The streets are definitely worth wandering - in any season. This is a wonderful town, with something marvellous at every turn, and marvellous people to tell you about it all.
Just take any turn,down any lane, and stop to talk with the people of Qingcheng.
Forty nine structures are being actively protected in the town, and forty-six of these are residences. Most are still inhabited by townspeople and used for their daily lives and livelihoods. Currently, the residences are in varying states of repair, from the crumbling ruins to the remarkably well-preserved. Seeing the beautiful structures is merely a question of asking the owner. Invariably they are happy to see you, and your problem is not getting in, but getting away again!
Once these forty-six houses are firmly 'saved', further houses will be added to the registry, and it is to be hoped that buildings that retain any remnants of the past willeventually be added.
Fortunately the townspeople are being involved in the whole process and the town will be preserved in its entirety, not as an atrophied museum but as living heritage.
For many centuries, waterwheels have lined the rivers in Gansu, especially on the Yellow River and the Weihe. Today only three original, working waterwheels remain -at Xigu in western Lanzhou, in Dingxi on the Wei River and here on the north bank of the Yellow River at Qingcheng.
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Qingcheng has a few restaurants along the main street, but it also has a large number of home-stay accommodation places. These all serve food at lunchtime and in the evenings.
Look for the signs and ask inside – just go in, as usually there is no bell.
As these places do not stock up every day just in case someone comes bay, it is best to ask ahead. Maybe give them half an hour to go out to the market.
Favorite Dish: The food is simple but excellent. Don’t expect Maxim’s, but you do get a better atmosphere. If you meet people you like in the town – and this is almost inevitable in this town – invite them along to eat.
This is not a shopping tip but a plea to avoid buying them from small villages and towns in rural areas.
Old towns like Qingcheng are a storehouse of antiques, like a great many rural places in China. Every house contains objects and features that you look at and think “That would look wonderful in my place”, but please remember that if you buy them, you are removing artefacts and objects that are part of the social history of the village. Removing them removes some of their heritage.
Furthermore, local people are simply unaware of the value – financial or aesthetic – of what they own. Some have argued that local people are aware, and ‘have another one out the back for the next tourist’. This is just nonsense: I have often admired an object and had to fight to stop people – especially older folk – giving me stuff for free. One man was going to remove a window frame (!) because I liked it so much; he said he wanted me to have it because I “could appreciate it more than he”. Please, please, please resist this. Take photographs, touch the wood and store it inside your memories, but please do not remove heritage.
What to buy: If there is something that you really simply must have, then pay the money you would pay for it in Beijing, Shanghai or London. Getting a bargain from a rural Chinese family is not something to crow about – it is something to be ashamed of. Paying a fraction of the true value of a piece of a family’s heritage amounts to theft from people who have hard, poor lives.
I make a point of explaining the value of heritage to people I meet, and that their furniture, farmyard implements, photographs, pots and pans, etc, is important to them and their children.
If, as some have argued, you believe that buying furniture contributes money to the rural economy, this is simply fallacious, and it doesn’t take much thought to realise why.
If you care about heritage, please join the campaign to let people – especially in poorer areas – know the value of their household items and encourage them to hold onto them if they possibly can. You don’t need to worry about Qingcheng…..I’ve got that one covered!
Fortunately in Qingcheng, the enlightened mayor and the vice-governor of Yuzhong County, have started a register of movable heritage as part of a programme to inform local people of their history and heritage.
Just north of the town, between the houses and the Yellow River is an old orchard with pear and walnut trees. The trees here are around 200 years old, and their gnarled tweisted trunks could tell a few stories if they could talk.
Today, the small orchard has been fenced in to protect it. A Lanzhou entrepreneur is building a wooden house at one side of the orchard. Normally I would be horrified at such action, but having met the man - and seen the plans - it seems that this development will save the orchard. The construction is sympathetic to the surroundings, using local stone and wood.