China: Huangshan, from Peaks to Cobblestones, a City of Multiple Riches
Updated: Nov 24
Huangshan, located in Anhui province, is a city of immense historical and cultural wealth. Dating back to the Qin Dynasty, it was an important trading center during the Ming and Qing eras. Today, it is primarily famous for its eponymous mountains. However, the city is also rich in traditional architecture, particularly the Huizhou style, and in cultural heritage, with historical figures such as Huang Binhong and Tao Xingzhi.
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A Harmonious Fusion of Nature, History, and Culture
Huangshan, located in Anhui province of China, has a rich history dating back to the Qin Dynasty period, around 221-206 BCE. The city was previously known as Huizhou and gained prominence primarily due to its flourishing trade in fields such as tea, medicine, and crafts during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
However, what truly put Huangshan on the global map is its exceptional topography and majestic mountains, the Huangshan Mountains. These mountains were inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1990 and are a natural masterpiece with their granite peaks, often shrouded in mist.
The mist-wrapped rock formations and pine forests offer an ideal playground for capturing minimalist and timeless images. Viewing points like the Lotus Peak and the Flying Rock are must-visit spots for any photographer (read my articles on Huangshan Mountains for more information).
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Architecturally, the region is famous for its houses with black tile roofs and white walls, representing the distinct Huizhou style. The old town of Tunxi is an exceptional example of this architecture. Tunxi Laojie Street is another major attraction, known for its ancient buildings and numerous shops selling local craft items such as calligraphy brushes and Maojian tea.
Culturally, Huangshan is a center for Huizhou culture, which is well-known for its achievements in the fields of literature, art, and crafts. The Huizhou Museum is a must-visit for those interested in the history and culture of the region.
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Among the famous figures who have been linked to the history of Huangshan are Huang Binhong, a great Chinese landscape painter, and Tao Xingzhi, a renowned educator and reformer. Their work reflects the profound influence of Huangshan's culture and landscape on arts and letters in China.
Huang Binhong, from Landscape Painting to Spirituality
Huang Binhong (1865-1955) is a renowned Chinese painter, mainly known for his landscape works in the tradition of Chinese ink painting. He was born in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, and belongs to the generation of painters who lived at the intersection of the Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China periods. Huang was also a scholar and art theorist, and he made significant contributions to the theorization of Chinese painting.
His style combines traditional techniques with his own innovations, including the integration of freer forms and the use of dense and complex brushstrokes. He was also influenced by the styles of the Yuan and Ming dynasties, and his works demonstrate a deep understanding of the historical legacy of Chinese painting.
Huang Binhong played a crucial role in shaping young artists and promoting traditional Chinese art during a period of radical changes in China. Among his students were Li Keran and Lin Fengmian, who themselves became important figures in Chinese art.
Huang Binhong was strongly influenced by the Huangshan Mountains, and they hold a significant place in his work. He visited Huangshan multiple times throughout his life and was deeply inspired by its majestic landscapes. The depiction of the rock formations and weather variations in the region influenced his use of brushstrokes and shading techniques in his paintings.
My library: Transmedial Landscapes and Modern Chinese Painting | How to Read Chinese Paintings.
But his attachment to Huangshan was not limited to mere representation of landscapes. He also sought a deeper meaning and a spiritual connection. Mountains are often considered in Chinese culture as places for spiritual retreat and the quest for inner balance, and it appears that Huang Binhong found in Huangshan a source of both artistic inspiration and serenity.
Tao Xingzhi, Educational Reform and the "New Village"
Tao Xingzhi (1891–1946) was an influential Chinese educator and reformer, widely recognized for his major contributions to the modernization of education in China. He was born in Anhui province and studied in the United States at Columbia University, where he was strongly influenced by John Dewey, the American philosopher and educator.
After returning to China, Tao dedicated his life to education reform. He advocated for an education focused on the student and on practical living, rather than solely on academic learning. He was a proponent of rural education and set up experimental schools in rural areas to educate the children of peasants.
One of his most notable projects was the "New Village" initiative, a social and educational experiment aimed at improving life in rural areas through education and community development.
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Tao Xingzhi also played a significant role in the movement for educational reform during China's Republican era. He founded several educational organizations, including the Association for Educational Life, and was an active member of various government commissions dedicated to education.
Tao Xingzhi passed away in 1946, but his impact on Chinese education endures. He is often cited as one of the most important figures in 20th-century educational reform in China. Several schools and institutes bear his name in recognition of his contributions.
What to Remember
The city of Huangshan is not only famous worldwide for its unique mountain range. It is also known for its ancient villages, like Hongcun and Xidi, which are remarkable examples of traditional local architecture. A worthy representative of Chinese traditions, the region is rich in local craftsmanship, including wood carving and tea making, like the famous Maofeng tea.
Legendary figures and artists who have lived there have contributed in their own way to the cultural development of the city. This heritage now shines throughout China and on the international stage.
Huangshan and its surroundings offer an endless wealth of subjects to capture for any photographer, from natural wonders to architectural and cultural treasures. It is a place where history and nature coexist in complete harmony.
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