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November 27, 2011

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Fun and fresh air on Shanghai's fantasy island

TRANQUIL and beautiful, Chongming County is seeking a higher quality of life by becoming a place of leisure.

October and November are the busiest season on the island because of the harvest and the wide number of festivals and cultural events.

About 688,000 tourists visited the island, up 7 percent from a year earlier, during the recently concluded 2011 Chongming Forest Tourism Festival. The six-week event generated more than 70 million yuan (US$10.97 million) in revenue, up 9.4 percent from last year.

The annual festival is like a stepping stone in that it progresses each year.

This year was the 14th edition of the festival, which kicked off with a performance that included Peking Opera, acrobatics, dancing, a violin performance and "China's Got Talent" contestants.

The evening gala was broadcast live on Chongming Television to enable the entire island county to enjoy the event.

"The natural ecology is Chongming's bestselling point," says Zhang Lixin, director of the Chongming Tourism Bureau. "The mix of rich folk customs, historical culture and modern elements really becomes a popular drawing card.

"Shanghai will become a world-famous tourism destination. In that light, Chongming, as the only island in the city, has many reasons to pursue its goal of becoming a leisure destination that caters to visitors from around the world," Zhang says.

To celebrate the forest festival, 22 floats from the opening of the Shanghai Tourism Festival were shown at Dongping National Forest Park during the National Day holiday in October. They attracted around 150,000 visitors. Chongming's own colorful float promoted eco-tourism and was well received.

Music is believed to be a universal language. For the first time, an outdoor rock concert was held at the forest park - a place for barbecues, beer and fun.

Meanwhile, almost 1,000 visitors enjoyed folk dancing, a bonfire party, an open-air cinema and a riddle contest at Sanmin Culture Village.

Nie Miaoyun found out about the three-day bonfire party on the Internet. She then called her friends and together they drove to the village to enjoy a fun night out.

"We really had fun," Nie says. "It was more than a feast by the bonfire. The cultural village also promoted homespun clothing. At the end, I just didn't want to leave."

Liao Jiongmo, almost 80, is an oil painter who knows the village well.

"I come here several times each year. Chongming is like a virgin land to be cultivated," Liao says. "The fresh air here is good for health and also inspires me."


The 14th Chongming Culture and Art Festival, which started in late September, showed the county's profound culture and special charm through various activities.

Chongming Folk Concert invited folk music experts to perform the island's three famous folk melodies - "Old Melodies of Yingzhou," "Chongming Folk Song" and "An Ensemble of Chongming Wind and Percussion Instruments."

Chongming used to be called Yingzhou in ancient times. "Old Melodies of Yingzhou" feature soft melodies that are pure and elegant.

The festival also gave people the opportunity to watch Chongming Shoulder Pole Play, which will become extinct if it isn't passed down properly.

With a history of 150 years, Chongming Shoulder Pole Play is famed as a unique folk drama. It is a traveling one-man puppet show carried by one man on a shoulder pole. The puppeteer has a canopied stage, curtain, hand puppets, musical instruments and a chair for himself.

Puppeteers shoulder the pole with a stage at one end and a high chair at the other, and walks through villages. Anyone can stop the puppeteer and ask for a performance.

He finds a flat space, sets up the stage with a curtain and sits behind it, concealed in his chair. Then he strikes the gong and begins his performance, which often includes singing.

Puppet shows reached a peak of popularity in the 1930s and 1940s on the island. Whenever people heard the gong, they knew it was time to enjoy a show, often about heroic tales of bravery, dastardly villains and spirits.

The art was usually passed down within families but these days in Chongming it is believed that only six brothers from the Zhu family can perform it.

Meanwhile, to protect and carry forward intangible cultural heritage such as zaohua, or oven painting, Xianghua Town displayed the art at Chongming Zaohua Culture Museum, released a book called "Chongming Zaohua" and held a zaohua opera contest and an oven painting contest.

In addition to Chongming's traditional culture, artists from both the Yangtze River Delta and overseas have added another element to the proceedings.

Performers and artists from neighboring Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces were invited to cooperate with their local counterparts.

During the National Day holiday, "day-to-day performances" were widely welcomed in Chengqiao and Chenjia towns.

The performances were to celebrate the epoch-making changes over six decades since the founding of New China.

Chongming Museum also held a comic book exhibition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1911 Revolution.


During the festivals Chongming, of course, was keen to show off its wonderful produce and cuisine.

The island's orchards are busiest in the season. The exciting thing is that visitors now can get out there and pick their own fruits.

At Ruihua Ecological Orchard, visitors bring scissors and bamboo baskets to pick kiwis. It is one of Shanghai's largest kiwi orchards at 3.33 hectares.

"Living in downtown Shanghai, we rarely think about how much fun the harvest can be," says Wang Yi, an office worker from the city center. "We might be able to buy the best rice, fruit and vegetables downtown, but it is in the fields where we can get the real feel of the harvest."

It's also the right time to pick oranges in Luhua Town where fresh air, clean water and rich soil provide a good environment for growing oranges.

Currently, orange groves cover 8,533 hectares in Chongming, or 80 percent of the city's total. Each year, the island harvests 200,000 tons of oranges.

Each October and November, Luhua Town holds the Mandarin Orange Festival to celebrate the harvest.

Some farmers sell oranges on the roadside close to their homes. Some may even invite you to their orchards to pick the juicy fruit that is loaded with vitamin C.

Luhua is built on reclaimed land and during the past four decades, continued efforts have been made by the local county government to transform it into the "hometown of oranges" and a tourist destination.

To commemorate the old days, a writing and photography contest is being held now. Essays and photos depicting Luhua Town can be submitted to The contest is a homage to the efforts of the older generations who made the town what it is now.

The island is also known for the Sugar Sorghum Festival.

The local specialty has a very long history on Chongming Island. The earliest record dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

It tastes juicy and sweet and there are three harvests a year on the island.

This festival really draws crowds. As one of the most popular events during the forest festival, visitors from Shanghai came to pick it in the field in person.

There are nearly 10 kinds of sugar sorghum in Chongming including green and yellow skin.

In recent years, Chongming farmers have developed a new variety of sugar sorghum named sugarcane sorghum.

By combining the characteristics of both sugarcane and sorghum, farmers have created a special crop.

Chongming is also a good area for crab breeding.

Chongming hairy crabs are small but of high quality. The female crabs are especially known for their rich roe.

Baby crabs are born in the estuary of the Yangtze River. Due to tides, the baby crabs enter the inland rivers of Chongming Island.

The island's hairy crabs have been named Product of Geographical Indication Protection by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine of China.

Early this month, Chongming crabs won the Golden Hairy Crab Award from Shanghai Ocean University.

Hairy crabs raised by 43 enterprises from Shanghai, Chongqing, Jiangsu, Anhui, Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Shandong competed for the honor. Eight other enterprises also won the Golden Hairy Crab Award.

"It is a competition of overall strength. I'm so glad that the two breeding enterprises from Chongming won the award," says Wang Wu, one of the contest's judges. "In the past, people would look down on the small Chongming hairy crabs. But now, these hairy crabs are bigger and have a better taste."

According to Wang Yuebin, deputy general manager of one of the winning enterprises from Chongming, the crab-breeding area is at the western-most part of the island, where the water is better. Water in east Chongming is saltier and better for baby crabs.

Wang's company will expand its farm from the 26.67 hectares to 120 hectares, making it the biggest of its kind in Shanghai.

Other events

The Mingzhu Lake Fishing and Crab Festival is another major sub-event of the Chongming Forest Tourism Festival.

The freshwater lake is the largest on the island and seems to be the twin sister of Hangzhou's West Lake. But it is much younger and far less crowded.

Visitors here can fish and net crabs. Afterward, they can eat their catch at local restaurants.

The lake is also known for its osprey population.

There's also the Fitness Festival, which runs through December 4. People gather at Chongming Stadium to play table tennis, soccer, tennis, basketball or exercise.

The county now has seven fitness clubs, six teenage sports clubs and more than 200 community fitness teams. The local government continues to improve sports facilities to allow more residents to get active and stay fit.


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