Representation of the Hui Culture
Villages were scattered across the verdant mountains in ancient Huizhou. Most are located against mountains, face a clearing, and are traversed or encircled by a river. Houses of various height sit in clusters. White horse-head gables(walls higher than the roof to stop fires and shield from the wind) are conspicuous against the green backdrops.
A mud or flagstone road leads to a vilage entrance where the river flows quietly, lined by lush groves along the bank. Lanes twist and intercross in the villages like mazes. Along these are highly-walled house. The gates are decorated with brick carvings, reminiscent of the good old days. A memorial temple appears at a turn in a lane, inspiring awe in visitors.
There is usually a story about each village. One relates many years ago a man with his family wandered into a place, thought it good, and stayed. He invited a geomantic practitioner to make plans for his house and then built his residence accordingly. His sons and grandons constrcted more houses there and at last a village came into being. Huizhou villages have many things in common: a site with mountain, rivers, and farmland; a scientific and graceful layout for the houses and streets; and a rich cultural ambience and harmony between humans and nature.
The Shi Family Village in Shangzhuang, Jixi Country, is inhabited by descendants of Shi Shouxin, who helped found the Northern Song Dynasty(960-1279). To commemorate a scenario about Shi Shouxin playing chess with Song Emperor Zhao Kuangyin, the villagers arranged the houses, streers, and brooklets into the design of a chessboard. Any location of good geomantic omens is one with mountain ranges to the rear like a dragon, mountains far to thr front like a long table, a river lying in between, and the site flanked by mounds on both sides like a dragon and tiger. When some of the villagers at Shi Family Village becames rich, they built gardens and grandiose constructions that added cultural appeal to the village.
Traditionally most of the members of a village are of the same family name. As a poem says:"Why should we introduce our names at first meeting? Just say which village we are from."
A Tradition of Giving Priority to Education and Literature
The Huizhou people have the long tradition of giving utmost importance to education. For example, the regulations of a Wu family in Mingzhou, Xiuming County, stipulated:"The clan is obliged to offer financial help to intelligent children of needy families there, recruiting them to the clan school free of charge or giving them subsidied. If one or two members of the clan could grow into prominent figures, they would bring hope and honor to the whole extended family."
The Huizhou people's high regard for education is manifest in their couplets:"Make friends with literati around the world, read books by ancient sages;""One close to mountains and rivers enjoys a long life, a well-read man has promising children;" and "Carry on the ancestor's tradition of being diligent and frugal, teach offspring to live by reading and farming." There is a saying in the region:"A family in which nobody attend school for three generations is no better than a litter of pigs." Huizhou merchants deemed it more honorable to be a scholar or official than to do business, so they spared no effort in providing their children with the best education. They set up private schools, hired the best teachers, and gave assistance to the children of poor relatives. Local magistrates, many being scholars themselves, also laid stress on education. This explains why Huizhou maintained a good number of public, private, charity, and county schools as well as academies ever since the Song Dynasty. During the reign of the Qing Emperor Kangxi (1662-1722) there were 462 public schools and 54 academies besides the many county schools and private schools in Huizhou. As a local saying goes: The sound of reading is heard in every village.
The Huizhou people took various measures to boost education. The well-off families set up private and charity schools, donated to countyschools and academies, and paid for travel expenses and admission fees for participants of the imperial civil service exams. Many clans had rules about assisting and rewarding students. For example, the Wang family of Liyang in Xiuning County stipulated:"Each student of the clan received one tael of silver each year; anyone who entered the county school was granted two taels of silver; anyone who attended the civil service exams was subsidized with one tael of silver for their exam paper; congratulatory flags and plaques were placed in the clan's memorial temple for those who succeeded in the civil service exams, plus a prize of five taels of silver was given to those who succeeded in the provincial exams and a prize of ten taels for those who succeeded in the national exams." Some clans set the rule that when a member passed the regional or nantional civil service exams, a grand celebration would be held, such as a drama performance and the hanging of a commendatory plaque; and this man enjoyed the privilege of being worshiped in the memorial temple after his death. These efforts effectively promoted the development of local education.
3. Galaxy of Talents
As a result Huizhou became a major incubator of talents in the nation. According to local annals, Huizhou peoduced 860 palace garduates(people who passed the national civil service examination) during the Song Dynasty, 492 during the Ming Dynasty, and 782 during the Qing Dynasty. It is also set the records of having three No.One Scholars(who had the highest mark in the nation civil service exam) over a few years - Huang Xuan of Xiuning County in 1771, Jin Bang of Shexian County in 1772 and Wu Xiling of Xiuning in 1775. In 1871 there were four members of the Imperial Academy in Shexian County who's families lived within five kilometers of each other. One clan had nine palace graduates and four ministers among its children. And in another family both the father and servral of his sons were palace graduates. They were admired by their fellow men, and inspired more locals to follow their example. There is an archway in Tangmo Village, Shexian County, that was built by the Qing Dynasty government to award the Xu brothers, Xu Chengjia and Xu Chengxuan, both members of the Imperial Academy.
The Huizhou people made not only high academic marks but also political achievements. Many held senior posts in the imperial court, and made great contributions to the nation.
Zhu Sheng of Huixi in Xiuning County was diligent since childhood, but didn't pass the provincial civil service exam until the age 46. He then worked as a teacher in his hometown. In 1357 in late Yuan Dynasty rebel leader Zhu Yuanzhang visited him, and asked for advice on war strategy. Zhu Sheng replied briefly:"Build high walls around your stronghold, store huge amount of frain, no hurry in proclaiming yourself emperor." Zhu Yuanzhang was impressed with his insight, and therefore took him into his think tank. Zhu Sheng took servral high-ranking posts in Zhu Yuanzhang's regime, but resigned the second year after the latter established the Ming Dynasty, and retreated to his hometown.
Another famous Ming official was Hu Zongxian(1512-1565). He passed the national civil service exam in 1538, and was appointed magistrate of Yidu County in Shandong Province, then magistrate of Yuyao County in Zhejiang Province. After Mongolians invaded the border areas of the Ming Dynasty in 1549, Hu was appointed army supervising commissioner for northern frontier defense. He employed effective tactics, set strict disciplines for the soldiers, and at last defeated the Mongolian invaders. After that he was sent whenever was a rebal or invasion in the nation. In 1554 he was appointed inspector and army supervising commissioner of Zhejiang Province to fight Japanese pirates. Owing to his outstanding service, Hu was promoted to be the Minister of Military, supervising armies in Zhejiang, Southern Zhili (today's Jiangsu and Anhui provinces and Shanghai City) and Fujian provinces. During his tenure he cultivated famous generals Qi Jiguang and Yu Dayou, successfully summoned servral pirate leaders, such as Wang Zhi and Xu Hai, to surrender and trained militia in the border regions. These measures effectively deterred Japanese instrusion. But after the Japanese pirates were dispelled, Hu Zongxian was framed by his political enemies of colluding with treacherous Prime Minister Yan Song, and was put into prison, where he committed suicide out of indignation.
Karl Marx mentioned in his Das Kapital a Chinese economist Wang Maoyin (1798-1865). Born in Qizili in Shexian County, Wang took minor posts in the Ministry of Revenue after passing the national civil service exam in 1832 during the reign of Qing Emperor Daoguang. In 1832 he was promoted to Vice Minister of Revenue, and concurrently head of the financial and monetary department. Wang Maoyin advocated issuing a limited number of exchangeable paper money, and opposed minting more copper coins of large par value. This opinion was elaborated in a book by a Russian diplomat, and later reached Karl Max after the book was translated into German.
4. Literature and Poetry Salons
The wide cincern for education, propriety, and the civil service examinations led to a thriving of various literary groups in Huizhou.
The literary clubs had fixed venues, times of meeting, membership fees, and rules. At first they only aimed to help students exchange knowledge and experience about the civil service examinations. Then, during the Qing Dynasty, they took on the task of educating locals and arbitrating disputes.
Poetry clubs were also popular at the time. Their members included retired officials and many members of a clan family. For example, Wang Daokun, a Ming Dynasty writer and official, organized the Baiyu and Fenggan clubs after his retirement. The Cheng family of Shuaikou, Xiuning County, founded a Shuaibin poetry club. Its members, all of the Cheng clan, were required to compose a poem every month and to meet once each year to appraise their works. Through these club activities the local students improved their literary accomplishments and left behind many classic works. During the late Ming Dynasty, Wang Yin of Shexian County compiled a collection of more than three hundred poems written by the Huizhou people. The Famous Families in Xin'an, printed during the reign of the Qing Emperor Jiaqing, contains this statement:"Many Huizhou people are good at writing poems, and have published poetry books of their own."
5. Literature and Hui Opera
Traditional operas were popular in Huizhou during the Ming and Qing dynasties. They were a major entertainment among wealthy people, a way for clans to indoctrinate their members and to celebrate big events, and a channel for intellectuals to express their thoughts and emotions. Troupes from all over the nation toured the region, performing operas of various kinds. Many stages of that time still exist in the countryside of Anhui Province.
The opera fad cultivated a crop of talented playwrights, eleven during the Ming Dynasty and thirth-one during the Qing Dynasty.
Bi Shangzhong (1416-1497) was author of Annals of Seven Kingdoms and Story of the Red Letter, both having been lost. Poet Wang Daokun also dabbled in play writing. He created a four-act Zaju (poetic drama set to music) about four ancient scholars, which was applauded by intellectuals of his time for its polished style. He wrote another Zaju based on stories in the Outlaws of Marsh.
The successful merchant Wang Tingne of Xiuning County during the Ming Dynasty was also an opea fan. He wrote sixteen legendary dramas and eight Zaju. Seven of his legendary dramas have been preserved. Their themes vary from political contentions in the imperial court to love between a man and a woman and feudal calues. Of these the Lion's Roar is a popular comedy that is still performed today.
During the Ming Dynasty a teacher in Qimen County, Zheng Zhizhen, was gifted and well-read, but he failed the imperial civil service exam due to his eye disease. He later found spiritual sustenance in writing plays. His masterpiece was the hundred-and-three act Mulian Rescuing His Mother adapted from a folk story. They play reflected the life of the masses, taught people to do good, and to respect their parents. It was soon introduced all over the nation and it is still perpormed today.
Fang Chengpei of Shexian County during the Ming Dynasty was accomplished in music and poetry, but he never attended the civil service exam due to his fragile health. At that time serveral editions of an opera about the folklore, White Snake (tragic love story between a white snake spirit and a man) were being performed. They had been adapted by intellectuals and countryside troupes, with the former sermonizing and the latter a vulgar adaptation. Fang Chengpei wrote a script of his own and named it Legend of Leifeng Pagoda (the white snake was imprisoned in the pagoda by a Buddhist master). In this play he expressed sympathy for the white snake and explored the mental struggles of her human lover. It received a warm response from the viewers when it debuted.
Another opera critic from Shexian County, Ling Tingkan (1755-1809), got a job at the age of twenty-five with the Qing government's opera supervising office in Yangzhou, censoring scripts to eliminate words criticizing the imperoal court. In this post he learned much about opera and formed his own ideas about it. He wrote thirty-two poems containing his insight and original views on the origin of opera, script writing, and performance forms, thus leaving his mark on opera history.
b. Hui opera
There were seveeral Kinds of opera in Huizhou in the past, including Huidiao, Huixi, Huikun, Huiju, and Mulian operas. They were inter-related, but differed in style and format.
Huidiao, or Hui Tunes, came into being during the Qing Dyansty in Zongyang and Huaining in today's Anqing City, Anhui Province. Its music included Erhuang, Bozi, and Chuiqiang melodies. The opera was later introduced into Beijing by Huizhou troupes, and it grew into Peking Opera after mingling with the Chu Tunes of Hubei Province.
Huixi was born out of the Hui Tunes. As Huizhou troupes toured China, they borrowed musical elements from other operas and adapted these to Hui Tunes in the hope of meeting the tastes of audiences in different places. As a result, new operas such as Huixi and Peking features. This actually happened to operas from Huizhou. Kunqu from Suzhou, for instance, was influenced by the local music after entering Huizhou, and produced a new branch, Huikun. In the 1950s the term Huixi was created to refer to all the operas in Huizhou that are different in their music from those of other regions.
The theatrical art of Hui operas features much swordplay and splendid stage scenes. The total number of Hui operas exceeds one housand and the popular themes include historical stories, romances, and stories about daily life. Their troupes were of three categories, professional, semiprofessional, and amateur. In the 1920s Qingsheng, Caiqing, Tongqing, and Yangchun were the best-known professional Hui opera troupes. The semi-professional troupes rehearsed and performed during the idle farmingseason, disbanding during the busy farming seasons. Amateur troupes were everywhere in the region. Cao zhenyong of Xiongcun Village in Shexian County set up a Hualian Troup for his mother, and hired musicians to teach Kunqu Opera. Many villagers in the region held Kun tune meetings at festivals, where they palyed flutes, gongs and drums and sang Kunqu. Such meetings later spread to other counties in Huizhou and more operas besides Kunqu were performed.