Many artists draw inspiration from their hometowns. Writers often set their stories in places similar to those where they grew up. Longing for one’s native place is also a reoccurring theme throughout folk music.
For Zhejiang Province-based photographer Wu Zongqi, a deep connection with his hometown and its surroundings also pervades his work. Over the past 30 years, Wu has spent much of his time taking photos around Qiandao (Thousand Islands) Lake in Hangzhou’s Chun’an County. His efforts have both raised the profile of this beautiful area of Zhejiang and also left a record of its unique culture.
Now, over 100 images by Wu are on display at an exhibition at the Zhejiang Art Museum which runs through Sunday. These images offer breathtaking views of the lake as well as a glimpse into the social and cultural changes that have taken place around the area.
The first part of the exhibition centers around hometown memory, featuring black-and-white images taken in the early 1980s. These pictures feature images of families, schools, daily entertainment and agriculture.
In addition to scenes of daily life, Wu’s pictures also capture the architecture and culture of Chun’an. Thirty years ago, most people in Chun’an lived in folk houses characterized by painted windows, carved beams and upturned eaves. Most local villages also had large grounds where shows and performances would be organized, including dances and operas.
Popular local dance forms include Land Boat Dancing and Hobbyhorse Dancing, which were recognized by authorities as important pieces of Zhejiang’s intangible cultural heritage in 2005.
The second major theme of the exhibition is folklore, which comes to the fore in local ceremonies and rituals.
Today, the people of Chun’an practice wedding customs which are different from those seen elsewhere in Zhejiang. According to local lore, these practices date to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when the dynasty’s founder banished his political opponents to the area and forbad them from having contact with other local residents.
Additionally, the people of Chun’an are known as sticklers when it comes to ancestor worship. On the first and fifteenth day of each lunar month, many local seniors will take their grandchildren to ancestral halls to pay their respects — and hopefully be blessed in return.
In the past, large-scale rituals would be held at ancestral halls during the first of each lunar month. Every family would steam a pig’s head and decorated it with red paper cuttings and evergreen leaves and put it in front of the tablet of the ancestral hall, another practice said to date to the Ming Dynasty.
Folk practices vary by village.
On the third day of the third lunar month, villagers in Xinye, for example, would transport a statue of Buddha from their local temple to their ancestral hall. Meanwhile, an opera show would last for several days.
For Jianglingshang villagers, the fifth day of the first lunar month is their big day. A dragon made of torches and a statue of a man would be paraded through the village to commemorate Xiao Yuangang, a leader of Chun’an County during the Ming Dynasty.
Once when Xiao Yuangang was dispatched to Chun’an by the royal court, he was intercepted by villagers. They told Xiao of a case of injustice and begged him to uphold the law, which Xiao promptly did.
Overwhelmed with gratitude, the villages created the custom in his honor. With time, it became a fixed tradition in local culture.
Though they may have their own practices and customs, every village operates like a big family. Funerals and weddings are held in ancestral halls with every villager attending.
The final portion of Wu’s works depict the landscape of Qiandao Lake. One of the most eye-catching photos was taken at Huangshanjian and which provides a bird’s-eye view of more than 90 islands.
Source: Shanghai Daily