Historic Longgang, happy haunt of the Hakka

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 March, 2005, 12:00am

A visit to homes that look like forts and castles becomes extra memorable on a misty, atmospheric day in spring

Longgang district, in Shenzhen, is a lot more than beautiful beaches and seaside fare. In sharp contrast to the glitz and glitter associated with China's newest city, Longgang is a treasure trove of the venerable, the ancient and the edifying.

Early spring is an especially atmospheric time to go around viewing Longgang's historical and cultural features. Fog, dark skies and rain pattering on cobblestone streets give the scene an extraordinary air of ancient realism.

The easiest point of cultural interest to reach is the Longgang Hakka Custom Museum . The venue should be of special interest to anyone interested in Hakka culture or mid-Qing dynasty (1644-1911) architecture.

The Hakka were a nomadic people who settled widely around southern China and Taiwan, and their architecture is unique to their way of life. They built courtyard homes within an exterior wall that virtually transformed the premises into a large fort (or castle), complete with vertical arrow slits in the walls. The Hakka people of olden times were subject to persecution, but they made sure they lived in safe, well-fortified homes. Inside each enclosure, you will find a large number of old Hakka residences.

It is a quiet museum on most days. Once you pass the ticket booth, you are largely on your own and free to stroll around the grounds and explore the inside of the residences, many of which appear to have been left in their natural state. Those interested in antiques will be pleased to find the homes filled with Qing-era furniture and tools. Feel free to take photographs, but please do not touch.

There is something about the place that gives the visitor the curious, almost eerie, sensation that the spirits of the original inhabitants have just gone out for a shopping trip and will be back any moment.

Far more of a living museum is the Dapeng Ancient City which is about 80 minutes from Lowu by taxi. But in the grand chronological scheme of things, it is much further away - 600 years, give or take a few decades.

The well-preserved walled town dates back to the Ming dynasty, and covers more than 100,000 square metres. It was originally built as part of a fort designed to defend the coast against the marauding pirates who made life exciting - and often short - for the peaceable, law-abiding coastal dwellers and seafarers of the Ming dynasty.

The town contains homes, temples, shops and courtyards that look much the way they did when they were built over the course of the Ming (AD 1368-1644) and Qing dynasties. The city is still surrounded by an ancient stone wall, and is entered through a series of gates built at the cardinal points.

In some ways much like the rapidly disappearing hutong neighbourhoods of Beijing, Dapeng is very much alive. For the most part the residences are occupied and the shops still in business, and people still worship at the temples. Old though it is, Dapeng does have its power lines, plumbing fixtures and the occasional television antennae.

Dapeng city is a few kilometres - and centuries ahead of - the ancient city of the same name, and does not offer much in the way of ancient Chinese culture. However, there is a sense of the past when you take a short walk west and come to Guanyin Mountain , which overlooks the town. On the mountain sits a lovely temple complex dedicated to the goddess Guanyin. The complex contains several shrines, a statue of the goddess, and a two-storey temple where visitors are invited to pray, enjoy Buddhist artwork or have their fortunes told in Putonghua by the resident soothsayer.

Dapeng can be a day trip, and because it is so close to the lovely seaside resort town of Nanao , it would be a shame to miss the amazingly fresh seafood there, either in the town or at the famous Seafood Street (about halfway between Dapeng and Nanao).

The seafood is freshly caught, and a full meal costs about a third of what a comparable spread would be in Aberdeen or Lamma. The accommodation here may not be Shangri-La star quality but it is more than acceptable. At the Nantiange Haiyu Hotel (0755 8440 0555), you can get a room with a view of the junk-filled harbour ('junk' as in boats, not trash) that would cost about 400 yuan.

Nanao is also home to a well-known market that sells dried seafood. The prices are so reasonable that you will insist on bringing home face-saving gifts for friends, family and co-workers. And if the weather turns hot, you can head off to any of the numerous beaches close to Nanao.

Getting there

While public buses run to Dapeng city through Longgang city , the going can get slow. If you plan to see the cultural sites of Longgang as part of a weekend trip, your best bet is to take a taxi to the Hakka Custom Museum in Longgang city (for about 100 yuan), and then take another taxi to Dapeng Ancient City (for an additional 100 yuan).

From Dapeng city, bus number 360 runs past Seafood Street and into Nanao in less than 15 minutes. When it is time to head back, your hotel will help you with arrangements.

Useful numbers

Shenzhen Tourism Bureau

86 755 8200 3200

Macau Ferry Terminal

2547 5265

China Ferry Terminal Tsim Sha Tsui 2859 3333 or

2858 3876

Kowloon-Canton Railway 2688 1333

Four Seas Travel

2200 7848