Qinghu: Glorious Trade Town on Silk Road


文化交流 2019年3期

Ying Qunying

The 459-kilometer-long Qiantang River runs through Zhejiang Province with many tributaries flowing into it before the river merges into the East China Sea at the wide-open Hangzhou Bay. The Xu River is one of the numerous tributaries in the upper stretch of the river. At the foot of Xianxia Mountains and by the Xu River, Qinghu Town used to be a trade center in the southwest of Zhejiang Province. A town on the river and 7.5 kilometers from the county capital of Jiangshan, Qinghu was a key town on the trade route that connected Fujian province to the south of Zhejiang Province. Goods from Fujian were loaded on the ships here and the ships then set sail down the river and eventually reached Qiantang River. Goods from other parts of Zhejiang were shipped to Qinghu, unloaded there before they were transported to Fujian province through the ancient trade route snaking through the mountains.

In its prime times, Qinghu was more prosperous than the county capital of Jiangshan. By the early years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Qinghu had long passed its most glorious years, but it still had 14 shipyards and 5 factories that made and supplied sails for shipbuilders. The seventeen docks at the town saw hectic times serving the 1,000 ships owned by the river towns trade businesses, let alone numerous bamboo rafts which outnumbered the ships.

The glory of the trade town is attributed to the Silk Roads in ancient China. A big producer of silk, tea and porcelain, Zhejiang exported its goods in three directions. Part of the goods went northward through the Grand Canal system from Hangzhou to the national capital more than 1,000 kilometers in the north. Some goods were shipped across the sea to Japan and Korea to the east. And some goods went up to the upper stretch of the Qiantang River on their ways to the south before they were shipped overseas through the Maritime Silk Road.

位于衢州江山廿八都古鎮的枫溪桥,始建于清朝道光年间。Fengxi Bridge in Nianbadu Town, which guards the ancient trade route through Xianxia Mountains, was built in the early 19th century.

Qinghu Town retains the past glory in the form of over 200 historical houses. In recent years, Xia Jieren, a native entrepreneur of Qinghu, has bought all these houses in order to safeguard the historical sites.

Histories, ancient books, records, memories combine to explain how Qinghu became strategically important and how it prospered as a business center.

Professor Luo Deying wrote a book on the docks of Qinghu in 2005. According to the professor, of the 17 docks, four in the upstream part of the town handled cereals, edible oil, chickens, eggs, pigs and wax; the eight docks in the middle part of the dockland handled goods such as silk, cotton fabrics, medical herbs, and groceries; the three downstream docks loaded and/or unloaded tea, porcelain and timber. There were two docks specially assigned for bamboo rafts where hundreds of bamboo rafts could be moored. An old man named Shao Shanxiang in Qinghu searched his memory with the assistance of information of the book and wrote down a list of 17 pages documenting the docks, clan memorials, temples, shops and workshops in Qinghu. In more than 10,000 words, the list adds up to a precious historical document.

Qinghu as a town was first established in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Travelers destined for Fujian to the south took a boat ride to Qinghu and then started their land travel from there. In 878, Huang Cao led his rebels southward. The army widened the road for more than 350 kilometers all the way from Qinghu to Jianzhou, the present Jianou in Fujian Province.

Though the Grand Canals northern destination changed again and again through centuries as dynasties replaced each other and the capital city rose and fell and relocated, the canals southern end Hangzhou was always there. The southern end of the Grand Canal also served as the departure point of a giant transport river system in the south across the province. The shipping routes ran through the Qiantang River and its numerous tributaries. The most southern tip of this giant system was Qinghu, about 350 kilometers from Hangzhou. And the biggest fleet on the river system was operated by captains from Jiangshan. Even now, there are many villages along the Qiantang River where descendents of ship crew still live.

Silk Roads experts say that the Silk Road in the southern direction began to decline in the Ming and the Qing Dynasty which lasted from 14th century up to the 20th century. Even in these centuries, the route through Qinghu still prospered. Cai Gong, president of Jiangshan Writers Association, discusses in an article about long-distance carriers that carried goods all the way to Pucheng, a county capital in Fujian across Xianxia Mountains. According to Cai, these carriers worked in teams. Usually a team had about several tens of strong men. Each carried about 75 kg of goods and traveled 30 kilometers a day on the mountain path. They covered a distance of about 120 kilometers in four days before they reached Pucheng. On their way back, they carried the same weight, but different goods all the way to Qinghu. The trade route stopped functioning in 1915 when the last government official in charge of goods carrying between Qinghu and Pucheng retired.


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