SICHUAN PROVINCE: HISTORY, GEOGRAPHY, FOOD, CHURCHES AND TRANSPORT

SICHUAN PROVINCE

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SICHUAN PROVINCE is the forth most populous province in China (it was the populous before Chongqing was separated from it). With more than 81 million people jammed into an area the size of France, Sichuan has a larger population than many countries in the world. Sichuan, which means Four Rivers, is both crowded and wild. For every population center there is an area of rugged mountains and dense forests that is a hundred times bigger. The Sichuan Basin is one of China's main agricultural areas. The province produces 10 percent of China's pork; 8 percent of its cooking oil and 6 percent of its rice, wheat and other grain.

Sichuan Province is located in the central southwest part of China. It covers 485,000 square kilometers (187,000 (square miles) and has a population density of 175 people per square kilometer. According to the 2020 Chinese census the population was around 83.6 million. About 52 percent of the population lives in urban areas. Chengdu is the capital and largest city, with about 6.8 million people in the city and 18 million in the Metro area. About 95 percent of the population in Han Chinese with the largest minorities being Yi (2.6 percent of the population), Tibetan (1.5 percent), Qiang (0.4 percent) and Others (0.5 percent)

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p> The population of Sichuan was 83,674,866 in 2020; 80,418,200 in 2010; 82,348,296 in 2000; 107,218,173 in 1990; 99,713,310 in 1982; 67,956,490 in 1964; 62,303,999 in 1954; 47,437,000 in 1947; 52,706,000 in 1936-37; 47,992,000 in 1928; 48,130,000 in 1912. [Source: Wikipedia, China Census]

Sichuan used to be one of China's poorest provinces but now it is in the middle. The initial wave of economic reforms in the 1990s affected the province dramatically, causing many factories to close down and many Sichuanese to leave the province in search of work. Even today many of the vendors in Tibet and female factory workers in the Shenzhen area are Sichuanese. These days Chengdu and other large have developed so the people of Sichuan don't to go so far to find work (See Chengdu and Chongqing).

The name Sichuan (pinyin: Sìchuān, known formerly in the West by its postal map spellings of Szechwan or Szechuan) is an abbreviation of "Sì Chuānlù”, or "Four circuits of rivers", which is itself abbreviated from "Chuānxiá Sìlù”, or "Four circuits of rivers and gorges", named after the division of the existing circuit into four during the Northern Song Dynasty.

Tourist Office : Sichuan Provincial Tourism Administration, 65 South Renmin Rd, 610021 Chengdu Sichuan, China, Tel. (0)-28-667-3693, fax: (0)-2-667-1042. Maps of Sichuan: chinamaps.org ;

Geography of Sichuan

Sichuan is about the same size as California, but has three ties as many people. It borders Qinghai to the northwest, Gansu to the north, Shaanxi to the northeast, Chongqing to the east, Guizhou to the southeast, Yunnan to the south, and the Tibet Autonomous Region to the west.

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Sichuan map
Sichuan and has two geographically distinct parts: 1) The eastern province is mostly within the fertile Sichuan basin, which is shared with Chongqing Municipality, which was once part of Sichuan). 2) The western Sichuan consists of the numerous mountain ranges forming the easternmost part of the Tibetan Plateau, which are known generically as Hengduan Mountains, which extends into Yunnan Province. One of these ranges, Daxue Mountains, contains the highest point of the province: 7,556-meter (24,790 foot) tall -Gongga Shan. Lesser mountain ranges — such as the Daba Mountains, in the province's northeast — surround the Sichuan Basin from north, east, and south. The Longmen Shan fault, which runs under mountains in the northeast was the location of the destructive 2008 earthquake.

The majority of the people in Sichuan live on the eastern side of the province in the Sichuan Basin, a fertile region with a mild, humid climate, a long growing season and farms that produce abundant crops of rice, wheat, corn, sugarcane and soybeans. The basin is also a significant silk producer. The Chinese call Sichuan the "Heavenly Kingdom," a reference to its rich land and resources.

Western Sichuan is almost the opposite of eastern Sichuan. It is a land of huge mountains, stony farms on terraced hills, rough roads, steep slopes, deep gorges, and narrow valleys with villages and towns populated by tough people of Tibetan-stock. Some of western Sichuan's mountains contains dense bamboo forests that are home to wild pandas and other unique animals. Other mountains are over 25,000 feet high. There are more than 40 parks in Sichuan, about half of them created relatively recently.

The Yangtze River and its tributaries flows through the mountains of western Sichuan and the Sichuan Basin. The province is upstream and to the east of the great Yangtze cities of Chongqing, Wuhan, Nanjing and Shanghai. One of the major tributaries of the Yangtze within the province is the Min River of central Sichuan, which joins the Yangtze at Yibin.

Due to the great difference in the terrain, the climate of Sichuan varies a great deal but generally has strong monsoonal influences, with the heaviest rainfall in the summer. The Sichuan Basin (including Chengdu) in eastern Sichuan has a humid subtropical climate, with long, hot, humid summers and short, mild-to-cool, dry and cloudy winters, and China's lowest sunshine totals. The western mountainous areas have a cooler but sunnier climate, with cool to very cold winters and mild summers; temperatures generally decrease as one rises in elevation. The southern part of the province, including Panzhihua and Xichang, has a sunny climate with short, very mild winters and very warm to hot summers.

History of Sichuan

Sichuan was originally inhabited by tribes similar to those that live in Tibet, Yunnan Province and Southeast Asia. It was conquered by the Chinese emperors, who oversaw the movement of millions of Han Chinese there from overpopulated regions to the north and east in China. Starting in 17th century and lasting for 200 years, the Sichuan basin absorbed most of China's growing population. Between 1776 and 1840, the population of Sichuan expanded from 8 million to 44 million.

Throughout its prehistory and early history, what is now Sichuan and its hinterlands in the Yangtze River region was inhabited by unique local civilizations which date back as far as the 15th century and were contemporaries of the Shang and Zhou Dynasties in north China. In ancient Chinese texts Sichuan was referred to as Ba-Shu a combination of the two independent states within the Sichuan Basin — Ba and Shu. Ba included present-day Chongqing and the land in eastern Sichuan along the Yangtze and some tributary streams, while Shu included what is now Chengdu and its surrounding plains and adjacent territories in western Sichuan. Accounts of Shu exist mainly as a mixture of mythological stories and historical legends recorded in local annals such as the Chronicles of Huayang compiled in the Jin Dynasty (265–420), with folk stories such as that of Emperor Duyu who taught the people agriculture and transformed himself into a cuckoo after his death. In the Shujing, Shu was described as an ally of the Zhou who defeated the Shang.

The existence of a highly developed civilization the developed exquisite and unique bronze items was discovered in the a small village of Sanxingdui in Guanghan County, Sichuan. This site, believed to be an ancient Shu city, was initially discovered by a local farmer in 1929 who found jade and stone artefacts. Excavations by archaeologists in 1986 yielded when two major sacrificial pits with spectacular bronze items as well as artefacts in jade, gold, earthenware, and stone.

The defeat of Ba and Shu by Qin Chinese strengthened it and paved the way for the Qin Shi Huang's unification of China under the Qin dynasty (221-207 B.C.). During the Three Kingdoms Period (A.D. 220-280). Liu Bei's Shu was based in Sichuan. The region was devastated in the 17th century rebellion led by Zhang Xianzhong and the subsequent Manchu conquest, but recovered to become one of China's most productive areas by the 19th century. From 1938 to 1946, Chongqing was as the capital of nationalist China and was bombed by the Japanese. The Sichuan area was one of the last mainland areas to fall to the Communists and was divided into four parts from 1949 to 1952. Sichuan suffered greatly during the Great Chinese Famine of 1959–61 but remained China's most populous province until Chongqing Municipality was again separated from it in 1997.

Sichuan Earthquake in 2008

At 2:28 pm on May 12, 2008, a catastrophic earthquake measuring 7.9 or 8 on the Richter scale struck Sichuan Province, killing around 90,000 people and injuring nearly 363,000, destroying more than 15 million homes, leaving 10 million homeless and 1.5 million displaced and causing more than $20 billion in damage. It was the worst earthquake and disaster to strike China since the Tangshan earthquake in 1976. It came just 10 days after the a devastating cyclone hit Myanmar that killed tens of thousands of people.

Thirty times more powerful than the earthquake that devastated Kobe, Japan in 1995, the Sichuan earthquake lasted for about 80 seconds and caused the ground surface to shift about seven meters near the epicenter of the quake. Many Chinese refer to its as the Wechuan quake named of the county where the epicenter was located.

Mountains broke part. Villages were wiped of hillsides. Rivers changed course. Bridges collapsed and pavement buckled. Entire mountainsides were sheered off. Whole towns were wiped out. Highways were ripped apart. Rows of buildings were destroyed. Landslides blocked roads and buried entire villages and towns. Forests were reduced swaths of mud and rock. A powerful aftershock on May 27, toppled 420,000 more houses,

The force of the earthquake was felt over a large area. People felt string shaking in Beijing, Shanghai and Taiwan which are over 1,500 kilometers away. In Xian, about 750 kilometers away. seven terra cotta soldiers were damaged. At first the earthquake was rated as 7.8 on the Richter scale and then up graded to 8 by Chinese geologist and 7.9 by Japanese and American geologists.

After seeing the destruction first hand, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said. “The damage is greater than that caused bu the Tangshan Earthquake. This is the most destructive earthquake since the People's Republic of China was found [in 1949] and has affected the widest areas."

The official July 2008 toll was 69,181 dead and 18,498 missing and 374,171 injured. The number of missing continued to rise as more families of migrant workers reported the disappearance of loved ones. As of November 2008, 18,000 people were still listed as missing. At that time the first of the thousands of people listed as missing was declared legally dead. Family members of the missing were anxious to have them declared dead so they could collect on insurance, compensation and inheritance claims. More than 5 million people were left homeless by the quake. Many spent two years or more living in temporary housing. The Chinese government estimated that the total direct financial loss from the earthquake was $123 billion.

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p class="linkbox">See Separate Articles: SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE IN 2008: SURVIVORS AND THE DEAD factsanddetails.com SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE IN 2008: GEOLOGY, DAMAGE. AND POSSIBLE CAUSES factsanddetails.com RELIEF AND REBUILDING AFTER SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE IN 2008 factsanddetails.com SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE, POORLY-BUILT SCHOOLS, ACTIVISTS AND PARENTS factsanddetails.com LIFE AFTER THE SICHUAN EARTHQUAKE IN 2008: REMARRIAGE AND BABIES factsanddetails.com

People and Languages in Sichuan

Sichuanese are regarded as tough, lively, passionate, earthy and warm and are famous for their ability to "eat bitter." They have prospered outside of Sichuan but are not well liked. Sichuanese women are regarded as among the most beautiful in China but also have a reputation for being temperamental, tempestuous and loose. Sichuan men are thought of as tricky and sly. Also you can't forget Sichuan's delicious, spicy food, which is often quite different than the Sichuan food you get in the U.S. or Europe.

The most widely used variety of Chinese spoken in Sichuan is Sichuanese, which is the lingua franca in Sichuan, Chongqing and part of Tibet. Although Sichuanese is generally classified as a dialect of Mandarin, it is highly divergent in phonology, vocabulary, and even grammar from the standard language. Minjiang dialect is especially difficult for speakers of other Mandarin dialects to understand.

The prefectures of Garzê and Ngawa (Aba) in western Sichuan are populated by Tibetan and Qiang people. Tibetans speak the Kham and Amdo dialects of Tibetan, as well as various Qiangic languages. Qiangic languages is also spoken by the Qiang and other related ethnicities. The Yi of Liangshan prefecture in southern Sichuan speak the Yi language, which is more closely related to Burmese; Yi is written using the Yi script, a syllabary standardized in 1974.

Sichuan Cuisine

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Sichuan chilies
The Sichuanese are proud of their cuisine, known as one of the Four Great Traditions of Chinese cuisine. The cuisine here is of "one dish, one shape, hundreds of dishes, hundreds of tastes", a saying that describes its diversity. The most prominent traits of Sichuanese cuisine are described by four words: spicy, hot, fresh and fragrant.

Sichuan (Szechuan) is famous for its spicy, oily and richly-flavored dishes made from chicken, pork, shellfish and river fishes and featuring sauces made with hot Sichuan peppers, star anise, garlic, scallions, fennel seed, rice wine, soy, ginger, garlic, vinegar, soy bean pastes and Sichuan Well Salt (a distinctly flavored salt mined in Sichuan in places such as Ziyong)

“Sichuan cuisine" describes dishes mostly from Chengdu but also Chongqing, Leshan, Jiangjin, and Hechuan. Sichuan cuisine tends to use chicken, duck, and meat rather than fish. The main flavoring includes brood-bean sauce, hot pepper, Chinese prickly ash, red oil, mashed garlic, dried orange peel, and aromatic vinegar. The basic characteristics of the taste are sour, sweet, rough, hot, fragrant, heavily oiled, and strong flavor. The major cooking techniques include frying, frying without oil, pickling and braising. Some traditional famous dishes are Smoked Duck, Kung Pao Chicken, Twice Cooked Pork and Mapo Dofu. [Source: Liu Jun, Museum of Nationalities, Central University for Nationalities, Science Museums of China, China virtual museums, Computer Network Information Center of Chinese Academy of Sciences, kepu.net.cn ~]

Sichuan dishes are often are quite salty and are spiced with tongue-numbing Sichuan pepper (derived from peppercorns from a prickly ash tree) and are known for their multiple rather than singular flavors. It is said that within Sichuan cooking there are 23 flavors and 56 cooking methods. Fragrant, Sichuanese dan dan noodles are best when ma la (“hot and numbing”).

Sichuan cooking has been famous in China for centuries. One ancient document traces its origin back to the 7th century B.C.. A multi-volume Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618-907) record catalogued 1,328 Sichuan dishes. The liberal use of spices dates back to a time when the poor consumed things like chicken feet, fish heads and intestines and used hot peppercorns and other seasonings to mask the taste. A good book on authentic Sichuan cooking is Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking by Fushsia Dunlop (W.W. Norton & Co., 2003).

Sichuan dishes are difficult to prepare at home because they often employ numerous steps. Smoked duck, for example, is flavored with peppercorns, ginger, cinnamon, orange peel and coriander, marinated for 24 hours, steamed for two hours, and finally smoked over a fire made with charcoal, camphor wood and tea leaves.

Among the popular spicy Szechuan dishes are chicken with peanuts; stir-fried chicken and hot sauce; sizzling rice and chicken; eggplant Szechuan style; squid rolls with dried pepper; chicken baked in salt and served with peanut oil sauce; salt-baked chicken livers; stir-fried pork and hot sauce; dan dan noodles (noodles, pork cooked in a hot sauce); ma po dofu (a famous Chengdu dish made with dried tofu, and a hot sauce made with chilies and Sichuan peppers); hot and sour soup (filled with Sichuan pickles and strips of pork), spicy tea mushrooms pork pot; red hot sesame noodles; duck smoked in camphor and tea; Man and Wife meat slices; Pockmarked Lady's bean curd; crispy roast duck, and Husband and Wife pork lung slices.

Sichuan Hot Pot

Hot pot is summer dish in Sichuan, and the hotter it is---both in terms of temperature and spiciness---the better. The idea is that if you eat a very hot dish, it will make you sweat and keep you cool. One man at a hot pot restaurant in Chongqing told the New York Times, "If you want to get cool, you have to get hot."

Hot pot in Sichuan is made in an iron pot filled with boiling oil and hot chili peppers. Ingredients include pig's or cow's brains, cow's throat, calf's liver, seaweed, vegetables and most anything that a cook wants throw in. Pig's blood is often added to give it body. Sometimes the selections are dipped fondue-like into the pot.

According to local lore, Sichuan hot pot developed in the 19th century in Chongqing, where laborers who pulled river boats upstream on the Yangtze River were based. The laborers were poorly paid and lived in camps. The first hot pots were pots placed on campfires and filled with water and whatever the laborers threw in.

Hot pot restaurants resembles saunas in which eating is allowed and are packed when the temperatures rise above 100̊F in the middle of the summer. They generally have no air conditioning and each table has hearth that emits heat like a small furnace. One of the diners said "There is no way you can feel hot when you leave here, because every place else feels cool."

Describing the inside of the Jin Jianglan Hot Pot restaurant in Chongqing, Seth Faison wrote in the New York Times, "Meng and his pals took of their shirts and hung them on a hook on the wall, as though it were time to get down to business, which in this case simply meant eating and sweating. So accustomed are they to the ritual, however, that none of the friends showed more than a thin bead of forehead perspiration until well into the meal."

Tourism in Sichuan

Sichuan Province’s magnificent, unusual, dangerous and exquisite natural scenic spots have earned it the nickname “Scenic Province”. Since ancient times, Sichuan has enjoyed the reputation of “embracing the most fascinating landscapes on earth”. Among these are Mount Emei, known as the most elegant mountain; Qingcheng Mountain, the most secluded mountain; Jianmen Pass, the most magnificent pass; and Jiuzhaigou Valley, a jaw-dropping scenic marvel. From a vast bamboo sea in South Sichuan to the mysterious and enchanting Jiuzhaigou Valley in North Sichuan, and from the Nuoshui River in East Sichuan to Paoma Mountain in West Sichuan, natural scenic spots can be found everywhere in the province. On top of this, over 85 percent of wild giant pandas in the world are found in the high mountains in northwest Sichuan.

Sichuan is also rich in cultural and historical sights that reach back several thousand years. Among these are the Dujiangyan Irrigation System, an ancient water conservancy project; the hometown of Su Dongpo, a famous writer of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127); and the former residence of Du Fu, a famous poet of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), with pavilions and towers shaded under cypress trees. The Sun and Magic Birds, excavated in Jinsha County, has been designated the symbol of the Chinese cultural heritages. Sanxingdui is over 3,000 years old.

Sichuan also features varied and colorful ethnic minority customs and lifestyles and has been called the “Ethnic Corridor”. According to historical records, several dozen ethnic groups have lived, expanded and merged with each other in Sichuan since ancient times. Sichuan is home to the second largest number of Tibetan people after Tibet. There is a large community of Yi people as well as Qiang people who have lived in Sichuan since ancient times and found almost exclusively in the province.

Transportation in Sichuan

It is said that is more difficult to get to Sichuan than it is to get to heaven. From Tibet that used to be the case. The twisting 2,250-kilometer (1,400-mile) road that links the two regions used to take two weeks to traverse by truck. Crossing Sichuan rivers is almost as difficult. On the Dadu River, for example, there are few bridges and people cross the river by pulling themselves on a cable.

Chengdu-Kunming Railway runs through very mountainous terrain and was considered impossible to build. Completed in 1970 after 12 years work, it contains bridges over deep ravines, tunnels bored through solid rock and tracks placed on cliffside supports. The railway's 427 tunnels and 653 bridges cover 40 percent of the route. There are so many tunnels in fact that some tourist claim they don't get a chance to see anything. The railway was constructed by tens of thousands of laborers, soldiers and convicts who could be shot for not working. It is not known how many or even if workers were indeed shot, but alongside the track are some small graveyards with dead railway workers, most of whom died in accidents.

There is now fast-train service between Kunming and Chengdu. At present, about five high speed trains run each day each way between Chengdu and Kunming, taking around 5.5 - 6.5 hours. The normal speed trains that made the trip in 17 - 22.5 hours are no longer running. I assume the route for the fast train and the old trains is the same and the track was modified to handle the new fast trains.

Catholicism in Remote Areas of Sichuan and Yunnan

Catholicism has penetrated into some remote places in China. Cizhong, a village in Yunnan near the Tibetan border, three hours on a bad road from the nearest town, is the home of a European-style Catholic church built more than a century ago by missionaries. Around 600 of the village’s 1,000 villagers are Tibetan Catholics. They go to church every Sunday and sing chants from, hymnal called "Chants in Religeux Thibetan." French priests brought the religion here in the 1860s and the community endured through the Mao era and the Cultural Revolution. Many members arrive at the church on Sunday after walking for more than an hour from their mountain homes.

Sichuan Province — situated in one of China’s most culturally, ethnically, and religiously diverse regions, with Tibetan, Hui, and Yi ethnic group — is home to some of China’s oldest and most well-preserved Catholic churches. Travelers to the area can find centuries-old Tibetan and Taoist temples standing alongside mosques and churches.Ma Te wrote in Sixth Tone: “Of the various faiths practiced in Sichuan, Christianity stands out as a relative latecomer. The first Catholic missionary known to have reached the province was an Italian Jesuit named Lodovico Buglio, who spent much of the 1640s proselytizing there. Eventually, in 1753, the Paris Foreign Missions Society, a Catholic lay organization, took over responsibility for the Catholic missionary presence in Sichuan. By 1804, there was a small but growing community of Sichuanese Catholics, including 18 Chinese priests and four French missionaries. [Source: Ma Te, Sixth Tone, November 7, 2018, “Translator: Matt Turner; editors: Wu Haiyun and Kilian O’Donnell]

“Over the ensuing two centuries, this community persevered through all manner of upheaval — including occasional imperial campaigns against foreign religions, the bloody chaos that followed the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1912, and the forced expulsion of foreign missionaries following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. In the process, it built up a fascinating cultural and architectural legacy, as well as some of China’s oldest and finest churches.

“Any discussion of China’s temples, churches, and mosques must eventually touch on the violence of the past century in China. But whereas the Cultural Revolution left religious buildings in ruins across the country, many of Sichuan’s churches were spared, in part because of their connections to Communist Party history. A Catholic church I visited in the town of Moxi was preserved because Mao Zedong held a meeting there in 1935. Another church in the area was saved, because it had once hosted a Red Army party. Many of these churches have been renovated and rebuilt in recent years; however, while some have been turned into so-called Red tourism sites, many continue to be used primarily for religious activities, a sign of the strength of Sichuan’s Catholic community.

“Generations of Chinese students have been taught the dark side of Western missionary activity in China: their arrogance, their imperialist attitudes, and their lack of respect or patience for China’s culture and traditions. Whatever old churches still remain were typically preserved not out of any good will, but because of their historical value, or because the expense of tearing them down outweighed any potential benefit. It is my hope, however, that as time passes, we can approach the past in a more evenhanded way. The history of these churches — and the people, both Chinese and foreign, who built them — is worth preserving.

Catholic Churches in Sichuan

Ma Te wrote in Sixth Tone: “Earlier this year, I set out to tour Sichuan’s Catholic sites, hoping to better understand the religion’s place in Sichuanese history. I began my journey with Dengchigou Church. — the site where, approximately 150 years ago, resident priest Armand David first introduced the Western world to the giant panda. Built in 1839 under the direction of French missionaries in the mountain village of Dengchigou, this church is one of the province’s oldest. Extraordinarily well-preserved, the main building consists of a spacious enclosed Chinese-style courtyard. A traditional tablet hangs above the door, greeting visitors with the words, “Church of the Annunciation” and “All the Earth Doth Worship Thee” in Chinese. Other than the tablet, the only sign that the building houses anything other than a traditional Chinese temple is the tiny, easy-to-miss cross on the roof. [Source: Ma Te, Sixth Tone, November 7, 2018, “Translator: Matt Turner; editors: Wu Haiyun and Kilian O’Donnell]

“The interior of the church, however, is another story: With its vaulted ceilings and carved wooden pillars, it’s all Western. When I visited, there was no priest on the premises, and the building seemed to have been converted into a tourist attraction. Just outside, I found a museum for David and his “discovery” of the giant panda. The exhibit informed me that, in addition to David’s religious responsibilities, he also had a passion for the natural sciences, and his post in Sichuan was in part a scientific research mission. It was while in Dengchigou, in 1869, that he first noticed a giant panda hide hanging on the wall of a farmhouse near the church. Curious, he asked local hunters to bring him a specimen, the skin of which David shipped back to Paris for further research, along with a live deer. Ironically, today David is perhaps better known for the latter discovery — which was named Père David’s deer, in his honor — than the former. It would be years before the giant panda captured the world’s imagination and became the symbol of China that it is today.

“After leaving Dengchigou, I traveled south to the Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture, where there are two more century-old churches. Built around the same time and by the same priest — Paul Audren, another French missionary — the churches of Huili and Dechang also represent an interesting fusion of Western and Chinese architectural styles. The Huili church keeps the two influences separate. Located in the county seat, the front of the church is made from wood and brick, finished in a French gothic style. The rear bell tower, on the other hand, has the heavy eaves, hexagonal roof, and timber structure characteristic of a traditional Chinese temple. Viewed from the side, this stark split produces quite an effect.

“Built in 1926, the church is well-maintained, and is currently still in use. The church’s backyard houses several small rooms, where believers can meet for choir practice and church activities. While there, I noticed that tourists would occasionally stop in and listen to women playing the piano and singing traditional hymns, but the church itself seemed to be one of the rare few historically significant buildings in China not to have been given over to the local tourism board.

“The Sacred Heart Cathedral in Dechang is in a considerably greater state of disrepair. Like Huili’s church, Sacred Heart’s main building is a hybrid of Chinese and Western styles: The core structure of the cathedral is Western, while the details — especially the roof eaves — are done in a more traditional Chinese style. Located in an old part of town, the church — which was commissioned by Audren and finished in 1908, 20 years before Huili’s structure — is surrounded by run-down houses, a sign that the area is not quite as prosperous as Huili.

“Unlike many other churches in the region, Sacred Heart operated continuously from 1908 until 1950, when the country’s Catholic schools came under government control and all church lands were nationalized. Even after 1950, the community continued to hold occasional services until the anti-religious campaigns of the Cultural Revolution broke out in the mid-1960s. The church would not reopen its doors until 1982. It’s back in use today, but remains a shell of its former self.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons, Nolls China Web site; CNTO; Perrochon photo site; Beifan.com; University of Washington; Ohio State University; UNESCO; Wikipedia; Julie Chao photo site

Text Sources: CNTO (China National Tourist Organization), China.org, UNESCO, reports submitted to UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, China Daily, Xinhua, Global Times, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021


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