History & Culture

In ancient times, Zhangjiajie was regarded as remote and inaccessible. The history of Zhangjiajie can be traced back to the Neolithic Age when it was still named “Dayong”. The first human traces in this area have been registered about 100,000 years ago. Like other places in China, a legend has been developed by ancient people. It said that Zhang Liang-a famed strategist of the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), lived here after leaving the imperial court. He lived in fear he would be killed by Liu Bang, the first emperor of the Han Dynasty who had ordered some of his subjects executed out of suspicion they might rebel against him. Zhang found Qingyan (now Zhangjiajie) Mountain is an ideal refuge due to its haunting beauty and tranquility. He became a hermit. It is said he planted seven ginkgo trees here. He was buried below Qingyan (now Zhangjiajie) Mountain. Zhang’s descendants also are believed to have lived here, which is how the name Zhangjiajie originated. Zhang refers to Zhang Liang’s surname, while Jia means family and Jie represents homeland or border.

As Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is increasingly becoming known to world, Dayong city was renamed as Zhangjiajie city in 1994. There are four areas under its governance: Yongding District and Wuling District, Cili County and Sangzhi County. Now, Zhangjiajie is a major destination for tourism, where beautiful mountains, green lakes, deep caves, serene valleys, cultural heritage and special folk customs are available for all to experience.

Zhangjiajie is home to three major ethnic groups: the Tujia, Bai and Miao people, which together make up approximately 70% of the local population. These people still retain much of their traditional culture, including language, festivals, clothing, and architectural stylese. The long history of many minorities and their folk customs such as marriage customs, singing and dancing together, blended with modern culture, all contribute to the unique charm of Zhangjiajie. The people of Zhangjiajie are all very hospitable and visitors immediately feel at home.

The Tujia, with a total population of over 8 million, is the 6th largest ethnic minority in People’s Republic of China, with a history dating back over twelve centuries. The Tujia are renowned for their singing and song composing abilities and for their tradition of the Baishou Dance, a 500 year old collective dance which uses 70 ritual gestures to represent war, farming, hunting, courtship and other aspects of traditional life. The traditional Hand-waving Dance and their richly-patterned brocade, known as Xi Lan Ka Pu (a kind of colorful bed cover) are regarded as the among the most appealing elements of Tujia art.

The Bais, with 80% of their population of over 1.8 million people, live in concentrated communities in Dali Bai Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. Over the centuries, the Bais have created a science and culture of their own. To their credit are inventions and advances in meteorology, astronomy, calendar, architecture, medical science, literature, music, dancing, carving and painting. They have created a wealth of literary works reflecting their life, work, and struggles against nature and oppression. The Bai people are good singers and dancers, and even created Bai opera, known as chuichui, an art form combining folk music and dancing. The “March Fair,” which falls between March 15 and 20 of the lunar calendar, is a grand festival of the Bais. It is a fair and an occasion for sporting contests and theatrical performances. People gather there to enjoy dances, horse racing and other games. June 25 is the “Torch Festival.” On that day, torches are lit everywhere to usher in a bumper harvest and to bless the people with good health and fortune. Streamers bearing auspicious words are hung in doorways and at village entrances alongside the flaming torches. Villagers, holding aloft torches, walk around in the fields to drive insects away. The Bai in Sangzhi County, Zhangjiajie, migrated from Dali, but their tradition and customs remain intact.

The Miao, with a population of 8.9 million people, form one of the largest ethnic minorities in southwest China. They are mainly distributed across Guizhou, Yunnan, Hunan and Sichuan provinces and Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Most of them live in tightly-knit communities, with a few living in areas inhabited by several other ethnic groups. They are also among the ancient ethnic groups with a long history, dating back over 2,000 years. The Miao have a highly diversified culture developed from a common root. They are fond of singing and dancing, and have a highly-developed folk literature. Their songs, which do not rhyme and vary greatly in length from a few lines to more than 15,000, are easy to understand and are very popular among the Miaos. The lusheng is their favorite musical instrument. In addition, flutes, copper drum, mouth organs, the xiao (a vertical bamboo flute) and the suona horn are also very popular. Popular dances include the lusheng dance, drum dance and bench dance. The Miaos create a variety of colorful arts and crafts, including cross-stitch work, embroidery, weaving, batik, and paper-cuts. Their batik technique dates back 1,000 years. In recent years, improved technology has made it possible to print more colorful designs, and many Miao handicrafts are now exported.

The Chrysanthemum stone, with a nickname of Stone of Wealth and Honor, was shaped over 200 million years ago, and is found in the rock at the bottom of the Daxi River in Hunan province. The stone contains patterns exactly like chrysanthemums, the official symbol of the Imperial Family of China. It is natural, rare and unparalleled, and unique in the world.

The Chrysanthemum stone was first excavated and carved in the early of Qing Dynasty. When people built a dam, they found that the stone used for the dam contained patterns like chrysanthemums, thus different propitious shapes were carved out of the stone. Because of their lively appearance and unique shape, later the carvings were listed in the tributes to the king. In 1915, China exhibited one chrysanthemum stone in the International Expo held in Panama. It gained the golden prize and obtained the title of The first in the world.

The quantity of these chrysanthemum stones is very small and its exploitation is very difficult. The flowers are embedded in dark gray limestone with celestite and calcite constituting the petal, stamen and pistil. The Chrysanthemum Stone contains more than ten kinds of trace elements, such as selenium, strontium, gold, silver, and bismuth. As a result, the chrysanthemum stone is very rare and their value is very high, with a deep symbolic meaning symbolic meaning—truly a collector’s item.

Hunan Embroidery is a folk art with Xiang-Chu cultural characteristics created by the industrious and intelligent people of Hunan during the long period of historical civilization. Beginning more than 2,500 years ago, it was first developed by local women to decorate skirts, pouches and other articles. The designs show birds, animals, flowers and landscape. Originally Hunan Embroidery was done on a single side of a piece of fabric. Later craftsmen adopted the technique of double-sided embroidery in which both sides display the same design in the same color. In 1980, a new breakthrough was made: embroidery experts succeeded in producing pictures that were different in design, color and stitches on either side of a piece of silk. Hunan Embroidery incorporated the art of old Chinese culture from painting, classical Chinese poems and songs, calligraphy, metal and stone to form its own characteristics. Based on traditional Chinese painting, Hunan Embroidery meticulously portrays different materials with scores of embroidery threads of different colors. In early 20th century, Hunan Embroidery gained many honors at home and abroad for its unique style and became one of the four famous embroideries in China.

Visitors can experience the art of Hunan Embroidery at the China Hunan Embroidery Museum in the yard of the Hunan Research Institute. In the workshop of Hunan Embroidery Research Institute, there are only women whose deft fingers can manipulate tiny needles like magic batons. Stitch by stitch, they work upon a piece of transparent nylon gauze until vivid patterns of flowers, birds, goldfishes and butterflies gradually emerge as if in a magic show. The museum shows this fascinating history and artistry to the world with more than 1,200 pieces of Hunan Embroidery. The works showcase the handicraft of Hunan Embroidery and the consummate works of elder artisans, vividly depicting the development course of Hunan Embroidery. Hunan embroidery is art recreated.

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