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What's behind the streets in Guangzhou's Xiguan?

BY :丝路云帆

UPDATED :June 29, 2022

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Located at the central part of Liwan district in Guangzhou, Fengyuan Street (逢源街) is closely related to Xiguan, or Saikwan, the old-time commercial downtown area of Guangzhou, which thrived with the Thirteen Hongs in the Qing Dynasty (1636-1912).
 
The word "Fengyuan" originally meant ubiquitous water source. In ancient Guangzhou (Canton), ponds and river reaches once abounded in Fengyuan area outside the West Gate of Canton city.
 
The precise time of Fengyuan Street being formed is hard to find in historical records, but it can be inferred that people have been living in the region since over 900 years ago.
 
In the Southern Han Dynasty (917-971), Fengyuan Street and its neighboring area became a place to provide flowers for imperial kinsmen.
 
Fengyuan Street spans east to Kangwangzhong Lu, where there used to be a temple to commemorate Kang Baoyi, a patriotic military officer from the Song Dynasty, who had never been to the Lingnan Region.Datong (copper ware-making ) Street (present-day Guangfunan Lu) in Xiguan area of Canton, the late Qing Dynasty
 

According to a book titled Liwan Old Street (《荔湾老街》), the word Fengyuan (逢源) first appeared in the reign of Emperor Kangxi in the Qing Dynasty (1661-1722). At that time, markets and fairs sprang up in Fengyuan Street and the nearby Duobao (多宝, meaning lots of treasures) Street.
 
Also sprouted in the region were new residential buildings as Canton was designated as the only port opened for foreign trade. Streets in Fengyuan area were named as Yaohua (耀华), Baoyuan (宝源), Fengyuan and Duobao. "Bao" stands for precious treasure.
 
Three roads were named after Bao in Xiguan area, namely Baohua (宝华) Lu, Baoyuan Lu and Duobao Lu, either belonged to or connected with Fengyuan Street.
A western-style building on Baoyuan Lu with its Baroque facade on the second storey
 
In the Qing Dynasty, the boom of the Thirteen Hongs brought wealth to a number of merchants and compradors. They built residences down the Xiguan area, which drove the development of Baohua Lu.  
A garden in the mansion of a tycoon in Xiguan area in the Qing Dynasty
 
During the reign of Emperor Tongzhi in the Qing Dynasty (1862-1875), Cantonese Opera performed by blind actresses was first introduced to Chuyilou Tea House (present-day Shunji Cafe) in Xiguan and became popular among customers. Around 1919, the famous Baohua Theater was completed, which was expanded from the private theater stage of the mansion of Zhou Dongsheng, a local tycoon in the late Qing Dynasty.
 
Later, Baohua Lu was crowded with people coming for business and more roads were paved to build houses, including Baoyuan Lu and Duobao Lu. Merchants believed that roads named after Bao would bring them fortune and brisk businesses.
 
Today, more than 20 cultural protected sites scatter around Baoyuan Lu, a merely 500-meter-long road between Longjinxi Lu and Baohua Lu. The sites include Xiguan Mansions, bamboo houses and residences built in the Republic of China Era (1912-1949).
 
The buildings comprise of diverse cultural elements developed in the Xiguan area, including Tanglong (horizontal wooden bars) doors, Cantonese stained glass windows (or Manchuria windows), flower-patterned floor tiles and wooden stairways.
Manchuria window, a signature house decoration in the Xiguan area
 
As a main street that contains several subordinate roads, Fengyuan Street also has jurisdiction over Yaohua Street, a 110-meter-long historical and cultural protected street.  
 
Surprisingly, of the 39 buildings located on Yaohua Street, 30 are listed as Guangzhou's historic buildings.
Located on No.30,  Yaohua Street is the former residence of Huang Yongyu, a merchant, poet and an educator of Guangdong.
 
According to historical records, during 1862 to 1908, Yaohua Street and its peripheral streets were formed to increase residential space for the merchants of the Thirteen Hongs.
 
Xiguan culture holds a unique position in the culture of Lingnan region, as represented by the architecture and cuisine along with many other fields. The Fengyuan Street and its neighboring area can offer visitors a glimpse of the past life of local people.
 
Editors: Pauline, Liu Liu
Source: 广州日报《读懂广州·粤韵|逢源街左右逢源 满洲窗映照传奇》

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