The experience of utilising Xiangshan ancient post roads in Zhuhai
by Wang Zhaohui
The cities of Zhuhai, Zhongshan and Macao were once part of the Xiangshan region. The ancient post road in Zhuhai served as a major transport link between Zhuhai, Macao and the rest of China.
Thanks to its proximity to Macau, Zhuhai has become host to great talent in modern times. Vice Governor Mr Xu Ruisheng once wrote the following: “Among the cultural excursions offered along the ancient post roads in southern Guangdong, the one with the most historical significance in China’s modern memory is Qi'ao ancient road". The ancient post roads in Zhuhai are cultural heritage routes related to a group of prominent persons who was born in that area, along the Xiangshan ancient road.
In the Xiangzhou District, located in the eastern part of Zhuhai, there are four ancient post roads, including Qi’ao Ancient Road, Changnan Path, Fenghuangshan Ancient Road and Jinxingmen Waterway, with a total length of 64.5 kilometres. Dong'ao ancient customs road on Dong’ao Island still exists to this day and has a total length of about 820 metres. In Zhuhai’s western district of Doumen, there were 5 ancient postal roads – the Chalengjing, Dajing, Xikengjing, Qianwujing and Huangyangshan ancient roads, spanning 67.5 kilometres in total.
Since Guangdong Province launched its efforts to protect and utilise the Nan Yue Ancient Post Road in 2016, the municipal committee and administration of Zhuhai have been responding positively to the work of the provincial government and have set up a managerial group with supervisors and two steering groups. Work has been done to restore the route in order to improve the facilities along it, revitalise historic sites and promote cultural activities.
I. An overview of the work
1) Optimal conservation and utilisation results
Before the ancient road was restored, the team first carried out an archaeological excavation and remedied the damaged sections, thus recreating its original appearance.
This led to an in-depth exploration of the cultural heritage of the traditional villages and towns, the former residences of famous people and the local folklore that previously existed along the routes. A system of symbols and landscape sketches serve to outline the significance of this cultural heritage.
Efforts to protect and utilise the ancient post road have helped to improve the environment surrounding the villages along it and have resulted in various projects. For example, nine village archives, nine exhibition halls and the Tangjiawan Museum of Folk Customs were inaugurated and opened to the public.
2) Highly efficient utilisation
The Zhuhai ancient post road has a fantastic location within the urban area, connecting seamlessly with the slow-moving system and public transportation which further improve its accessibility. It also links the rich landscape (such as mountains and seaside cities) in an effective way, offering an excellent place for the public to enjoy entertainment and leisure. Since opening on National Day in 2018, the Changnanjing ancient road has received a million visitors.
There are, and have been, many cultural tours and events along the ancient post roads around Zhuhai, Zhongshan and Macao in southern Guangdong. These include the 2017 event ‘Cycling on the ancient post road of Xiangshan’ with a group of locals; the Arts Trail Tour – South China’s Historical Trail Painting Contest for Children; and the ‘Southern Guangdong Ancient Post Road – New Maritime Silk Road’ tour, with nearly a hundred mainstream media outlets across the country reporting on the event followed by press interviews. These events promoted positive interaction between tradition and cultural tourism and were combined with sports and educational programmes for children, which enhanced the city’s vitality.
3) Experience as an export
Vice Governor Xu Ruisheng visited Zhuhai four times and Director Chen Guangrong from the Provincial Department of Natural Resources travelled to the city on multiple occasions to oversee the city’s works on the ancient post roads. Volunteers from the Three Masters Association advised on the construction of the roads, which provided assistance in finding the correct direction, clarifying their positioning and ensuring the quality of the roads. According to the provincial Natural Resources Bureau of the Province and the Housing and Urban/Rural Development Bureau, Zhuhai was the first city to complete the guidelines for the protection and restoration of the ancient post roads in southern Guangdong (amended in 2018), thus setting the standard for the rest of the province.
From 2017 to 2020, Xiangshan ancient post road in Zhuhai was highlighted as an exemplary model each year at the provincial level and the city hosted a number of local gatherings. A 20-minute documentary on Zhuhai featured on the CCTV programme ‘Explore and Discover: The Ancient Post Roads in Southern Guangdong’. In July 2020, the guidelines won the 2019 National First Prize for Outstanding Urban Planning and Design. Zhuhai continues to play a leading role in promoting the project.
II. Learning from experience
1) Conserving and utilising ancient post roads contributes towards reshaping values and revitalising culture
Unlike other ancient post roads in Guangdong province that connect to the Central Plains, the Xiangshan ancient post road connects to Macao and beyond. What is more, it is an important channel for cultural exchange between China and the West. The road ends where the sea begins. Thanks to its unique geographical location, nearly 100 influential men, referred to as ‘China’s first men’, have lived in Xiangshan since the Ming and Qing dynasties. These include Sun Yat-sen, the pioneer of China’s democratic revolution, Yung Wing, the first Chinese student to graduate from an American university, Tang Shaoyi, the first Premier of the Republic of China, Tang Guo’an, the first president of Tsinghua University, Su Zhaozheng, the early phase leader of China's workers' movement, Yang Pao’an, the first person to spread Marxism in South China, Tang Jingxing, the first person in China's national industry and Chen Fang, China’s first millionaire. All of these men travelled along Xiangshan ancient post road and changed the course of modern Chinese history.
Zhuhai has significantly increased its cultural influence since the conservation work was carried out. In fact, in December 2016, the report from the 8th Party Congress of the city raised the idea of building a famous historic and cultural city. With the aim of preserving Zhuhai’s historical and cultural resources, the municipal government drew up the ‘Zhuhai Historical and Cultural Resources Protection Work Plan’ and created a city-wide project. The Xiangshan ancient post road in Zhuhai unites and revitalises the historic and cultural sites along the route, linking the two historic urban areas of Tangjia and Xiangzhou. We believe that the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area will gain in strategic importance at the national level and the cultural value of the ancient post road in Zhuhai will continue to become more prominent thanks to integration and development efforts.
2) The importance of integrating the construction of ancient post roads into the city’s spatial structure
Since work got under way, Zhuhai has integrated the ancient post road into the spatial structure for pedestrians, taking full advantage of the already existing road within the city. This not only promotes the permeation of historical and cultural heritage into the daily life of citizens but also strengthens the connection between the mountains, the sea and the city. A unique path allows citizens to enjoy the beautiful landscape and the charm of the city, creating an exciting pedestrianised system extending from the mountains to the sea, from ancient to modern times. The ancient post road is located in an area rich in historic and cultural sites, and has one famous town and 19 major attractions, including 3 city parks, 11 tourist spots, 5 cultural venues and 7 service stations.
3) The work to harmonise coexistence between man and nature never ends
The team used archaeological excavation to clean up the surface of the Changnanjing Old Path and thoroughly investigated the original method of laying stone steps and handling stone connection points, as well as the drainage system and other techniques. They came up with four pavement creation methods and three drainage patterns. During the restoration process, rough-faced stone and naturally weathered stone similar to the original ones were selected, as were construction techniques that mirrored those used when it was first built. This gave the restored road a quaint and authentic look.
To protect the natural ecosystem, we followed the principle of ‘four no’s’ during construction – no slope cutting, no soil building, no tree cutting and no destruction of historic relics. The materials were not transported using modern machinery but by mule and manual transport. This helped to ensure minimal intervention and to restore vegetation.
4) Satisfaction – the KPI that counts
Satisfactory work is not mandated from the top, instead it is a process of collaboration from the bottom up.
When work started on the ancient post road, the working group interviewed more than 20 elderly people aged 70 or above from villages along the road and recorded historic facts and stories related to it.
In the process of constructing the ancient post road, we called in avid travellers, history and culture enthusiasts, social groups, such as the Zhuhai Tang Family History Group, the Culture Research Association and the Rongmai Research Association, to uncover the cultural value of the ancient post road and to explore ways for it to be revitalised and utilised. We also worked with excellent design volunteers from Guangdong province’s Three Masters Association, who carried out activities intended to transmit the history and the culture of the old post roads. Together with university teachers and students, we created a number of attractions such as Xingyue Pond, Qishui Flowing Spring and Smoky Tide, which added cultural flair and a natural element to the ancient post road.
Since 2019, Zhuhai has been carrying out a series of special activities centred around the theme of history and culture in schools, including lectures entitled ‘Learning About the Ancient and Modern Post Roads – Culture in Schools’, essays entitled ‘Inheriting the Culture of the Xiangshan Ancient Post Road’ and an article competition for the Xiangshan ancient post roads. The city has also regularly published articles in the teachers’ and students’ column. The hope is that the road will serve as a means to pass on the traditional values and charm of Zhuhai to young people and get them thinking about cultural heritage. At the same time, the WeChat accounts of “Xiangshan Story” and “Zhuhai” have been used to record the past and present of the Xiangshan ancient post road, and 67 more accounts have been successfully promoted since 2016. This has made it possible for more people to learn about the road, like it on social media and follow its construction.
Secretary of the Bureau of Natural Resources of Zhuhai, Director of Social Urban Planning of China, Member of Rural Planning and Construction Academic Committee
Article from a presentation as part of the webinar "Patrimoine, mise en valeur et revitalisation des territoires"