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Huizhou History & Culture

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Folkways And Customs (1)

The beautiful mountains and rivers of ancient Huizhou once gave birth to many wetitlehy merchants and powerful families and created a flourishing culture that developed into the unique Xin'an culture. Bound by the special geographical conditions and feudal ethics, people of Huizhou have maintained their distinctive folkways and customs. Just as is recorded in the earliest Xin'an Annals. Isolated by high mountains, people are not influenced by the customs of other places. The mountaineers' style of dress remains unchanged for hundreds of years. As late as the Ming and Qing Dynasties they lived in compact clans without one single outsider, their living style closest to that of ancient times. However, it has been the common practice of the Huizhou people to work hard but live frugally, to engage in studies while doing farm work, to respect the elders and to care for the young. From generation to generation they have held a high regard for etiquette.

When you tour around the villages and towns of Huangshan Municipality and stay with the folks, you will, through the talks over the drinks, find in them a special unsophistication. You will see a custom which retains, to varying degrees, traces left from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, or even from the Tang and Song Dynasties. Such traces are ubiquitous--in their daily life, funerals, weddings, baby birth celebrations, or in their couplets, festivities, temple fairs, or sports and recreations. And what is more, customs and dialects vary from place to place. As is described, one sees different folkways every ten miles and hears different lilts every five.

The word stitle, for instance, is pronounced yan in Tunxi, and ya in Wan'an about two miles away, and cuozi in Xiuning Town not more than ten miles away. And the dialects contain a lot of image words. A butterfly is called cloth wings, an inkslab "ink tile" and an eel "snake" fish. Sometimes the folks talk in an elegant style and use words that are often found in a classical drama. To cite a few examples, they say platform instead of table, grand instead of rich, outstandinginstead of pretty, spouse instead of wife, raise water instead of fetch water. Some expressions bear a classical literary style. They would say a pleasure all over instead of comfortable. Such embellishments lend great fun to the daily speech.

The Huizhou people are very much concerned about festivals and solar terms. On the day of lixia (Beginning of Summer, sowing time for farmers), for example, folks indulge themselves in eating, believing it signifies a bumper harvest and a full stomach for the next year. Early in the morning they boil eggs and smash them on the threshold as sacrifice to the door god. And they have for breakfast fried rice with eggs and Chinese chives, for in Chinese chive is a homonym of ever-lasting, believing the meal to be the token of permanent happiness. For lunch they have meat to develop muscle so as to keep fit. With benedictive wishes they exchange cakes made of lettuce mixed in glutinous rice powder. They also eat "mildewed" toufu. In Chinese mildew is related to ill luck, so by swallowing mildewed toufu they think they are eating up all ill luck. The mildewed toufu is actually a traditional local dish also known as hairy toufu. It is as thick and large as two fingers together, covered with a coat of white down and smelling a bit moldy after natural fermentation. It is fried in seed-oil till it turns yellowish, then they dress it with sauce, pepper, chopped green onion and smashed garlic. It smells and tastes delicious.

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