Travel in Guangxi
From the Karst topography and high concentration of ethnic minorities to the north of the province, the rivers of which flow endlessly across the breadth of Chinese 9th largest province or more accurately: Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, to the innumerable beaches scattered across the south coast, Guangxi, translated into English: vast expanse of the west, really does hold true it's name as the Asia Travel team found out during an extended exploration during the Spring/Summer months of 2009.
It is thus very satisfying to assert that having rummaged about in all of Guangxi's 14 Prefecture-level Cities and indeed the underlying 56 counties which constitute the veins of this eternal body, that there is more to this vast destination than meets the eye, whether it be strolling through one of the many Ancient Towns, taking part in one of the many white knuckle rides (with special mention to Hezhou's Gu Po Shan's White Water Rafting) or enjoying a weekend in South East Asia's most liveable city Nanning.
Guangxi enjoys a long history. Since the late Paleolithic Age forty or fifty thousand years ago, there had been "Liujiang people" and "Qilin Mountain people" laboring and living here. During the time of the Warring States, Lingnan was known as the land of Baiyue and Guangxi was a part of Baiyue. In 214 BC, the Qin Emperor unified Baiyue and established Guilin county, Nanhai county and Xiang county, of which Guilin county and Xiang county included most areas of Guangxi. Therefore Guangxi acquired the name of "Gui". At the beginning of the Song Dynasty, most areas of Guangxi belonged to the West Guangnan Road, which was later called Guangxi Road for short. That is the origin of the name of "Guangxi".
During Qing Dynasty, the province of Guangxi was established. Guilin has been retained as the capital of Guangxi since the establishment of Guangxi Province till the era of Republic of China. On March 5th, 1958, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region was established. Throughout history, Guangxi often witnessed conflicts between different ethnic tribes and was the scene of several rebellions. The Taiping Tianguo Uprising (1850-1864) originated in Guangxi. Merely from 1912 to 1936, the capital was once moved to Nanning. However, the city, with its name literally as "South Peace", did not see peace until the Sino-Vietnam War ceased in 1979.
The Qin Emperor excavated Ling Canal to connect the Yangtze River and the Pearl River, which therefore largely promoted the economic and cultural exchange between Guangxi and the central plains. The long history forms the splendid and unique national culture of Guangxi, the distinctive feature of which during Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods could be well understood from the cliff paintings and calligraphies created by early people of Guangxi along Zuojiang River bank, the big bronze drum made before the Han Dynasty, and the simple and elegant railing buildings which can prevent from the corrosion of moist heat and the inroads of snakes and beasts. The Zhenwu Pavilion of the Ming Dynasty and the Chengyang Shelter Bridge of Dong Nationality in Sanjiang has extremely high scientific and artistic values.
Construction of Ling Canal by the Qin Empire
In 221BC, the Emperor in Chinese history, called Qin Shihuang annexed the six rival principalities of Qi, Chu, Yan, Han, Zhao and Wei, and established a feudal society with centralized power. After the Qin Empire unified the central plains, in order to conquer all parts of Baiyue in the south, in the 26th year of Qin dynasty or Shihuang reign period, a general called Tu Xiong was appointed to lead a 500-thousand-army to move towards south from five different branches. Later One branch army in the Yuecheng Mountains encountered the pertinacious resistance of Yue people. What's worse, owing to the danger and difficulty of climbing mountains and crossing obstructed waterways, the combat food was out of supply. As a result, the Qin army was thrown into a dilemma.
In the 27th year of Emperor Shihuang's reign, Shilu was appointed to preside over the construction of the Ling Canal in the land of Xing'an County in Guangxi. The total length of the Ling Canal is 34 kilometers. It was exquisitely designed. Digging the canal was a Herculean task, which directed waters of Xiang River into Li River and connected the Yangtze River and the Pearl River. The canal not only removed the difficulty of the Qin army transporting military supplies, but also played an important role in the unification of Lingnan by Qin dynasty. After the Qin Empire unified the land of Baiyue in Lingnan, it established Nanhai County, Guilin County and Xiang County in Lingnan in 214BC. Since then the land of Guangxi had began to be incorporated into the domain of the Qin Dynasty. Ling Canal served water transportation of grain to the capital, and irrigation over all the dynasties. Finally it became the most convenient passage from the central plains to Lingnan in ancient times.
The Taiping Rebellion
After the Opium War in 1840, China was gradually reduced to a semi-colonial and semi-feudal society, when the conflicts between tenant farmers and landowners in the feudal society were further intensified. In 1843, Hong Xiuquan set up God-worship Religion in Hua County of Guangdong Province. On January 1st, 1851, Hong Xiuquan united the Taiping Uprising in Jintian Village of Guiping, Guangxi, which took China and foreign countries by storm. The Taiping Uprising, which lasted for 20 years and covered 18 provinces, hit the peak in the development of peasants' war for independence in the history of China.
Peoples and languages
Zhuang, Han, Yao, Miao, Dong, Mulam, Maonan, Hui, Jing, Yi, Shui and Gelo are the main ethnic groups in Guangxi Province, and there are some 28 smaller ones. The population of minority ethnic groups accounts for approximately 40%(close to 20 million) of Guangxi population by 2008, the 84% of them is Zhuang ethnic group with the population of 15.38 million which makes up 70% of total Zhuang population cross China, is the largest minority in China.Guangxi is known for its ethno-linguistic diversity. In the capital of Nanning, four to six dialect-languages are spoken locally: Southwestern Mandarin, Cantonese, Pinghua, and Zhuang, Hakka language, Northern Gui and Xiang accent, Fujian accent. It’s more like a live language laboratory where a variety of accents and system of languages work with each’er and evolve through time.
The Culture and Custom
"Two Guangs" (, Liǎng Guǎng)
Guangxi" and neighboring Guangdong literally mean "Guang West" and "Guang East". Together, Guangdong and Guangxi are called the "Two Guangs" (Liǎng Guǎng). Its culture and language are reflected in this. Though now associated with the Zhuang ethnic minority, Guangxi's culture traditionally has had a close connection with the Cantonese. Cantonese culture and language followed the Xi River valley from Guangdong and is still predominate in the eastern half of Guangxi today. Outside of this area there is a huge variety of ethnicities and language groups represented.
Zhuang Ethnic Culture
The Zhuang language belongs to the Chinese- Tibet an language family. Ancient Zhuang characters appeared in the South Song Dynasty (1127-1279), but never got popularized. So, the Zhuangs wrote in the Han script until 1955, when the central government helped them create a writing system based on the Latin alphabet. The Romanized script has been used in books, magazines and newspapers.
The Zhuang ethnic group's ancient culture and art are not only rich and colorful but also outstanding with their indigenous characteristics. For example, 2,000-year-old frescoes have been found at more than 50 spots on the precipices hanging over the Zuojiang River running through southwest Guangxi. The best known of them is the Huashan fresco in Ningming County which is over 100 meters long and 40 meters wide, featuring 1,300 figures. Drawn in rugged and vigorous lines, it reflects the life of the Zhuangs' ancestors.
Bronze drum, a special relic of minority groups in central south and southwest China, dates back well over two millennia. Guangxi alone has unearthed more than 500 of such drums, which are in different designs and sizes. The largest exceeds one meter in diameter and the heaviest weighs over half a ton while the lightest several dozen kilograms. The tops and sides of the drums are decorated with designs done in relief.
However, explanations are diverse in so far as the use of these drums is concerned. Some people believe that they were meant for military music, others argue that they were for folk music, and still others think they were for religious rites or to symbolize power and wealth.
Zhuang brocade is a splendid handicraft which originated in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Woven in beautiful designs with natural cotton warp and dyed velour weft, the brocade is excellent for making quilt covers, table-clothes, braces, aprons and handbags. Winning national fame during the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), Zhuang brocade has been steadily improved and at least 40 new designs have been developed in the past few decades.
Legends, fairy tales, stories and ballads frame the folk literature of the Zhuangs who have also been reputed for their singing. Sweet songs can be heard wherever you go in the Zhuang area. Extemporaneous melodies and lyrics and clever use of metaphors, riddles and cross-examinations add charm to their songs. It is said that, in the Tang Dynasty, a Zhuang woman singer called Third Sister Liu became known not just for her beautiful singing but especially for the courageous exposure in her songs of the crudeness of local tyrants. Today her name is a household word throughout China thanks to a successful film about her made in the 1950s.
In the old days, every Zhuang community held its regular songfests at given venues. On those occasions, young people from nearby villages would come together in their holiday best to meet each other and choose their lovers through songs.
Common Zhuang musical instruments include suona (Chinese cornet), bronze drum, cymbal, gong, sheng (Chinese wind pipe), xiao (vertical bamboo flute), di (Chinese flute) and huqin (a stringed instrument) made of horse bones.
Zhuang dances are characterized by distinct themes, forceful and nimble steps, jocular and humorous gestures and true-to-life emotions. The Rice-Husking Dance, Silk-Ball Dance, Shrimp-Catching Dance, Tea-Picking Dance, Shoulder-Pole Dance and Bronze-Drum Dance not only vividly depict the Zhuangs' life and work, but also display their straightforward, unbending nature.
Yet what combines the Zhuangs' folk literature, music, dance and other forms of art is the Zhuang Opera, which first originated from religious rites in the Tang Dynasty.
Customs and Habits
Most Zhuangs now live in one-story houses the same as the Hans. But some have kept their traditional two-story structures with the upper story serving as the living quarters and the lower as stables and storerooms. The old housing style, they think, suits the mountainous terrain and the humid climate.
Contemporary Zhuang clothing is in general close to the wear of the Han people. But traditional dresses remain in many places or are worn for special occasions. In northwest Guangxi, for instance, elderly women like collarless, embroidered and trimmed jackets buttoned to the left together with baggy trousers, embroidered belts and shoes and pleated skirts. They fancy silver ornaments. Women of southwest Guangxi prefer collarless, left-buttoned jackets, square kerchieves and loose trousers -- all in black.
Tattoo used to be an ancient Zhuang custom. A great writer of Tang Dynasty, Liu Zongyuan, mentioned it in his writings. Chewing betel nuts is a habit still popular among some Zhuang women. In places such as southwest Guangxi, betel nuts are a treat to guests.
Rice and corn make up the Zhuangs' staple food, and glutinous rice is particularly favored by those in south Guangxi.
The Zhuangs are monogamous. But they have a strange custom -- the wife stays away from the husband's home after marriage. At the wedding, the bride is taken to the bridegroom's home by a dozen girls of the same generation. She returns to live with her parents the next day and visits her husband only occasionally during holidays or the busy farming seasons. The woman will move permanently to the man's home two or three years later. This convention, which often impairs the harmony between husband and wife, has been going out of existence.
While sharing many festivals with the Hans, the Zhuangs have three red-letter days of their own: the Devil Festival, the Cattle Soul Festival and the Feasting Festival. The Devil Festival, which falls on July 14 on the lunar calendar (usually in August on the Gregorian calendar), is an important occasion next only to the Spring Festival. On that day, every family would prepare chicken, duck and five-colored glutinous rice to be offered as sacrifices to ancestors and ghosts.
The Cattle Soul Festival usually follows the spring ploughing, when every family would carry a basketful of steamed five-colored glutinous rice and a bundle of fresh grass to the cattle pen. After a brief sacrificial rite, they would feed the cattle with the grass and half of the rice. They believe that the cattle have lost their souls because of the whipping during the spring ploughing and that the ritual would call back the lost souls.
The Feasting Festival is celebrated only by people who live near the Sino-Vietnamese border. Legend has it that a group of Zhuang soldiers, having repulsed the French invaders in the late 19th century, returned in late January and missed the Spring Festival. To pay tribute to them and celebrate the victory, their neighbors prepared a sumptuous feast for them.
The Zhuangs are polytheists, worshipping among other things giant rocks, old trees, high mountains, land, dragons, snakes, birds and ancestors. Taoism has also had a deep influence on the Zhuangs since the Tang Dynasty. In the old days, there were semi-professional Taoist priests in the countryside, and religious rites cost a lot of money. Foreign missionaries came to the area in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but their influence was limited to cities and towns.
Guangxi cuisine is light, but not as light as Cantonese food; it is spicy, but not as spicy as Sichuan cuisine. It is most renowned for its unique treatment of venison. It also includes snake, mountain tortoise and pigeon. Its special dishes include Guilin Marou Mifen (rice-flour noodles with minted horse meat), dog hot pot.
In some places, like Wuzhou, Cantonese style food is in dominant. But the local Guangxi cuisine still offers several great delicacies, including the Guilin rice-flour noodles with horse meat (Marou mifen), "zongzi" - pyramid shaped meat dumpling wrapped in bamboo leaves, and "fried earthworm-shaped" noodles. Guangxi cuisine is light, but not as light as Cantonese food; it is spicy, but not as spicy as Sichuan cuisine.
Guangxi cuisine combines the virtues of other Chinese cuisines and is most renowned for its unique treatment of venison and game meat. It also includes snake, mountain tortoise and pigeon - some of these animals belong to rare and endangered species. Luckily, you can also find local dim sum as well as noodles and delicious dumplings. Special dog hot-pot is also available in some cities such as Guilin, Liuzhou and Nanning.
The Zhuang has the largest population among China‘s ethnic minorities. The Zhuang people are good at preparing various dishes, which have special Zhuang flavors. During festivals and celebrations, various kinds of ethnic dishes are prepared, including famous ones, such as Torch Pork, Zijiang Hare Meat, Fried Pseudo-Ginseng and Spotted Frogs, etc,
The Bai people are good at making salted ham, sausage, fish, fried pork liver, oily chicken and snail sauce. Bai women excel in preparing preserved fruits, such as candied plums. The Bai people are especially hospitable. Whenever a guest comes, he or she will be invited to take the seat of honor and be entertained with tea, eight bowls of dishes and three plates of fruits.
Situated on the southeast ring of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, Guangxi stands high in the northwest and low in the southeast, with the highest point at 2,141 meters above sea level. Located between the tropical and subtropical regions, Guangxi has different weather in different cities. Generally speaking, Guangxi has hot and humid summers with lots of rain. The average July temperature is 29 °C (84°F). Winter is mild and short with an average temperature of 12 °C(53°F).
Spring, summer and autumn in Guangxi are characterized by plenty of sunshine, moderately high temperature and abundant rainfall, during when Guangxi is best for tourists in almost all the cities. The best time to visit Guilin is the period from April to August, when the temperature is mild and rainfall is appropriate, and the Li River enjoys the most wonderful look during that time. When winter comes, Guilin becomes cold, yet tourists can still travel to Beihai, the city located within the tropical region, to enjoy a warm winter there.
The picturesque scenic spots in Guangxi are famous worldwide, symbolized by Guilin, a natural beauty produced by unique karst geography. At present, the province has established several tourist attractions including three state-level natural scenic spots, 11 state-level forest parks, 30 regional natural scenic spots, 15 state-level cultural and historical relics, 221 regional cultural and historical relics and one state-level tourist resort in Beihai City.
When to go
Guangxi lies in a subtropical region: rainy, warm and wet. It is fit for traveling all year round. July is the warmest and average temperature is 23 C to 29 C; the coldest is in January, and average temperature is about 6 C to 16 C. In Guangxi, 80 percent of the rain occurs from April to September. Annual average rainfall is 1250 to 1750 millimeters (49.2 to 68.9 inches) in the most areas.
Sub-tropical vegetation and animals
By now, 929 kinds of land-based vertebrate animals are found in Guangxi, accounting for 43.3 percent of those found in China. Among these wild animals are 149 kinds which are rare species.
Guangxi ranks first among the Chinese provinces in being home to the rare species of plants. About 8,354 wild plants have been found in the region, including 122 kinds which are near distinction and need special protection.
A kingdom of fruits
Among the 670 species of fruits growing in China, 110 take their roots in Guangxi. As the tropical or sub-tropical fruits account for 80 percent of the total growing there, Guangxi is regarded as a leading province in China to produce and export the delicacies. The region is well known for high-quality shaddock, banana, pineapple and orange. The year 2001 saw Guangxi producing a total of 4.05 million tons of fruits, ranking first among the Chinese provinces.
Vast stretches of natural forests
The survey made in recent years showed that the forests in Guangxi occupied a land of 13.2 million hectares, accounting for 55.54 percent of the province's total territory. Good climate and geographical location enable Guangxi to have as many as over 8,000 tree species, including more than 1,000 kinds of arbor. Most of the precious forest resources are seen concentrating in the northeast section and Baise area, where about 39 percent of the province's timber products are put out.
Getting to Guangxi and moving around.
By Air: Guilin, Nanning, Beihai, Liuzhou and Wuzhou the five cities have civilian airport, a total of over 80 route, among them Guangxi Guilin International Airport is the largest airport, flew to Hong Kong, Australia, Japan flights.
Xaing-Gui is the most important railway line in Guangxi, in the East it links Jing-Guang Railroad artery ,in the West meets with the Vietnamese railway line, Xiang-Gui line in Guangxi : the “Guilin - Liuzhou - Nanning” parts had opened rapid tourist train. there are Nanning - Kunming line ,Nanning - Fangchenggang line, Qinzhou - Beihai line. In addition to capital Nanning, Liuzhou is important railway hub in the region, North-Guizhou (Guizhou-Guangxi Line) South Link Hainan (Lizhan line).
Highway In recent years, Guangxi highway construction has made considerable progress, the road has been formed to “five vertical and three horizontal” 8 State Road trunk road network. Nanning - Liuzhou - Guilin, Nanning - Qinzhou - Beihai, Binyang - Nanning - Fangchenggang highway have been built successively. By Chu Kong Passenger Transport routes have Wuzhou - Zhaoqing-Guangzhou-Hong Kong route, with the North Sea maritime passenger - Haikou route.
There is one coach leaving for Nanning from HK airport at 18:55 everyday. The fare is HK&350. If you miss the bus, you could transfer to Guangzhou and then go to Nanning by train or bus. But, both of them will take no less than 12 hours on the way. So, the third method, you could go to Shenzhen Airport from HK airport by bus or by ferry, and then go to Naning by air.