A Decade of BRI & CPEC: Discoveries In The Ancient Phoenix City

A Decade of BRI & CPEC: Discoveries In The Ancient Phoenix City
For decades, Pakistan and China have maintained strong cultural and trade connections. However, the introduction of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) has opened a new window of opportunities for both nations to benefit mutually. As the partnership enters its next phase, Pakistan is shifting its focus towards the establishment of economic and industrial zones. Consequently, it becomes imperative to foster the development of the tourism industry, particularly cultural tourism, as a means to bolster the economy through the lens of cultural diplomacy. It is also imperative to understand how cultural assets like notable tourist destinations and resorts can effectively contribute to economic progress within the framework of globalization.

Ancient Phoenix City: Exploration, Impressions and Lessons

On the morning of March 31st, 2023, I, along with Tian Bureau and a group of individuals, embarked on a visit to the ancient town of Phoenix. While I have previously visited China on multiple occasions for academic reasons, such as attending seminars and delivering lectures, this particular trip was solely intended for exploring Fenghuang County and immersing myself in its rich cultural heritage. Here, I present several observations about the region's culture, with a particular emphasis on the Ancient City of Phoenix. These observations aim to not only captivate readers but also provide valuable insights for learning purposes.

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Fenghuang (Ancient Phoenix City)

Fenghuang, also known as the Ancient Phoenix City, derives its name from a mesmerizing legend that narrates the graceful flight of two Phoenix birds over the city, ultimately choosing to make it their permanent abode due to its breathtaking beauty. Top of Form

The historic town boasts a wealth of cultural treasures, ranging from diverse ethnic languages and customs to flourishing arts and awe-inspiring architecture.

The county is located in Hunan Province, China. It falls under the administration of the Xiangxi Autonomous Prefecture. Positioned on the western margin of the province and in the southern Xiangxi region, Fenghuang County shares borders with Huayuan County and Jishou City to the north, Luxi County to the east, Mayang County to the southeast, and Bijing District of Tongren City and Sangtao County of Guizhou to the southwest and west respectively. Covering an area of 1,745 square kilometers (674 square miles), as of 2015, the county had a registered population of 428,294 and a resident population of 363,700. Fenghuang County comprises 13 towns and four townships under its jurisdiction.

Fenghuang County boasts an exceptionally well-preserved ancient town that showcases a rich tapestry of ethnic languages, customs, arts, and remarkable architectural remnants in the distinctive Ming and Qing styles. Nestled amidst a picturesque mountain landscape, the town seamlessly incorporates the natural flow of the Tuojiang River into its urban layout. More than half of the city's population consists of the Miao and Tujia ethnic minorities. Notably, Fenghuang County holds significant historical significance as it was the epicenter of the Miao Rebellion from 1854 to 1873, which resulted in the dispersion of Miao communities across Southeast Asia over the past two centuries. The city holds a revered place in Miao traditions and funeral rituals and is also home to the Southern China Great Wall, a Ming dynasty fortification constructed to safeguard the local Han Chinese population from Miao incursions. In 1913, the town's name was changed from Zhen'gan to Fenghuang.

Retaining its historical charm from the Ching Dynasty in 1704, the town of Phoenix stands proudly with its well-preserved East Gate and North Gate city buildings. Situated alongside the scenic Tuo River, the town's wooden structures and bluestone roads contribute to its unique ambiance, encompassing an area of approximately 10 square kilometers. Remarkably, this town has served as a residence for numerous influential figures throughout Chinese history, captivating visitors who are drawn not only to its picturesque natural landscapes and captivating architecture, but also to the opportunity of exploring the homes of these esteemed cultural icons.

Underneath the iconic and distinctive structure at the entrance of the ancient town of Phoenix, we gathered for a group photo. The building prominently displayed words inscribed by Premier Zhu Rongji. words inscribed by Premier Zhu Rongji, who served as the Premier of China from March 1998 to March 2003.

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Furthermore, the vibrant marketplace of this area showcases a plethora of shops offering both rental and sale of ethnic costumes, with a particular emphasis on the attire worn by the Miao people. These traditional garments, renowned for their captivating silver and blue designs, hold a special allure. It is no wonder that numerous young and elegant Chinese women flock to this destination, seeking to rent these exquisite costumes and capture timeless photographs adorned in their cultural splendor.

Shen Congwen

Within the town, we discovered the former residence of Shen Congwen, a celebrated Chinese writer acclaimed for his poignant novel, "Border Town." This enchanting love story unfolds in a picturesque small town nestled alongside a meandering river. During our visit, we had the opportunity to explore his study, adorned with a brush pen, paper, inkstone, and even a vintage phonograph, evoking a sense of the writer's creative spirit. In the residence's courtyard, a sizable water tank, once utilized for water storage, now serves as a captivating wishing well. Visitors can partake in the tradition of tossing coins into its depths, hoping for their heartfelt wishes to be granted.

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Shen Congwen's tomb

The serene gravesite of Shen Congwen, nestled within the picturesque surroundings of what was once called "Du Mu Garden." Originally constructed by Tian Xingshu, a distinguished member of the Fenghuang Miao tribe and former minister of the imperial envoy and governor of Yungui during the Qing Dynasty, this garden holds historical significance. Shen Congwen's tomb stands apart from conventional graves, devoid of elevated earth or extravagant embellishments. Instead, an irregular five-colored stone emergesmajestically behind the tomb, symbolizing his final resting place. Towering at a height of 1.9 meters and weighing over 6 tons, this distinctive stone bears the profound mark of Shen Congwen himself. Engraved on its front surface are his own handwritten philosophical words: "If I can understand 'I', I can understand others."

On the reverse side of the stone, a couplet has been delicately inscribed by a Yale University professor and the son-in-law of a renowned sculptor from the Central Academy of Fine Arts. Each line culminates with the word "To enlighten others through literature," encapsulating the essence of Shen Congwen's legacy. This remarkable gravesite serves as a testament to Shen Congwen's profound impact and enduring wisdom, encapsulated within the unique symbolism and inscriptions on the monumental stone.

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In short, by exploring the transformation of the Ancient Phoenix City in China, we can observe how cultural creativity has been seamlessly integrated with the tourism industry. This integration involves enhancing the cultural and creative industrial park with tourism elements, resulting in the creation of a vibrant tourism park. Through this process, tourism activities find expression through a dynamic and flexible framework, offering a platform for the realization of captivating and immersive tourism experiences.

While exploring the hospitality industry, I encountered a multitude of hotels, restaurants, diverse food cuisines, and shops, all conveniently connected by road, rail, and air facilities. China is renowned for its warm hospitality, and my host exemplified this through their tremendous hospitality, adhering to the traditions of the East.

As we embark on the crucial second phase of the CPEC, it is imperative to adopt the Hines model and consider the incorporation of cultural tourism and globalization within the establishment of economic and industrial zones. However, it is of utmost importance to highlight the cultural heritage of Pakistan with special emphasis on the local ethnic and marginalized groups as a key tourist attraction.

The author is the former Dean of Arts and Humanities at the University of the Punjab in Lahore