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Past glory of Yudaihao Moat in Guangzhou

BY :丝路云帆

UPDATED :September 27, 2020


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There are two streets, Yudaihao Street and Haopan Street, located at the north of Daxin Lu(Road) and the south of Dade Lu(Road) respectively. The names of these two neighboring streets carry the Chinese character “濠”(hao, moat), implying some sort of connections between them.

What's the connection? Let's look into the history of two streets to find out the answers.

According to historical materials, a moat connecting Donghaochong Stream and XihaochongStream in the city was dug in 1011 A.D. in the Song Dynasty under the command of Shao Ye, the then "Zhizhou"(equals to today's mayor) of Guangzhou. The moat, after being dredged and expanded several times, meandered along the southern city wall of Guangzhou like a belt, and thus got the name Yudaihao (jade belt moat).
The map of Guangzhou between 1685 and 1723 in the Qing Dynasty

The moat started from Donghaochong Stream, winding through Yuexiu Lu(Road), Wenming Lu(Road), Danan Lu(Road) and Dade Lu(Road) before veering to Renminnan Lu(Road), and then converged with Xihaochong Stream before joining the Pearl River. With a width of over 60 meters and a length of nearly 3 kilometers, Yudaihao was dug to protect the city from attack and to provide shelter for ships coming from the Pearl River.  
A map of Guangzhou in the early 20th century

Walking along Yudaihao, we would find a street named Nanhao Street, which was originally dubbed as Xi'ao back in the Tang Dynasty when it was an open water area as well as a wharf for ships to berth.

In the Xining period (1068-1077) of the Song Dynasty, as the central city wall of Canton was badly damaged due to wars and typhoons, an outer city wall was built in the west. And the wharf changed its name to Nanhao and became a major waterway and an inner harbour of the expanded city.
 A map of Guangzhou in the Song Dynasty

It's said that many merchant ships from China and other countries discharged cargoes such as rhinoceros horns, ivories, emerald green feathers and hawksbills in Nanhao while loading ships with assorted porcelain, silk fabrics, lacquerware along with sugar, tea and other Chinese goods before heading abroad.
A view of the Pearl River in 1873 (source:rosettaapp.getty.edu)
 The Donghaochong Stream(left) and Yudaihao in 1859, photographed by Swiss photographer Joseph Rossie and collected by the National Library of France

For gourmands among foreign merchants, there was a feast they would not miss.

Every year in June and July, after the merchant ships arrived in Guangzhou, the city officials would give a banquet to entertain merchants of all ranks in Haishanlou Restaurant, which was located around present-day Dongheng Street of Beijing Lu(Road). Another feast would be arranged every October before the merchants set sail.

Walking forward, we would reach the once-famous Haopan Street at the "haopan(riverside)" of Yudaihao.

In a narrative poem written by Sun Fen, a poet in the Ming Dynasty, Haopan Street was depicted as a region of entertainment full of luxurious venues. Another poet and scholar named Qu Dajun in the late Ming and early Qing dynasties even described the street as busier and more luxurious than the Qinhuai River area, one of the most renowned and extravagant spots at that time located in present-day Nanjing of Jiangsu province, in his book New Comments on Guangdong (《广东新语》). 

In the Ming and Qing dynasties, an array of exchange shops and guilds, funded by merchant groups from Shanxi, Shaanxi, Hunan, Hubei, Shaoxing of Zhejiang, Huizhou of Anhui, Jinling of Jiangsu (today's Nanjing city) and some other places, could be found on streets around Yudaihao, along with a stretch of warehouses. 

One would find it very convenient to withdraw money any time from exchange shops and transport goods via the waterway, according to the Nanhai County Annuals (《南海县志》).

Haopan Street was also a distribution center for high-end Cantonese-style furniture, including those made of rosewood and red sandalwood. Some shops were even appointed to make redwood furniture for the imperial court under the supervision of officials.

In the late Ming Dynasty, a traditional folk artist surnamed Huang established an instrument workshop there, which kickstarted the development of instrument producing industry on the street. The instrument business peaked in Emperor Daoguang's reign in the late Qing Dynasty (1821-1850), with eight workshops on the street, selling a plurality of instruments, such as two-stringed lute and high-pitched sanxian (a three-stringed plucked instrument) inscribed with names of the workshops.
An old photo of Yudaihao provided by descendants of Xu Baiting, who was a famous businessman living around the site in the Qing Dynasty

If you travelled back to the Song Dynasty, you might marvel at the prosperity of Guangzhou, a 'first-tier city' in China for sure at that time.

As the shipbuilding and navigation techniques improved in the Song period, Guangzhou saw a boom in foreign trade and became the largest port for sea trade at that time. In the year of 1077, the trade revenue of the Customs of Guangzhou, Mingzhou (today's Ningbo city in Zhejiang province) and Hangzhou combined reached over two million Guan (a string of 1,000 cash), over 98% of which came from Guangzhou.
The city structure of Guangzhou in the late Ming Dynasty

In 1080, the third year of Emperor Yuanfeng's reign in the Song Dynasty, Guangzhou became the only port for the departure and arrival of ships coming back from overseas under the reformed foreign trade policy. The city was teeming with ships all year around, Gaspar da Cruz, a  Portuguese who used to be a missionary in Guangzhou, recorded.

With advanced techniques and favorable policies, it was natural that places like Yudaihao, which served as an important harbour, flourished and became the city's 'CBD'.

Once prosperous though, it seemed inevitable for Yudaihao to decline as its surrounding environment deteriorated.

With the rise of the instrument producing industry, leather business also thrived in the area. But the small family workshops discharged the waste water into Yudaihao river and caused serious pollution. By the early republic of China era, Yudaihao had shrunk to only two meters in width, and some parts of the area had actually been turned into stinking ditches.  
A photo of Yudaihao in 1917, collected by Sidney D. Gamble, a social economist in the U.S.
A street nearby Yudaihao in the republic of China era

In 1951, Yudaihao was transferred into a closed box-type conduit wrapped by reinforced concrete in an urban renovation project by the municipal government of Guangzhou. 

Since then, the moat, which had meandered for almost a thousand years in the city, has been buried underground. Now the neighborhood of Yudaihao is just another ordinary business street, whose past glory could only be pictured through imaginations.
 Yudaihao has now become the name of a residential area.

Source: 王月华《广州水城记忆系列》,广州日报(Memory of Guangzhou, the City of Water, by Wang Yuehua, Guangzhou Daily)、广州文史(Culture and History of Guangzhou)、《越秀商业街巷》(Business Streets in Yuexiu District of Guangzhou)(部分资料根据网络整理,如有侵权,请联系删除)