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The great arches of Anhui

A batch of famous memorial arches, or pai fang, can be found in the shadows of the Yellow Mountain. These arches date back to feudal times and commemorate special achievements, writes Chen Ye.In ancient times, Anhui Province was known as a place of etiquette and ceremonies with thousands of memorial arches.

Some tourists to the province go just to see the marches that remain, pretty much like some travel around Europe to see castles or cathedrals, because they all tell a different story.

A good starting point is Shexian County in Huangshan (Yellow Mountain) City. Shexian was a cultural center during the Sui (AD 581-618) and Tang (AD 618-907) dynasties, and a commercial center during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.

After visiting the famous Yellow Mountain, tourists can stop at the southern foot of the mountain on the upper reaches of the Xin'an River, to appreciate memorial arches, or pai fang.

The arches are gate-like structures built in feudal times and are steeped with meaning - usually symbolizing honor and glory.

The Tangyue Memorial Arch Cluster in the Bao's Residence is a typical Ming and Qing dynasties complex honoring the Bao Family in Tangyue Village. There are seven arches - three built during the Ming Dynasty and the other four in the Qing Dynasty.

The seven Tangyue arches, although spanning several hundred years, are still considered great examples of arts. Each one has been made of stone - unusual at the time as most were made of wood - ensuring they last for a long time and giving them a regal appearance.

Architectural experts believe that the study of Tangyue memorial arches helps shed light on the politics, economy and cultural merits of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

The first pai fang of the Tangyue Memorial Arch Cluster is Mashi pai fang, which was built more than 450 years ago.

It is supported by four pillars with an imperial edict (sheng zhi) in the middle of the "dragon-and-phoenix board." There is a pair of lions on each side of the board.

The Ming Dynasty emperor awarded this pai fang to businessman Bao Can, who made huge contributions to education.

In ancient China, when people made great contributions to the country, his or her family would be honored and the emperor would order a pai fang built to mark the achievements.

Near the Tangyue cluster, visitors will also find the zhenjie pai fang, or memorial arches honoring loyal women.

Zhenjie means chastity in Chinese and these three arches were built in honor of women who remained widows until death after their husbands died.

In Bao's Residence, there are three Zhenjie pai fang.

Historical records show that in old times men usually left villages to work in towns or cities since agriculture could only support one-third of local villagers.

During the Ming and Qing dynasties, 70 percent of local men had to leave their hometown - that's why there were so many widows.

While Anhui businessmen were famous for their shrewd business sense, their wives usually stayed at home, handled the housework and raised the children.

That's why there were many hardworking, intelligent and virtuous widows in the province.

How to get there

Take G60 Expressway (Shanghai-Hangzhou) and then turn to G56 Expressway (Hangzhou-Anhui), exit at Nanyuankou to get to Shexian.

The trip takes around five hours.


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