The Cangdong Project is an ongoing Conservation and Education Project. It aims to support both the tangible and the intangible heritage of Cangdong village and to promote knowledge, understanding and appreciation of the local village ways of life and their context, the wider Wu Yi/Sze Yap culture, as well as the Overseas Chinese. Buildings are being repaired, renovated and revitalized in ways that are authentic and sensitive to their heritage. Conservation strategies are being implemented that aim to sustain the vernacular lifestyles and to support the communities that evolved from a unique set of circumstances.
A key element has been the establishment of the Cangdong Heritage Education Center. This Center enables people, to explore and experience the indigenous village ways of life in its many aspects and to learn about culture and heritage conservation. It carries out research and provides information on the history of the area, its inhabitants and their traditions, as well as those who have emigrated and the reasons for the emigration. We aim to serve those who are new to the subject, those who are enthusiastic to know more, experts and all those who are passionate about cultural heritage conservation and sustainable development, providing a worked example worthy of study.
With the progress of the Project, we hope that some heritage traditions that are frail and might otherwise be lost can be preserved and revitalized; we hope to build up the villagers' pride in their heritage and that the villagers themselves would participate in conservation activities actively, to share with visitors their cultural experience and lifestyle; we also hope to provide villagers job opportunities, so that the village can develop in a more sustainable way and we hope that others, particularly Overseas Chinese, may understand their heritage more fully.
This Project is based at the restored Clan houses in Cangdong Village in Kaiping (Hoi-Ping). Kaiping is one of the four, or more recently five, counties (Wu Yi/Sze Yap (五邑 /四邑) in western Guangdong that have traditionally been closely associated with each other culturally and from which many Chinese emigrated. It has gathered an enthusiastic group concerned particularly with Wu Yi/Sze Yap (五邑 /四邑) culture and with cultural heritage, conservation and an appreciation of the issues involved. We find that students who come first just to visit and see, keep on coming back and get more involved in the Project and share their experience with new students. The Project is set in the beautiful and historic village of Cangdong with its old school houses, ancestral halls and a Diaolou (fortified watchtower) surrounded by rice paddy and vegetable farming.
Nearby are other Diaolou villages including the National Cultural Heritage sites at the Li Yuan (Li Garden) complex and the UNESCO World Heritage sites at Zili village, the Fang Clan Watchtower, Ma Jiang Long village cluster, San Men Li village and Jin Jiang Li village. Also nearby is the historic Chikan town, where many award winning movies, including "The Grandmaster", one of the Yip Man movie series starring Tony Leung (Chiu Wai) and "Let the Bullets Fly" starring Chow Yun-fat, have been filmed. Both these stars are, incidentally, Sze Yap people.
The Project is led by an expert in architectural conservation and on Sze Yap history, Dr Selia Tan who is based in Kaiping, Mr Rocky H. Dang who assists with the logistics, and a small dedicated team. With the support of indigenous villagers and the local government, the village has all the elements of an ancient community. Together with local Sze Yap inhabitants, we set out to welcome students and visitors, both from overseas and locally. Our enthusiastic and knowledgeable team will help you to understand and appreciate the Diaolou, the history of the Overseas Chinese, and the unique circumstances that led to this most special lifestyle, with both overseas and local aspects. As well, you will have a chance to experience in an interactive way, the village life and to enjoy the landscape and scenery of the villages. This can be done in many ways such as through lectures, or group work, sharing, cycling, site visiting and meeting local villagers, visiting local markets, farming and cooking, hands on experience of arts and crafts with local experts and so on, or even just sitting under the village banyan tree. Volunteers and students contribute to the Project in a variety of ways.
We provide displays, education and workshops, encouraging students and young people to be involved with the work of the Project and in promoting its aims, and in mixing with locals and each other to promote mutual understanding. We are involved in restoration and rehabilitation of local culture and heritage. We carry out research and put into practice a combination of experimental projects, identifying heritage values, community involvement, helping to understand what you see and giving presentations about preservation of both the tangible and intangible cultural heritage and traditions.
We believe that conservation is itself a kind of development. It is not so much about retaining the past and resisting change, as about managing the pace and direction of change in our built environment. One of the purposes of conservation is to understand, and to help others to understand, the place in which we grew up or which we have learned to love and respect. It is not just to conserve the beautiful historical buildings, but also to enhance the pride and self-identity of local people, the practice and presentation of their life style.
The first phase of the Project was to complete rehabilitation works for the Clan houses accommodating the schools (the one being an ancestral hall commemorating Xie Houcheng and the other Xie Bingwen ). These were completed in 2012 and were greatly facilitated by the generosity of Mr Xie Tien Yau, who is of the third generation since the Clan house schools were built. The second phase of the repair works, including the Community House and four privately held historic "Lu" or mansions is underway. This phase is again being carried out under the leadership of Dr Selia Tan and Rocky H Dang.
The rehabilitation works follow sound conservation principles. They respect the authenticity and integrity of the original building. They comply with the ideal of minimum interference protection criteria, thereby maximizing the retention of the original style and using traditional materials and processes. There is strict compliance with the principle of reversibility, ensuring work does not destroy the original building structure. Wherever possible genuine old furniture and materials are used, recreating the atmosphere of the period.
The retention of original architectural features provides a basis for education, meetings, cultural events and other functions. Where possible, villagers and former villagers offer personally guided tours giving personal anecdotes and authentic cultural experiences for students and young people. This facilitates the revitalisation of historic buildings and preservation of traditional culture and skills all with a goal of sustainability providing a win-win situation for all concerned. Village inhabitants are employed to help with the Project.
--to preserve and revitalize local traditional cultures and facilitate re-use of historical buildings
--to achieve a continuity of local culture through visitors' participation and experience
--to engender a sense of pride, understanding and belonging
--to attract Overseas students, and visitors from around the world
--to provide a bridge and communications between neighboring villages and students
--to build up links between China and overseas-born Chinese
--to establish a pilot project for cultural heritage conservation and development in China
--to provide a platform for both local and overseas students to interact, to understand the culture of South China and to share cultural exchange.
The Project is based in Cangdong village in the Tangkou Township of Kaiping. Our experts help visitors to understand and appreciate the Diaolou and the unique circumstances that led to this most special lifestyle. As well, visitors have a chance to experience, in an interactive way, village life and to enjoy the landscape and scenery of these villages which exhibit the traditional forms of southern Chinese culture.
To achieve these goals, the first objective of the Project is to establish and maintain facilities in Cangdong village for the education base. Some of the historic buildings have been slightly modified to suit modern needs and provide simple accommodation, while respecting the various elements of the ancestral hall. Students and visitors can come to Cangdong Diaolou village and live there a while, learning through interactive experience about local life and Overseas Chinese lifestyle, and about protection of the environment and the cultural heritage. This helps them develop skills and appreciate an overseas hometown feeling; it also helps in giving an understanding of the importance of heritage conservation. Simple overnight accommodation can also provided in nearby Tangkou where a hostel facility supporting the Project has been fitted out.
。 familiarisation with Cangdong village and nearby sites of particular interest
。 visiting and understanding UNESCO World Heritage Sites including Kaiping Diaolou and villages, and sites of interest such as the old town at Chikan and Li Garden
。 finding out more about the neighbouring counties of Taishan, Xinhui and Enping, as well as Jiangmen and sites relevant to the Sze Yap (Four Counties), and its landscape
。 participation and involvement in Kaiping local heritage conservation practice.
。 meeting other local and overseas students, sharing their experiences, and culture exchange, helping them also to experience and appreciate local southern Chinese lifestyles.
。 interaction with local daily life and villagers
。 tours with an environmental awareness
。 visiting and learning about nearby sites of historical and other interests, exhibitions
。 understanding and appreciation of the local arts and crafts, scenery and food
。 cycling along Guangdong Greenway and interacting with local farms.
。 lectures (for instance, on architecture, world heritage, conservation, preservation, Overseas Chinese history, Diaolou background), sharing and review
。 bonfires, team building, outdoor skills
。 programs may be in Chinese, English or a mixture of these and other languages to suit.
During the late Qing Dynasty, the population of Cangdong village increased. In 1905 some returnee Overseas Chinese from North America moved out of Cangdong and set up a new village called Dong Ming Village nearby. During the 1930s Cangdong Village thrived. At that time some overseas Chinese came back to the village with remittances and invested in their hometown. Ancestral halls and schools were built during this period. It was the most glorious era of Cang Dong Village. At the same time, the family of Xie Yue You built their own village named Geng Hua Village and the private Li Yuan Garden, just to the east of Dong Ming Village. After the 1940s war, up to the 1970s the population increased to a peak of more than 300 people. However, the population decreased after Deng Xiaoping's opening-up policy (since 1978), and again there was a migration of some villagers overseas, while others moved out to cities in China.
The diverse architectural styles in Cangdong Village and Dong Ming Village are witness to the historical development of the Xie Clan. The public architecture of Cangdong Village, such as the old well, the temple, the ancestral halls and the community house, record the beliefs and wishes of the villagers. The architectural transformation from the three-bay, two-corridor traditional style to the reinforced concrete structures reflect the wisdom of villagers when they responded to the changes of natural and social environments.
The sequence of building and the series of investments made (relating to Cangdong Village, to Dong Ming Village and to the Li Yuan Garden) record the evolutional history of the hometown society of these Overseas Chinese. In Cangdong, the diversity of style and size of the buildings, and the winding lanes of the village are witness to its long history. By comparison, the ordered village planning of Dong Ming Village and the unique architectural styles speak volumes about the influence of the Overseas Chinese thinking on hometown development. Other Xie villages such as Genghua Village and the Li Yuan Garden are masterpieces of architectural style in the Republican Period.
Kaiping (Hoi-Ping) is the name of a City and of a County located in the Pearl river Delta. The city is about 140 kilometres SW from Guangzhou. It is easily accessed from Hong Kong in just over four hours by coach, or from Macau in about two hours by coach. Kaiping is one of the original four neighbouring counties that formed a region known as the Sze Yap. This translates to "Four Counties". The other counties are Taishan, Xinhui and Enping. In these four counties a local dialect (Taishan) is widely spoken. Later, a fifth county, Heshan, was included in this grouping and the grouping became known as Wu Yi ("Five Counties"), though little Taishanese is spoken in Heshan. The five counties are part of the Jiangmen Administrative Prefecture.
From the mid 1800s many Chinese emigrated from the Sze Yap region to escape harsh conditions at home, seeking work and prosperity overseas. Many of the migrants departed through Hong Kong. The early migrants went mostly to North America, following the Gold Rush (1849 on) and the pioneering railway work. Later, increasingly, emigrants went to Australia (again searching for gold) and Southeast Asia (mostly for trading opportunities and tin mining). Others settled in Hong Kong and Macau. Those living overseas now are typically of the third or fourth generation since the original emigration. The Sze Yap currently has some 3 million inhabitants, but it is the ancestral homeland of what has become some 4 million Sze Yap Chinese now living overseas.
Sze Yap communities have retained their culture in many of the places where they have settled, including, for example, setting up Clan associations, Chambers of Commerce, schools and libraries in many overseas Chinatowns.
Due to massive emigration from the area, almost every Sze Yap family has relatives overseas.
At the beginning of the 20th century with the fall of the Qing dynasty, there was a period of some lawlessness in Guangdong with the rise of local power-brokers and a prevalence of opportunist bandits. It was a time, too, of some natural calamity and flooding. Many of the Chinese overseas had accumulated substantial wealth but had retained a concern for their home villages. Some saw that by building large defensive structures at their village, they could help those who still lived there. To do this, a few returned to live, and some visited long enough to establish the buildings before returning overseas, and some just sent money back--as this was as much as they could do. The latter never made it back, but left their wives and families to guard the grand buildings, even until today. These fortified multi-storey towers were known as "Diaolou.".
The emigrants retained a concern, as well, perhaps, as a competitive element, to care for their home families. Upon seeing the example of how prosperous and caring neighbours had become, and how well they were providing for the home family, an emigrant often felt the same desire to provide at least as well for his own family. Indeed, in many cases perhaps there was a feeling of providing for their own return, even though in most cases they never did return (although quite a few were returned after their death due to the desire to be buried at their home village).
Because the Overseas Chinese experienced the Western world, both they and the villagers wanted to include some Western features in the Diaolou built with overseas remittances. Along with the Diaolou's historic significance, the unique fusion of Chinese and Western architecture was a major factor in UNESCO's decision to confer World Heritage Site designation upon the structures. The basic structure is reinforced concrete with thick walls and minimal windows at the bottom, and two storeys and more exotic decoration for the upper storeys. Baroque, Roman and Gothic and other more imaginative styles can be found in their decoration. In some cases, local builders worked from images on postcards that were sent from abroad, creating unique designs.
The concept of Diaolou was ancient, with the first built perhaps in the 14th century, but with the special conditions prevailing at the early twentieth century. Altogether over 3,000 such Diaolous were built, with construction reaching a peak in the 1920s and 1930s. Some 1,800 of these are still standing. Many are elaborate and beautiful, with exotic architecture, fine local arts and craftsmanship, and detailed paintings describing travel and overseas utopias. Recognising the unique splendour of these Diaolou and the special social conditions in the area, some Diaolou and the surrounding villages in Kaiping were inscribed on the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list on June. 28, 2007.