Continuing to look at some of my favorite parts of living in China, is the fact that there is history everywhere. Thanks to the Cultural Revolution, civil-wars, and thousands of years of tearing down the old to make room for the new, it is fairly safe to say that China has lost more history than the US has. We weren’t even a country until half way through China’s final dynasty (the Qing). So living in a place where I pass a 600-year-old buildings on a daily basis is great.
The tiny town of Longzhou where I first lived was an excellent example of how even present day backwaters can have an interesting history (Here it is on Google Maps). There was a kind of joke about the current situation, “Longzhou has a train station, but no railroad, an airport, but no airplanes, and a consulate but no consul.” And no this is not one of China’s infamous “ghost cities”, just a place left off of the main highway.
In the late 1800’s it was at a key junction of rivers that made it invaluable for trade with Vietnam (French Indochina). At first the French tried to take control of the city, but was repelled by troops at the “little great wall.” Later they attempted a more diplomatic approach, and built Guangxi’s first consulate.
As trade grew between the powers, so did Longzhou’s wealth, and a railway was to be built. The local government knew that this was a great opportunity to grow their wealth, and built the station before the railway arrived. Unfortunately for the town, war broke out in Northern China, and the plans were scrapped.
As the Nationalists faced the Japanese coming from the North a small airfield was established in Longzhou (also because it was a hotbed of communism). The field helped tie the city closer to the provincial capital of Nanning, and it served as a small army base.
Deng Xiaoping also lived in Longzhou for a short time, and the statue in the town square is of him instead of Chairman Mao. In the small town he worked with other communists to plan, and launched the Baise uprising, the first communist offensive in Guangxi.
Ho Chi Minh, also lived in the small town during that time. His small house is now a museum to Chinese and Vietnamese friendship. He would also use it during the Vietnam war to meet with Party Officials.
Longzhou’s history though is even much longer than I described. Just up the river is a series of cliff paintings that are nearly 2,000 years old, and were created by a non-han group.
When so much history can be found in a single forgotten town along the Vietnam border, it’s easy to see that almost everywhere you go in China, you will find hundreds, if not thousands, of years of history just around the corner almost anywhere you live.* For people who love history, this makes China an easy country to love.
*Does not apply to Shenzhen, or some of China’s other instant cities.