I had to check twice when I noticed the icon forecasting clear skies for today! Once deep into autumn, the sun becomes a rarity in these parts, so the chance to enjoy a day out in the sunshine is an opportunity not to be missed, with doubts over unreliable weather apps cast aside.
Last week on my river cruise on Manjianghong with iChongqing, a feature that perhaps caught my attention most was the majestic Huguang Guild site, gloriously lit up upon the Yangtze riverbank.
A good six years had passed since I last took a tourist river cruise from Chaotianmen, and unless my memory has failed, the brilliant lights of Huguang Huiguan is a relatively new addition to the city’s nocturnal skyline.
From that moment on, my visit was just a matter of time.
Thankfully, the promise of cloudless heavens came to fruition once a dense blanket of fog dispersed shortly after sunrise. With morning familial duties seen to, we took the subway to Xiaoshizi小什字 in Jiefangbei.
Locating the Guild House
Despite the sense of proximity on a map, the walk from Xiaoshizi station to Huguang Guild takes you down a long steep flight of steps and through old bustling alleyways. Along the way, you pass by little clothing shops, food stalls selling breakfast snacks, and narrow doorways leading into labryinths of wholesale businesses.
In fact, the Xiaoshizi is the place in Chongqing where shop owners municipality wide source their clothing products. The streets are packed from early in the morning, and you have to watch out for busy manual labourers and motorbike powered minivans shifting wares.
Everybody was too busy to really notice me walking through, even though a foreigner walking the old narrow streets here must stand out like a sore thumb.
We a turned a 180 degree bend in the street and Huguang Guild came into sight just beyond the towering Dongshuimen Bridge, over which the Line 6 Subway trains roar across in either direction, every few minutes.
After a short coffee break, we admired the sparkling Yangtze waters through a gap in the foilage, then walked down the old city walls towards the ticket office, where a pair set us back the grand total of 50 yuan.
What is Huguang Guild?
There is no short answer that can immediately dispel your curiousity on this matter, as to understand the purpose of Huguang Guild requires the visitor to study little known history of this region.
I learnt much from my visit today, including how Chongqing was once fully guarded behind city walls, and that the modern day bridges of Qiansimen and Dongshuimen are actually named after ancient city gate towers that stood nearby hundreds of years ago.
Wishing to avoid the pretence I know this period of history well, here are some quotes from inside that should give you the right gist, and in their original Chinglishy version to boot, for now at least.
According to the Display Panels
1. In China, huiguan or guild halls are historical architectures built by a group of immigrants of the same origin including officials, merchants and ordinary people for their shared interests in terms of function. There are townsmen guild halls, immigrant guild halls, business guild halls, and industry guild halls.
In Bashu region, most guild halls are historical outcomes dating back to the big migration into Sichuan from other provinces in the Qing Dynasty. Evidences show that the construction of guild halls in Chongqing was initiated under Emperor Kangxi, then came to rise under Emperor Qianlong, and finally reached the peak under Emperors Xianfeng and Tongzhi. In history, after the Huguang immigration in the early Qing Dynasty, Chongqing became prosperous due to the inflow of a large number of merchants, especially those from Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, Hubei, Shanxi, Shaanxi, Fujian, Jiangxi, Yunnan and Guizhou. Those merchants started to build guild halls as early as the reign of Emperor Qianlong.
Located beside the Yangtze River section at Dongshuimen,Yuzhong District, Chongqing Huguang Guild Hall is one of eight major guild halls in the city and consists of a complex of architectures, including antique imitation buildings and historical buildings dating back to the reign of Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty, about 300 years ago, such as Huguang Guild Hall(also known as Yuwang Temple), Guangdong Guild Hall (also known as Nanhua Palace) and Qi’an Guild Hall. Chongqing Huguang Guild Hall is the largest urban architectural complex of its kind in China with its core region covering an area of 18,418m2, with a floorage of 7,653m2, representing the highest level of antique architectures in the city, it is a calling card for this historical and cultural city and also an important proof of the Huguang immigration and the past of the city as a prosperous port in the Qing Dynasty.
2. The province of Huguang was first established in the Yuan Dynasty as Huguang Xingsheng with a territory approximately equivalent to the Song Dynasty’s Jinghu South Circuit, Jinghu Norih Circuit and Guangnan West Circuit, roughly corresponding to today’s Hubei (including a small part north of the Yangtze River and the most area south of the Yangtze River), Hunan(whole), Guangxi(whole), Guangdong (only the arca west of Dianbai County and Maoming City) and Guizhou (excluding the Beipan River basin). In the early Ming Dynasty, Huguang Xingsheng was expanded to the northern boundary of modern Hubei Province, while the part of the previous Guangnan West Circuit was separated as Guangxi Province. In the Qing Dynasty, Huguang was split into Hubei and Hunan provinces which together were customarily known as Huguang.
In the late Yuan Dynasty and the early Ming Dynasty, Huguang saw many deserted farmlands and a decreased population following the years of war-incurred chaos. To allieve the situation, the government of the Ming Dynasty migrated many people from provinces like Jiangxi to Huguang and even allowed them to distribute lands by placing flags. In the late Ming Dynasty and the carly Qing Dynasty, after a long time of warfare, Sichuan was desolated with a shrinking population. Thus, the government of the Qing Dynasty started to encourage people in other provinces to migrate to Sichuan. That’s the historical background of ‘Jiangxi fills Huguang, and Huguang fills Sichuan.” a folk rhythm widely popular in Sichuan and Chongqing. In the early Qing Dynasty, there were many immigrants from Hubei and Hunan in Sichuan. That’s why people put it as ‘Huguang Gills Sichuan.’
Huguang Guild can’t fail to impress, and I have to say the experience surpassed expectations in my case.
Although its style, layout and scale are a world apart from the Forbidden City in Beijing, stepping room to room throughout the complex, wondering about the antiques that awaited us next, the beautifully intricate carvings in the museum, exploring the coridoors and stages, the unique traditional gifts on sale, all combined to evoke a similar feeling inside.
Just inside the main entrance, to the left, there’s an exhibit that illustrates the transformation from abandoned ruins to its present day glory.
When you compare the site now to the old black and white photographs, you can only marvel at how the builders restored every last facet of this huge structure to their former glory, whilst also preserving the original style and decor.
Stay tuned for more!