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Where to trip out on the moon

FOR a different Mid-Autumn Festival and fresh insights into Chinese culture, the tulou fortifications of Fujian and the Longmen Grottoes of Henan are open for moon appreciation. Chen Ye reports.

This time every year, when the moon becomes the brightest and roundest, people are coming home to their families, sitting around together, eating sweet cakes and appreciating the harvest moon.

The Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on Wednesday this year, is one of the most important traditional festivals in China, a time not only to reunite but also to enjoy traditional culture and folklore.

For those not attending an obligatory reunion, there are many travel spots to appreciate the full moon against a backdrop of history. Some are not far from Shanghai (see sidebar story), while others require some travel but are well worth the journey.

Two of them are the tulou (earthen house) area in Fujian Province and the Longmen (Dragon Gate) Grottoes in Luoyang, Henan Province. Both welcome moon-watch travelers.

Earthen house

Tulou are the circular fortified houses on the hills of Fujian. The huge ring-shaped structures look like giant UFOs perched among green hills and streams. They originally served as both housing and fortification - today they're for housing and attract many tourists.

There are around 3,000 tulou in the Minnan and Hakka people's areas.

Made of thick compacted mud and soil, they are ingenious, comprehensive, multipurpose, practical and comfortable. They area is also a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

Visitors can stand in the tulou's circular open area and look up at the moon as Hakka and Minnan people have done for hundreds of years. Elders may recount tulou tales.

The Hakka people were forced to migrate south, and to protect themselves from enemy raids and prevent mingling and intermarriage with others they developed tulou. The buildings act as communities that bring people together while they protect against attackers.

The multi-story buildings contain many lookout spots and crenelations like fortresses around the world. Upper windows can be closed to prevent enemies from climbing inside.

Tulou have withstood storms, floods, earthquakes and enemy attacks. In 1931, Kuomintang troops attacked one tulou, but after three days, there was only one major dent in the massive walls and it was just the size of a washbasin. The walls had not been breached.

Over the years seven strong earthquakes have been recorded in the area, but not one building collapsed.

Tulou also are comfortable in different seasons; the thick walls make them relatively cool in hot humid weather. The windows and doors are built to ventilate and circulate the air inside.

Dragon grottoes

Henan Province, one of the cradles of Chinese civilization, has a history of thousands of years, and around 1,500 Chinese surnames (among more than 20,000) originated in the region.

Of the 100 most familiar, 73 are from Henan.

Longmen Grottoes in Luoyang is one of the top three most famous stone sculpture grottoes in China. It is a major cultural relic and a huge tourist attraction.

Excavation reveals relics from the Northern Wei (AD 386-534) to Northern Song (960-1127) dynasties: There are 2,100 grottoes and caves with more than 10 million statues and 3,600 inscriptions.

Longmen Grottoes, one of the most splendid, is open for moon appreciation.

The bright moon makes sightseeing a pleasure and the sounds of a guqin (seven-string traditional musical instrument) waft through the grottoes.

On entering, visitors see the brilliantly illuminated dragon gate, shaped like a rainbow.

The shining artificial lights create a fairyland of peaceful Buddhist scenes.

It is both a large-scale stone sculpture museum and an artistic expression of Buddhism.

It's a place to learn about civilization and its religion, art, architecture, calligraphy, music, costume, economy, trade and politics.


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