Haikou Qi-Lou: the Awakened Nanyang Memory
   2013-12-13 15:13:23    CRIENGLISH.com      Web Editor: Luo Chun

Qi-Lou [Photo: CRIENGLISH.com]

Qi-Lou, one type of the veranda style building, is derived from rainy, yet torrid, southern Europe. After the Middle Ages, as the outward expansion from Europe, the veranda form of buildings was spread to places with similar climate. You see this type of building around Southeast Asia. In the early 20th century, Chinese people who once resided in Europe brought this style of architecture back to their mother country. Having first been introduced to the country in Haikou, the treasures of the Eight Immortals were carved into the visage of the Haikou Qi-Lou. Adding this to the building's Islamic-style grass pattern and Romanesque columns, Haikou Qi-Lou is a comprehensive mixture of world culture.

"Look at this Qi-Lou, do you know what is the best thing about it?" asks Liu Tao, chief engineer taking charge of Qi-Lou's renovation; he has great reverence for the visual beauty of Qi-Lou. "There is a parapet, the building itself looks like a man's body; and the pillar is just like legs. It is perfectly ergonomic, with the ratio of 0.618 -- exactly the same as a human being." Now in Haikou, the renovation is only partially completed. Spanning five old Qi-Lou streets, the status of these structures varies quite a lot. However, it will not hinder us exploring the story behind these old streets.

First Stop -- Zhongshan Road Tianhou Palace

Whether fishermen are fishing or merchants are selling merchandise, for ages, all the connection between Hainan Island and the outside world has depended on crossing straits, battling typhoons and even confronting any and all aquatic peril. Therefore, Mazu Temple, where people come to pray for the safety and fortune of their families, has enjoyed an age-old history. Wu Heping, chief administrator of the Zhongshan Road Tianhou Palace, told us that, originally, Mazu Temple was located at Baisha Gate. Seven or eight hundred years ago, there was a typhoon that blew the beam column of the temple into the sea. It drifted in the water and stopped by Changdi Road in Haikou. Folks here believed this was a message from God; thus, they built a temple here. A Fengshui master was invited to check this site and a temple was then constructed. It is said that, since then, no matter how strong a typhoon Haikou experienced, not even a drop of water has entered Tianhou Palace.

Second Stop -- Zhongshan Road Yuda Firm

After almost half a century since Haikou had been established as a trading port, the commercial scale there began growing, sometime around the early 20th century. The Yuda Firm arrived in Haikou in the Summer of 1942. Its owner, cloth industry tycoon Wang Xianshu, set up shop in one of the city's Qi-Lou. Its snow-white walls and exterior exuded a very foreign-fashioned look. However, what attracted attention from the outside world is what was sold at the Qi-Lou -- cloth that attracted the attention of fashion-conscious Chinese from Guangzhou, Shanghai and Nanyang.

Due to its widening supply channel, robust selection and synchronous fashion sense in step with Shanghai and Nanyang, Yuda won a favorable reputation and business bloomed.

In the 1930s, with a growing number of overseas Chinese people coming back to Hainan, the conservative dressing style was changed by the colored Cheongsam brought back by people from Nanyang. It is not hard to imagine that many of the city's women became regular customers of the Yuda Firm. After all, it was the women in the Wang family that were well-known for their great sense of fashion. Trends that took hold in places like Shanghai and Nanyang at the time could first be spotted being worn on the Wang women.

Third Stop -- Xinhua North Road "Charcoal Drawing Family"

Charcoal drawing is an ancient folk art. Thanks to its magnificent three-dimensional effect and its excellent preservation, the drawing creates a photo-realistic image. Before photography became widespread, people from many places, including Hainan, used charcoal drawings to produce obituary photos.

Han Cuiqiong, nearly 60, is an inheritor of this art. When she was eight years old, her father, Han Guanping, had opened a charcoal drawing shop. He had been invested in his career until he died at 82. At that time, her father created his drawings near a Qi-Lou. People on the street would often stop by to watch him draw -- then the business turned to Han Cuiqiong. After graduating from high school, she started living on charcoal drawings. Now, her son, Ye Baolong, continues this career, creating a brand along with his mother, called "Charcoal Drawing Family".

"Looking how people made lots of money by selling clothing or shoes, I indeed considered doing something else, something different, but I just can't let it go. For decades, my dad has been drawing. I am drawing now." HanCuiqiong has a simple, but persistent notion regarding charcoal drawing -- she just cannot give up. "So I keep drawing and hire myself out to make a living. I want to inherit it. Now, I'm developing some new styles and methods with my son. Frankly, anything from landscapes to people could be drawn vividly in charcoal." A few months later, a new "Charcoal Drawing Family" store will be launched on Zhong Shan Road. If you are planning to go to Haikou, consider picking up a charcoal drawing as a souvenir.

Fourth Stop -- Bo Ai North Road "Hainan Publishing House"

Several years ago, an old gentleman, Mr. Tang, turned to a history professor, Zhang Jixing, hoping to learn about the "Hainan Publishing House," which was originally founded by his father, Tang Pinsan. During the age of the Republic of China, there were many developed printing industries all over the country. How did the publishing house in Hainan compare to that in major cities?

Professor Zhang told Mr. Tang that, because the Hainan Publishing House was a joint stock system enterprise, his father, Tang Pinsan, was actually a professional executive. After 1930s, Haikou entered a period of development. The construction of railways and ports spurred the publishing of various official periodicals; the Haikou General Chamber of Commerce even had its own monthly magazine.

"Hainan Publishing House first published quite a lot of official publications," professor Zhang said. "It also printed business cards, which were very helpful and useful at that time. Once there was a famous writer, one day he had to meet a village head, one business card helped him prove he was actually himself. That card was printed in Hainan Publishing House."

Now, the facade of the house has changed into Bo Ai Travel Agency. Nobody could quantify just how many books were printed here.

There is a saying that yellow leaves in memory are always more gorgeous than green leaves in memory. Qi-Lou buildings are like a yellow leaf in the memory of Haikou. The history of this city is the sunshine. When it is shining, this yellow leaf radiates its golden glare. "We always care about places we once lived in, and wishing to see the future through this historical comparison. The Qi-Lou itself not only carries our past history, it also influences the city's future," said professor Zhang.

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