Xiangcheng. West Sichuan.

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Brian Hennessy. An Australian in China. 2007

Xiangcheng hides in a valley somewhere, between Litang in west Sichuan to the north and Zhongdian in northwest Yunnan to the south.┬áThere is nothing outstanding about this little town. It’s just another isolated community sitting in the middle of nowhere, on the edge of the Tibetan Plateau.



Xiangcheng. West Sichuan


The isolation is what gives this little town its character. Tibetan folk farm the valley floor the way they have always done, and the Chinese traders run the town the way they have always done. Their functional, white-tiled, blockhouses no match for the elegant angles and lines of traditional Tibetan architecture: whitewashed, mud and stone dwellings squatting contentedly in a sea of deep green barley. Harmony between house and land, home and livlihood.

A monastery surveys the valley, the town, and the people. Destroyed by red guards during the cultural revolution, it is being restored now by skilled local hands. Stone masons and wood carvers who believe, who repair damage, and who rebuild culture. New monks have joined the old, and once again religious community flourishes.

You can see the impact of this splendid rebirth in the faces of the weathered old monks in their maroon robes as they shuffle past, sometimes leaning for support on the shoulder of a boy novice…an orphan or a youngster from a poor family who can’t afford to support him. It is a touching sight. An old man and a boy. The past and the future. There is something eternal here.

The other monks are a cheerful, friendly lot. Saying hello and stopping for a chat. Sharing the soft light of a mountain sunset and a view of the valley below as a blanket of shadow covers it for the night. No bright lights. No movement. Peace.

The town is different, of course. Chinese people emerge from their houses after they have finished their early evening meal. Parents promenade down the streets and gather in the open spaces where their treasured lone child joins others in playtime.

Although Xiangcheng is a sterile place during the day, it finds its soul during the evening. The town hums. Restaurants and street hawkers wake up. Shops brighten, and suddenly the hairdressers are all busy. Way out here in the middle of nowhere.

Tomorrow I will catch a bus to Zhongdian. I know the road, so i will be ready for it this time. Another wild ride on a dirt track carved into the steep sides of mountain ranges. A reckless climb over another high pass, followed by a hurtling descent into Yunnan Province.

It has been raining heavily for a week, and landslides and road subsidence will be a problem. “Om mani beimei hom”.


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