The beautiful mountains and rivers of ancient Huizhou once gave birth to many wealthy merchants and powerful families and created a flourishing culture that developed into the unique Xin'an culture. Bound by the special geographical conditions and feudal ethics, people of Huizhou have maintained their distinctive folkways and customs. Just as is recorded in the earliest Xin'an Annals. Isolated by high mountains, people are not influenced by the customs of other places .Tthe mountaineers's style of dress remain unchanged for hundreds of years
As late as the Ming and Qing Dynasties they lived in compact clans without one single outsider, their living style closest to that of ancient times . However, it has been the common practice of the Huizhou people to work hard but live frugally, to engage in studies while doing farm work, to respect the elders and to care for the young. From generation to generation they have held a high regard for etiquette.
When you tour around the villages and towns of Huangshan
Municipality and stay with the folks, you will, through the talks over the drinks, find in them a special unsophistication. You will see a custom which retains, to varying degrees, traces left from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, or even from the Tang and Song Dynasties. Such traces are ubiquitous--in their daily life, funerals, weddings, baby birth celebrations, or in their couplets, festivities, temple fairs, or sports and recreations. And what is more, customs and dialects vary from place to place. As is described, one sees different folkways every ten miles and hears different lilts every five .
The word salt, for instance, is pronounced yan in Tunxi, and ya in Wan'an about two miles away, and cuozi in Xiuning Town not more than ten miles away. And the dialects contain a lot of image words . A butterfly is called cloth wings , an inkslab "ink tile" and an eel ''snake" fish . Sometimes the folks talk in an elegant style and use words that are often found in a classical drama. To cite a few examples, they say platform instead of table , grand instead of rich , outstanding instead of pretty , spouse instead of wife , raise water instead of fetch water . Some expressions bear a classical literary style. They would say a pleasure all over instead of comfortable . Such embellishments lend great fun to the daily speech.
The Huizhou people are very much concerned about festivals and solar terms. On the day of lixia (Beginning of Summer, sowing time for farmers), for example, folks indulge themselves in eating, believing it signifies a bumper harvest and a full stomach for the next year. Early in the morning they boil eggs and smash them on the threshold as sacrifice to the door god . And they have for breakfast fried rice with eggs and Chinese chives, for in Chinese chive is a homonym of ever-lasting , believing the meal to be the token of permanent happiness. For lunch they have meat to develop muscle so as to keep fit. With benedictive wishes they exchange cakes made of lettuce mixed in glutinous rice powder. They also eat "mildewed "bean curd . In Chinese mildew is related to ill luck , so by swallowing mildewed bean curd they think they are eating up all ill luck. The mildewed bean curd is actually a traditional local dish also known as hairy bean curd . It is as thick and large as two fingers together, covered with a coat of white down and smelling a bit moldy after natural fermentation. It is fried in seed-oil till it turns yellowish, then they dress it with sauce, pepper, chopped green onion and smashed garlic. It smells and tastes delicious.
Speaking of food, Huizhou cuisine is one of the eight representative local cuisines of China and is known for its special delicacies from land and water. In Shanghai
alone, there were more than 130 Hui
zhou food restaurants in the 1940¡¯ s. Hui
zhou food has more than 200 varieties made mostly through braising, stewing and steaming rather than sautéing or frying. The cooks are particular about ingredients and fire control, putting in thick starchy sauce and much oil and trying to keep the natural juice and taste. Among the 20 ~ 30 famous traditional dishes are Stewed Ham and Turtle, Braised Racoon Dog, Steamed Chukar, Salted Fresh Perch, Mushroom and Chestnut, Stewed Chicken with Tremella, etc. The local people have a story to tell about the Salted Fresh Perch. In the old days, the perch was not available locally. Fish-mongers used to shoulder the fish and walk a long way to Huizhou. Once a fish-monger found on his way his two buckets of fish were becoming smelly and he hit upon a way of preserving it. He scaled and gutted the fish and spread salt on it. When he got to Huizhou, the fish was cooked in the local way--braised on slow fire with strong condiments. The highly seasoned salted fish turned out very tender and tasty. The way was then taken up and gradually developed into the famous Salted Fresh Perch. The dish is also referred to as smelly fish , but to the local folks it is pleasantly so rather than offensively.
During the Spring Festival, feasting without question makes up an important part of the celebration, but it is the folk recreations that play the major role. There are the dragon dance, lion dance, fish--lantern dance, lantern--boat dance, motion show, triumph drum dance and fireworks. The fish lantern is taken as a symbol of abundance, for in Chinese fish and abundance are homonymous. And the motion show is the most popular performance. As the name suggests, the stage is carried about by people. The actors and actresses are all little children who play various traditional roles. They sit on iron racks and then step on the small stage, carried around by grown-ups in villages and towns. Lit up by the candle light and firework, the lovely little ones are a real eye-catcher. The scene is especially fascinating with the ancient kings, mythological gods and legendary ghosts moving about in the contemporary world. The dragon dance performed in Huizhou differs from that of other places in that the Huizhou dragon is made up of benches. As it is inconvenient for the scattered inhabitants of the mountain region to get together to make and keep a public dragon, the bench dragon was invented by joining benches, each about six feet long, with a joint hole on either side and a handle fixed into a hole in the middle. Usually the benches are used domestically. On the occasion of a dragon dance, people from different households bring their benches together, pull off the legs and fix the handle. Men from every family take part in the show, one man holding one bench, so it is also a sign of unity and cooperation. Benches are joined and decorated with lanterns. Sometimes a dragon consists of more than a hundred benches. It is a grand scene when the dragon , gleaming with lanterns, is carried along the winding mountain path.
There are various customs in wedding ceremonies. Though they differ slightly from town to town, yet four procedures are indispensable-- seeing the bride in, weeping goodbye, carrying the bride on back, and drinking three bowls of tea. On the wedding day, the groom' s people go to the bride s with a sedan chair. The bride's family shut up the house and keep them out. They will not be let in until the groom shows his generosity by offering the prearranged bride price and betrothal gifts. As soon as the bride puts on her wedding dress the mother and the daughter begin to weep in each other's arms, believing that the weeping will usher in good luck. The weep is not sorrowful but melodious, so it is called "Weeping Goodbye Song , most part of which expresses the deep love between mother and daughter and the mother's practical advice. After this the bride is carried in arms by a male member of her family to the sedan chair, for they believe this way she won' t take away the family luck. When the bridal sedan chair arrives, the groom carries her on his back into the bridal chamber so that if a bicker should take place later, she could ask if he doesn't love her why should he have brought her in so eagerly on his back! Before the homage ceremony , the bride is to drink three bowls of tea: one green symbolizing pure luck, one mixed with dates symbolizing a booming posterity and one mixed with honey symbolizing sweet love.