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Jinshan Tourism Fest: Farming fun, food and folk art

JINSHAN District puts its best foot forward to tempt tourists with all kinds of activities from next weekend through early October. Farmers' paintings, folk arts and countryside fun are featured. Tan Weiyun reports.

Largely rural Jinshan District is known as Shanghai's "back garden" and it is developing get-away-from-it-all countryside tourism.

The agricultural area by Hangzhou Bay is crisscrossed with streams and canals meandering through rice paddies; ducks waddle down cobblestone paths; and orchards and fields are filled with ripe fruit and vegetables waiting to be picked.

The district has numerous tourism attractions, such as 1,500-year-old Fengjing Town, Donglin Temple, Langxia Ecological Park, City Beach and Zhonghong Village famed for its farmers' paintings, the so-called "peasant Picassos."

Jinshan's Peento Peach (squashed peach) Festival, traditional watertown Chinese wedding parties and summer harvests are popular.

"Jinshan is mainly an agricultural district with abundant resources, and countryside tourism is a new kind of economic development to boost farmers' income," says Jiang Weilin, spokesman for the district government.

To promote its many activities, the district launches its annual tourism festival from next weekend through early October.

The district's countryside tourism industry began in 2004 with the development of Fengjing Town, a watertown listed as one of China's famous historical and cultural towns.

Fengjing dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and has been the home of many influential artists such as late painter and calligraphy master Cheng Shifa (1921-2007) and cartoonist Ding Cong (1916-2009).

It's also the birthplace of Jinshan Farmer's Painting, which was recognized in the mid-1970s and is now appreciated around the world.

Last year Fengjing was named as one of Shanghai's "new eight city wonders."

The town lies along the river that used to be the border between Shanghai and Zhejiang Province. An old stone bridge, temple, stage, well and other structures are preserved.

Every year Fengjing hosts a traditional group wedding party for newly-wed couples who are interested in Chinese folk culture and want their big day to be different. The party has become a classic in the annual Shanghai Tourism Festival in September.

Not far from the old watertown is the Zhonghong Village in Langxia Town, the birthplace of the farmers' painting, now a cottage industry. Almost 40 years ago, a group of villagers started painting simple and bright pictures inspired by clay oven paintings, paper cutting, wood carving and embroidery. All the painters are real farmers. There is also a school and those who are interested can order paintings online.

In 2007, the district renovated the village and invited other farmers from Shanxi, Gansu and Shandong provinces, building it into a national center for farmer painting.

Walking into the village, one sees farmers painting in the fields, on rooftops and along the riverside.

In 2008 it was named one of the top 10 charming villages in China and a national model of countryside tourism development.

In addition, Langxia Town makes full use of its large agricultural area to develop countryside tourism, such as fruit and vegetable picking, orchard sight-seeing, pottery making and summertime beach matchmaking for singles.

Other attractions include a lianxiang (a festooned stick) dance festival, a local play "Yao's Family Wedding," grain "paintings" made with grains and straw, and weaving homespun cloth.

Jinshan District sees the World Expo 2010 as a great opportunity and it is the first suburban district to launch "Expo Farming" by promoting its folk culture, natural resources and local delicacies.

"It's a window giving visitors a glimpse of authentic rural village life in Shanghai and letting them experience the traditional customs that have all but disappeared in the cities," Jiang says.

From the Expo opening in May through August, the town's "Expo Farming" project received more than 80,000 visitors, including 2,000 from overseas, according to town statistics.

"From farming and folk art to the City Beach, there's a wide range of choices for tourists," says Jiang. "More important, it's an effective way to increase farm income."

Take Zhonghua Village as an example. The hamlet hidden in the west of Langxia Town used to be called the district's "Siberia" because of its remote location and shabby dwellings.

Then it was revived and turned into what's billed as an "Oriental Arcadia" after renovation by the district government and the Shanghai Jinjiang International Travel Service Co Ltd.

It's now a popular destination for city dwellers looking to slow down on the weekend and recharge their batteries.

In 2006 all the old cottages were renovated at an average cost of 300,000 yuan (US$38,757), including air-conditioners, new television sets and appliances and amenities.

The houses were then rented to the travel company as tourist accommodation. Locals were employed by the company as chefs to prepare old-fashioned dishes or as cleaners in the Jinjiang bistro. It's considered win-win deal for both farmers and the travel agency.

Li Juguan rents her two-story cottage as a small farmer's motel to the travel company, which earns her more than 20,000 yuan in rent a year. The 68-year-old also cooks in the Jinjiang restaurant, earning 1,200 yuan a month.

The Farmer's Painting Village and the Zhonghua Village Farming Fun project has created more than 1,000 jobs, boosting sales of agricultural products as farmers open their own shops and restaurants.


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