiji Mountain Forest Fitness Trail that was established in 2013.
b) A five-star standard, 3A creation action plan
This was a comprehensive, three-year action plan for the countryside formulated by the municipality of Shaoxing, which was launched in 2017 and aimed at revitalising the countryside. Ancient trails, villages and buildings had their profiles raised and a number of ancient roads started to be used for rural tourism activities. For example, six villages in Xinchang county, under the township of Dongming, combined their ancient roads and trails to create a rural tourism resource.
c) Daily works on the part of townships, including works aimed at creating picturesque towns.
The town of Pinshui is a typical example of this. Regarded as the garden of Shaoxing city and the living room of Keqiao, the town of Pinshui has combined the utilisation of ancient roads and trails with tourism projects and has experienced a certain amount of success.
d) Drawing on the beauty of the countryside to drive development
With a focus on cultural elements such as Tang poetry, China’s Grand Canal, ancient Chinese Torreya trees and the support of the FAO GIAHS (Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems) programme, six counties and urban areas have developed beautiful countryside routes linking multiple ancient trail areas, including those in the vicinity of Tianmu and Xibai Mountain.
Thanks to the four approaches listed above, ancient trails have become an important part of people’s leisure activities and new trails continue to be added to the rural tourism inventory.
3. Ancient road groups as a combination of lines and surfaces
The ancient roads are all related to Tang Poetry in eastern Zhejiang and can be divided into three categories: Shanshui ancient paths (known as the roads of Shanyin), water-based post routes (the ancient waterway post routes of the Grand Canal) and ancient roads between mountains (numerous, divided into several trail areas).
The paved system of ancient roads weaves around five mountains in Shaoxing and has incorporated the following aims:
① Shaping a network of municipal greenways and country roads in accordance with local prerequisites
② Having regard to the lay of the land and original rural roads
③ Creating a beautiful system of corridors between mountains and rivers
④ Carrying out rural tourism projects in Shaoxing
⑤ Transforming the ancient roads into a local tourism destination for urban residents
4. Technology to boost promotional campaigns
We have developed technology dedicated to the ancient roads, such as the Hiking and Climbing app and the comprehensive tourism app, Ke Fun, aimed at amplifying the impact of promotional campaigns. These tools provide a map of hiking trails based on a 2-hour or 4-hour experience, as well as information on distances, real-time navigation and details about the 46 trails.
Ke Fun guides people who are hiking in the area, offering a comprehensive and practical platform for the region and its cultural tourism resources. The technology automatically displays different amenities near the trail to its users, including attractions, interesting villages, farms and accommodation.
Member of the Standing Committee of the CPPCC in Shaoxing, Director of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee of the CPPCC, Senior Planner
Article from a presentation as part of the webinar "Patrimoine, mise en valeur et revitalisation des territoires"