Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 January, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 January, 2011, 12:00am

Not far from Macau, and most easily accessible from that city, Zhongshan has only borne that name since the 1920s. For centuries, both the town and the surrounding district were known as Heungshan. It was renamed in honour of Sun Yat-sen, the so-called 'founder of modern China', who was commonly known by the alias Sun Zhongshan after his death, in 1925.

Sun was born in the nearby village of Cuiheng but lived most of his life overseas, first in Honolulu, Hawaii, and then in Hong Kong, where he studied at what would become Queen's College and then at the Hong Kong College of Medicine. The College of Medicine became the Faculty of Medicine at Hong Kong University, when it opened in 1912. HKU tends to claim Sun as a distinguished alumnus but he wasn't anything of the kind.

Other than the many landmarks with links to Sun, Zhongshan's most noted historical site is the Fufeng Pagoda, a seven-storey structure built in 1608. Of course, there is a pavilion dedicated to Sun close by.

Shek Ki, the nearest large town to Zhongshan, merits a footnote in modern Chinese history as the place where the Shek Ki Accords were signed, in 1952. This agreement followed skirmishes on the Macau frontier between Chinese and Portuguese African troops. Soldiers on both sides were killed and wounded in tense exchanges of gunfire.

Negotiations on Macau's behalf (which were mostly to the mainland's benefit) were led by a coterie of local business figures - Chinese General Chamber of Commerce chairman Ho Yin (father of Macau's first chief executive, Edmund Ho Hau-wah), construction magnate Chui Tak-kei (uncle of current chief executive Fernando Chui Sai-on), prominent industrialist Ma Man-kei and renowned Timor-born entrepreneur and philanthropist P.J. Lobo. Political power and economic influence is even more starkly hereditary in Macau than in Hong Kong.

Sunwen Road West, in the old part of Zhongshan, is a pedestrianised precinct lined with attractively renovated interwar shop-houses. Many were built with repatriated Australian-Chinese capital; numerous early Chinese sojourners to Australia hailed from villages around Zhongshan.

Several other towns around the Pearl River Delta, such as Jiangmen, do pedestrianisation very well and shrewdly realise the economic benefits that accrue from sizeable car-free zones.

How forward thinking, progressive and unlike contemporary Hong Kong, where Lan Kwai Fong and the so-called SoHo's traffic-clogged alleyways pass for appealing evening ambiance.