My dad came from Chaozhou, and specifically in the Chaozhou Old Town （府城内）. It has been my wish to go back there to seek my roots and walk in his footsteps. I finally managed to do it.
The old town borders Golden Mountain in the north, Han River Bridge in the south, Han River on the east and West Lake on the west. There used to be a wall surrounding the entire city as its borders, now only the East Wall along the River Han remains.
“The old town of Chaozhou is equivalent to Kyoto – there’s a relic at every turn.”
GuangJi Gate Tower 廣濟門城樓
The city walls were demolished and rebuilt (due to war and floods) over time, and over 4 gates remained. Guangji is the main gate and used to be called East Gate (as it is on the East side of the Han River).
Guangji Gate, also called East Gate, was one of the seven major entrances into the ancien town of Chaozhou. Built in 1370 using mainly wooden structure, this was rebuilt in 1931 using by the Nationalist government of the time using concrete and steel. In 2004, the whole gate was rebuilt with the current tower according to Qing dynasty construction plans.
Every level of the tower were precious calligraphy left by the best calligraphers of the time. Especially on Level 2, the main plaque was written by one of the most prominent Chinese scholar of modern time hailing from Chaozhou, Mr Rao Zong Yi, whose calligraphy was also adorning the signboard of the Hong Kong Chiuchow Chamber of Commerce.
ShangShui Gate 上水門
Literally meaning “Upper Water Gate”, this one is left side of Guangji Gate (the main gate of the Han River side of the city. There’s a “Lower Water Gate” on the right side of GuangJi Gate.
ZhuMu (Bamboo) Gate 竹木門
The Bamboo Gate was named after the many bamboo and wood vendors that used to display their wares along the street leading to the gate.
Street of Memorial Arches 牌坊街
During the Ming and Qing dynastics, many memorial arches were built in Chaozhou to commemorate the deeds of locals. Along Taiping Road, there were 39, many of which were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. In 2006, 22 of these were rebuilt. Because of this reason, Taiping Road is nicknamed Arches Street 牌坊街.
Every arch is a story on its own – it tells the tale of an historical figure from different periods. When you put them together, you get the history of Chaozhou. And the inscriptions on these arches are works of fine literature, architecture beauty and excellent calligraphy, 3-in-1.
There’s arch that belongs to the only Imperial Top Scholar, i.e. the top scholar in the lands in Imperial China, from Chaozhou. Lin Daqin 林大欽 was the top scholar from Ming Dynasty 明 • 嘉靖 • 壬辰科狀元 (1531). Little was known about him except one very famous couplet that he wrote.
— 林大欽 （明 • 嘉靖 • 壬辰科狀元）
By night the street transformed itself into a beautiful LED-lit street. This is all part of the massive conservation work done in 2012 for the neighbour that included the Guangji Gate, Guangji Bridge and Bijia Mountain.
It was a quiet Autumn night, so most of the shops were closed. But beneath this stillness was the majestic beauty of this street.
Many shops retained their rustic charm, like this shop selling quilts and pillows – on its walls are posters from early 60s. Time stood still in these shops. Many shops sell their local homemade specialties like snacks and preserves. However entrepreneurial spirit of the Teochew are evident with modern cafes and bed and breakfast popping up to cater to the tourist trade.
A famous old shop specialising in snacks is called Hu Rong Quan 胡榮泉. Dough rolls on the brownish red kneeding board with rolling pins pattering. Out of frying pans and ovens come batches of pastries and cakes, all bearing the red seal of “Hurongquan”. Their specialty, however, is Yamunian 鴨拇捻 (in SIngapore we called them ah bo ling), a snack the name of which does not give any clue as to what it actually is. It is made of glutinous rice dumpling with four types of filling – black soya bean paste, mung bean paste, taro paste and mashed white gourd. And you can tell which kind of filling by the shape of the dumpling. After boiling in sugar soup, four dumplings, each with a different filling, are put into a bowl together with sugar soup. Some add Chinese dates, lilies, gingkoes, lotus seeds and other nuts to the soup to make it more delicious.
There are many ancient wells around this ancient city. There’s one that has been around since the founding of the Phoenix City 鳳城（潮州府舊稱）called the East Street Main Well. This well is still active, with locals still retrieving water for their own use. In the past, besides drinking water, this was also the “fire hydrant” and “warning system”of the city. It was said if the well water turned black, there would be a fire somewhere. Modern day explanation was that during winter, the water level was lower and the mud from the bottom mixed with water to give it the murky appearance, and winter is typically the driest months of the year and prone to fire hazards.
GuangJi Bridge 廣濟橋
Guangji Bridge, also known as Xiangzi Bridge, is an ancient bridge that crosses the Han River. A key cultural relic under national protection, the bridge is renowned as one of China’s four famous ancient bridges, the other three being Zhaozhou Bridge, Lugou Bridge, and Luoyang Bridge.
灯具方面，为了实现完美的广济桥光影秀效果，设计师对于灯光色彩提出了非常高的要求。又因为要控制桥上 1 万多套灯具的变化，以及将山体的灯光统一进行控制，这给联动控制体统也带来了巨大的挑战。另外，笔架山上的灯光除了色温可变之外，还要能显示出文字的变化，这也是 新的尝试。
The bridge is illuminated at night and has nightly lights and sound show, although the sound part can only be heard near the Guangji Tower. Walk closer to Shanghai Gate 上水門 where the hotel is, you can enjoy the full view of the bridge. Or you can go to the top of the hotel if you are staying there to look at the bridge from that height.
MuMian (Kapok) Mansion 木棉公館
And to stay in the old town, there are many choices right inside the walls. There are the modern hotels, but why stay there when you can choose a refurbished Republic era mansion.
Mumian Mansion is one of the few remaining 4-storey colonial style mansion built during the Nationalist Republic era (early 20th century). This original mansion was built by French architects renovated for modern comforts. It is located right behind Shanghai Gate. With 16 rooms, it is very popular and often booked out.
Classic decor 民國裝潢
MuMian (Kapok) Mansion 木棉公馆
China, Chaozhou, 牌坊街上东平路2号 邮政编码: 521000
Tel : +86 768 223 8593
Private Dining Restaurant Next Door 隔壁的私房菜
Right next door to Mumian Mansion is a very good Teochew haute cuisine restaurant. Behind the nondescript entrance serves one of the best Teochew cuisine in Chaozhou. I had dinner and it was delicious, especially the raw marinated drunken crab. Here’s the review.
Chef Zheng’s Private Dining 鄭廚私房菜
Tel : 0768-3991310