By Melsam Ojha
With several inspirational stories of the Chinese revolution and of New China since childhood, I had always wished to visit the birthplace of Chairman Mao. Finally, the China Culture Centre in Nepal (CCC) offered me a two-in-one opportunity – to visit Hunan. We were there in September to participate in a tourism and cultural festival and also to visit Shaoshan upon special arrangement from Madam Xiao Jiang, the director of the CCC. Wang Hejie, program officer of the CCC, had briefed us before we left Kathmandu for the 10-day knowledge trip.
The eight members of the team led by Dr. Sarbottam Shrestha included school principals Shivaraj Panta & Bhakta Shrestha, artist Mukesh Dangol, friendship associate Dipak Sarkar, travel company manager Arjani Shrestha and myself.
Our hour-long flight from Guangzhou to Changsha offered me scenic views of green mountains, freeways, the Nanshui water reservoirs, and several development projects.
At Changsha airport, we were greeted by tour guide Hu Tangtao. As we exited Changsha airport, orange fragrance surrounded me, and made me contemplate the more than 2,500 kilometers I’d traveled from Tribhuwan International airport and the cooler climate of my home. Stats show that orange production in Hunan and other surrounding provinces was around 20 metric tons in 2018. “With a solid foundation laid by agriculture, we have full confidence in development,” said Chinese President Xi Jinping on September 23, praising China’s energetic farmers.
The cities were being decorated to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Founding of New China. The people were joyfully taking pictures in front of a Chairman Mao statue with a placard for the 70th anniversary.
Boat-like island: Largest Inland Island
We started our journey in Hunan at Orange Island where Chairman Mao used to grow up and finished by visiting Shaoshan. Orange Island stretches six kilometers from north to south and is half-a-kilometer wide. Xiang River originating from Dongting Lake surrounds the flowery island. I imagined that Chairman Mao was still continuing his study and borrowing books from Hunan University Library located just across Xiang River, or writing poems on “Changsha” enjoying the taste of a delicious orange on a sunny day early in the history of New China. We too tasted juicy oranges grown in the middle of the island and enjoyed the magnificent view of Yuelu Mountain to the west.
Hunan Museum was established in 1951. It has an ample collection of historical items. Located next to Martyr’s Park on twelve acres, it displays relics of different eras, but mainly the culture and history of Hunan. We acknowledged the history of farming, hospitality, tea and a great many other things along with the “new dawn” in Hunan on August 4, 1949.
The museum highlights the history of 15,000 years of farming beginning in the Liang valley, and irrigation from the Xiang River. The hardships and cooperation across many generations of different ethnic groups enhanced production and ultimately led to the export of grain in large quantities. The hard working culture of Chinese people ultimately brought a new dawn and progress in the country’s special kind of socialism.
Visitors surfed options in local dialects on a smart TV. The museum also has ancient, ceremonial vessels on display that are used to offer liquor and food to deities. The dress, behavior and lifestyles lived in Hunan are conveyed by Lichengqiao tomb findings, also a great attraction for us.
Chenzhou & Yizhang: Cultural Tourism Festival
The second day at Hunan was our tour to Yizhang County. This part of the trip involved my first experience on high-speed rail. We attended Hunan International Cultural Tourism Festival 2019. The festival connects Hunan and Guangdong provinces. This is an artery for the Beijing-Guangzhou Railway as well. In the evening, we attended a welcome program where we had conversation with Chenzhou Mayor Liu Zhiren.
On the way to Yizhang, I observed numerous windmills used for generating electricity. Workers along the G4 highway helped maintain a clean environment. I had taken the right seat beside the driver to take pictures and inhale the fragrances. Historically, the county is known for the 1928 uprising led by Comrades Zhu De and Chen Yi. Now, it is widely applauded for completely relieving poverty, bringing the level down from 16% within only 5 years.
We were welcomed at Yizhang by smiling volunteers. We were welcomed at Yao Ethnic Village with songs, dance and poems. A cultural troupe also played a scene out of a story about Jiangjun rock and Wangfu cliff. The story was about a wife waiting for the retreat of her General husband.
After observing cultural performances, we proceeded towards Mount Mang where many species and biological diversity are being preserved. The mountain is also highly acclaimed by the military for its unique terrain and strategic location. We walked on a path through deep forest for an hour to observe three strange stones at Mount Tiantai. Volunteers waited in several rest areas to serve bread and water to us.
I asked one volunteer about their traditional culture. Zeng Jiaxin praised the traditional Panwang festival, celebrated by the Yao ethnic group. “Several villages gather at one place and invite troupes to perform acrobatics and operas of the Panwang King,” he said. “In addition, there are epic beautiful legends, stories, fables, fairy tales, jokes, riddles, proverbs and so on, with high artistic value.”
Fenghuang Ancient Town & Real Scenic Theatre
On September 23rd, we travelled to Fenghuang where the Miao people come from. I was introduced to the Miao people by a book published in remembrance of Chairman Mao. His bodyguards, Chen Changfeng and Zeng Xianji wanted to fish from a pond in Miao home territory, and the Chairman suggested, “we should never tamper with the things belonging to these people.” Also, he explained the characteristics of national minorities and China’s revolutionary policy towards them.
At Huaihua, tour guide Gu Lingjuan in her colorful Miao ethnic costume heartily welcomed us with a beautiful song.
Golden Pheasant flies over Nanhuashan
To rest in mountain stockade!
A friend from afar,
A visitor from afar
Welcome to Xiangxi and Phoenix
Welcome to Miao home!
We only visited modern Fenghuang and didn’t visit the Miao People’s Valley. But her melodious voice made our journey much more enjoyable.
She first guided us to the residence of Shen Congwen, one of the greatest modern Chinese writers of the 20th Century. His love poems dedicated to Zhang Zhaohe are also on display. He had always loved the countryside. Features from his novel “The Border Town” are expressed through a 75-minute drama every evening at Fenghuang ancient city near Phoenix Grand Hotel.
The small town is also the hometown of Premier Xiong Xiling of the Republic of China (1913 – 1914) and Chinese master painter Huang Yongyu.
Zhangjiajie: Avatar & Elevator
On September 24th, we started our journey to Zhangjiajie. On the way, passing through a 4km tunnel, I felt admiration for the workers who built this wonderful piece of infrastructure. Other construction works were also being carried out.
“Zhangjiajie is popular for its three thousand peaks that look like bamboo shoots, eight hundred rivers and lakes, the glass bridge on the grand canyon, Tianmen mountain, Tianzhi mountain and Maoyan river with nine big curves and eighteen small curves,” said local guide Fu Bingjie.
On the mountains, Chinese youth rent ethnic costumes to take snapshots. Such activity reflects their enthusiasm towards culture. The popular Hollywood movie “Avatar” was shot on these mountains. We also had dried chinkapin (katus in Nepali), nuts grown at Tianzi Mountain as we were hiking through the woods, and reached the Grand Canyon Glass Bridge.
Whitish Glass Bridge, designed by Israeli architect Haim Dotan, has a length of 530 meters and is 260 meters above the ground – making it World’s longest and highest.
The following day, we returned to Changsha via Changde. The rice crops were nearly ready to harvest. In the evening, we attended the launch ceremony of “Lightening up China’s Night Economic Map.” Tongguan town is a historically important center for porcelain production. Ten billion Chinese yuan has been invested to rebuild the 1,200-year-old cultural heritage site. Chen Xianchun from Hunan Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism greeted us and welcomed us for more tourism cooperation.
Cordial Treat at Shaoshan
Shaoshan was our final destination. The name is in honor of a melodious musical style combined with poem and dance – Shao. This was the creativity to praise Shundi – one of the renowned emperors.
Though we were in Hunan to attend a culture and tourism conference, the China Culture Centre in Nepal had arranged our visit to Shaoshan upon my special request to pay deep respect to Chairman Mao Zedong. I grew up hearing a song which I murmured as we were approaching Shaoshan: “East is Red….Sun is Rising……China gave Mao Zedong to the World.” Chairman Mao also lived in the hearts of Nepali people. Wen Benhui, Deputy Director General of the foreign affairs office of Shaoshan, arrived at the city entrance gate to welcome us.
We offered fresh flower garlands and bowed in front of a Chairman Mao statue. I gave my gratitude to him, all of his family members, and all martyrs who gave up their lives for the cause of the nation. Learning from their great sacrifice, President Xi Jinping has been suggesting all communist party members mingle with people all the time and not to be corrupted. The museum has huge collections of Chairman Mao and revolutionary documents. A mannequin of Chairman Mao standing in Tiananmen Square, addressing the nation along with his comrades is a realistic work of art located there.
While standing in a long line to observe his house, I was murmuring the poem written by Chairman Mao when he returned to the site after 32 years.
Bitter sacrifice strengthens bold resolve,
Which dares to make sun and moon shine in new skies
Happy, I see wave upon wave of paddy and beans,
And all around heroes homebound in the evening mist.
— (Excerpted from Mao Zedong, Foreign Language Press)
The writer in front of the statue of Chairman Mao at Shaoshan, Hunan Province. [Photo courtesy of Melsam Ojha]
His home, once destroyed by the Kuomintang and re-built by the people and party, is similar to the Han architecture we saw at Hunan Museum. The village has sprung into a city as people of all generations around the globe come to visit.
We also visited Di Shui Cave located in a thick bamboo forest three kilometers away from Zhuxi Mao residence. The cave and a home were built as protection from air raids. The building consists of several photographs, bedrooms, offices, and meeting rooms for Chairman Mao. Unfortunately, we couldn’t enter the cave due to electrical problems that day.
Carrying cherished moments and memories of delicious dried fish and stinky tofu, and promising to visit again with my parents and comrades, we left for Changsha.
We travelled more than 2,000 km via high-speed rail and bus, observed cities, cultural performances and museum exhibits. We saw mountains and people of many ethnic groups. People in Hunan are well connected to nature. The opportunity to visit just ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the PRC was of great importance to all of us.
The writer is a commercial pilot and also president for Nepal-China Academy (friendship association).