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Cover Stories Series 2012> Living, Breathing Heritage> Other Heritage Entries
UPDATED: April 17, 2010 NO. 16 APRIL 22, 2010
Protecting and Benefiting
Huangshan City endeavors to protect its natural views and ancient culture while tapping its tourism goldmine


PICTURESQUE HILLS: Pines, rocks and the sea of clouds are major attractions of Huangshan Mountain. The photo was taken after a shower on February 7, 2010 SHI GUANGDE 

The job of being a garbage collector in Huangshan Mountain, long renowned as one of China's most beautiful natural sights, is nothing but stressful for 45-year-old Wang Limin. Deftly picking up a half-empty soft drink bottle from the ground with his near meter-long iron clamp, Wang throws it into a nearby dustbin, which will be later placed into bags and carried down the mountain by himself or his co-workers.

The half-full blue plastic garbage bag Wang carries on his left hand is his harvest from only the last three hours—mostly paper or plastic food packaging, thrown away by tourists who discard trash carelessly. Wang said he starts to work at 7 a.m. and leaves his job at 5 p.m. every day, with only a one-hour lunch break in between, when he and his co-workers take turns to have lunch and help each other to cover their duty areas.

Natural beauty

The Huangshan Management Committee of the tourist resort in the south of Anhui Province, which covers an area of 154 square km, has hired almost 200 garbage collectors like Wang. Their mission is to minimize the damage of human activities to the world heritage site, which is recognized by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and ensure that it can be passed down to future generations.

Known for its unique pine trees, geological formations, dreamlike clouds and clear hot springs, Huangshan Mountain has been offering urban residents a perfect getaway in search of fresh air and a chance to experience natural beauty. With 88 awe-inspiring peaks greater than 1,000 meters in height, and an entire range of mountains and valleys, the mountain resort has also impressed countless dedicated tourists.

For hundreds of years, Huangshan's jutting rocks, shimmering pools, gurgling water falls, ephemeral clouds and dreamlike ambience have inspired some of China's greatest artists and poets, whose works have made Huangshan a frequent subject.

Xu Xiake, a famous geographer and author of travel books who lived 400 years ago, wrote, "Having toured the Five Great Mountains (of China), I didn't care to visit any other mountains. Yet I now think little of all the Five Great Mountains since my return from Huangshan Mountain."

The film director James Cameron, when asked about inspiration for the highly successful Avatar, said Huangshan as one of his influences in designing the fictional floating rocks.

"Our committee manages two companies that have never been able to turn a profit, yet their operations remain vital to our efforts to protect the natural environment," said Cheng Yaxing, an official with the Huangshan Management Committee. She was referring to a laundry company that is responsible for washing all bedding, towels and napkins used by restaurants and hotels within the resort, as well as a vegetable-purchasing company that delivers clean and fresh vegetable to the restaurants. She explained that despite the hefty human cost of carrying clean products to the mountain, any possible pollution caused through the use of detergents has been eliminated.

Protection of the Huangshan Pine, a native pine with a signature flat-topped crown and a major attraction of Huangshan, has always been high on the administrators' agenda. The management committee says the resort has a forest coverage rate of nearly 85 percent and is home to more than 100 pines over 1,000 years old.

Almost all the pines standing along tourist paths are covered in a bamboo dressing, which is to protect the tree trunk against accidental injuries caused by walking sticks and carrying poles. Another detail reflecting concern for these trees are the ubiquitous cup-sized holes drilled into the stone stairs. "The holes allow the tree roots beneath the stairs to absorb rain and breathe," said Cheng.

The 1980s saw a robust growth of tourists to Huangshan. In October 1987, the management committee devised a scheme to allow different peaks to take turns in having a break of two to four years, during which the ecological system of the resting area could enjoy a full recovery. During the break, the committee also has gardeners remove fallen trees from the ground and use pesticides and fertilizers on trees according to their needs.

A 1,300-year-old pine named Yingke Pine, or Greeting Guests Pine, which has long been used as a symbol of Huangshan's scenery in art works, has had its own nurses for more than 20 years. The nurses, who live in a cabin next to the tree, are responsible for monitoring the tree's health conditions around the clock and reporting any health hazards.

The number of tourists to Huangshan has gone up steadily since it was opened as a tourist destination at the end of the 1970s. The total number of tourists in 2009 reached 2.36 million. The busiest day was October 2, 2008, when the resort welcomed more than 37,000 visitors.

"On busy days, such as weekends and national holidays, we have more staff members in the field to direct tourists to less crowded areas. We are also developing new peaks and valleys so that tourists can be more dispersed," said Cheng.

Huizhou culture

"The mountainous landscape and foggy weather in Huangshan City has made it an ideal place for producing top-quality tea," said Wang Ben, Marketing Manager of Xieyuda Tea Co., which is named after the company's founder, Xie Zheng'an. Xie first made Huangshan Maofeng tea in 1875. He developed this brand into one of the most famous teas in China, sold it across the country and exported it to Britain and Russia in his lifetime. Although he never studied abroad, this progressive tea merchant hired attorneys to protect his brand against piracy in Shanghai more than 100 years ago.

Xie is one of the most successful Huizhou merchants, who were forced to engage in business to earn a living at a young age due to the treacherous and mountainous geography which supplied local people with meager arable land. Huizhou is a geographical concept, as today's Huangshan City was called Huizhou during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

Although Huizhou men were forced to do business due to lack of farmland, they succeeded in becoming the country's most dominant economic force during their heyday in the Ming and Qing dynasties. For more than three centuries, Huizhou merchants were the leading regional commercial group throughout China. The businesses of Huizhou merchants covered most areas south of the Yangtze River within China, and reached countries including Japan and Portugal. The businesses of salt, tea, timber and pawnshops attracted many Huizhou merchants. Grain, cotton cloth, silk, paper, ink, and porcelain were also popular products in shops owned by Huizhou merchants.

Apart from their extraordinary diligence and endurance, their sincere belief in honesty and Confucian morality is said to be the main factor for the success of Huizhou merchants. The profound influence of Confucianism, which stresses clan and patriarchy, also explains the Huizhou merchant tradition of shipping a large part of their profits home to buy land, build extravagant houses with exquisite gardens, as well as magnificent family temples and memorial archways, in order to make their whole clan proud of their successes.

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