Songling Snow Village: A Living Traditional Chinese Painting

2020-11-27 14:28:00 Source:China Today Author:REN ZHAOXIA
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A winter view of the houses in Songling Snow Village evenly distributed throughout a valley with patches of dark pine forests and wood fences looks like a traditional Chinese ink painting.

TUCKED away in the depths of a mountain gorge in China’s northeastern region lies a quaint picturesque village called Songling Snow Village. Different from other villages in Northeast China that have developed ice and snow tourism, Songling Snow Village has maintained its original environment with a much less commercial flavor. For those who desire to have the authentic experience of life in Northeast China, Songling Snow Village is an ideal place.

A Hidden Natural and Cultural Paradise

Songling Snow Village, consisting of two communities, Gangdingtun and Songlingtun, is located in the Greater Hinggan Range forest area in the northwest of Linjiang City, Jilin Province.

Songling Snow Village covers an area of 11 square kilometers and is surrounded by alpine mountains situated between 900-1,100 meters above sea level. Winter months are very long with snow covering the ground five months of the year, and some areas have patches of unmelted snow all year round. In addition to traveling to the village via private vehicles, visitors can also enjoy a ride on the older, slow green colored train.

Standing on the station platform, the ground all around is covered in a thick layer of snow. The silence is suddenly broken by the tooting whistle of a train slowly emerging from a mountain tunnel. The train comes by the station once a day, so whoever wants to travel elsewhere should ensure being at the station before the train arrives. People carrying bags of varying sizes hurriedly board and disembark from the train. After a few minutes, the train whistle rings again, and off it goes on its journey, slowly disappearing in the distance. To a visitor, experiencing this is akin to being transported back to the early 20th century.

The unique natural scenery of Songling is outstanding. Situated between two mountains, it has maintained a pristine ecosystem. Each season here is distinct, displaying beautiful pear blossoms in the spring, various wild delicacies in the summer, fiery red colors from maple trees in the autumn, and glistening blankets of snow in the winter. Gorgeous colors of plum and pear tree blossoms compete with each other in beauty, while local farmers carry their hoes and pull their sleighs along the road that is surrounded with wild flowers. All the while, a family dog keeps pace behind its owner. This is one of mother nature’s living paintings of spring.

Sitting deep in the mountains, Songling Snow Village gets much snowfall during winter months, often ending up covered in waist-high snow. Houses are evenly arranged behind and on top of the mountain peak creating even lines that stretch through the white snow, together with the surrounding walls and distant forests creating a scene similar to a traditional Chinese painting. Then there are the plumes of smoke rising out of smoke stacks of homes that is contrasted by the red lanterns hung at the front door, giving the village quite a lively spirit.

The exotic beauty of the village attracts many photographers and artists during the months between December and February. On December 25, 2012, the China Photography Society set up a photography base in the village and held an opening ceremony to reveal its official name “China Snow Village of Songling.” In the past, the village was unknown to many people, but is now beginning to gradually gain popularity.

The breathtaking scenery is not isolated to Songling Snow Village. About 10 kilometers southwest of the village is the Laotudingzi Mountain which reaches an altitude of 1,420 meters. The mountain range is home to dense forests with very few inhabitants. As the airflow from the Yalu River combines with that of the Laoling Mountains, the landscape becomes host to stunning scenes of heavy misty fog enshrouding the mountains, and a sea of clouds surrounding meadows on mountain peaks.

Unique Regional Culture

Most of the 125 families who reside in the village are decedents of Chinese who migrated from Shandong during the early 19th century and a batch of railroad workers who survived the building of the railroad during the Japanese invasion of China. As a result, this village has also been called “Shandong Village.”

In order to reach Northeast China from the central plains, everyone must pass through the Shanhai Pass in Hebei Province. As a result, the region of Northeast China has been called “the region east of the Shanhai Pass.” The people living south of the Shanhai Pass area are called “Shanhai Pass insiders,” and those who travel beyond the pass to seek better livelihood are called “People who broke through the Shanhai Pass.” This latter expression also refers to the people who migrated from the central plains during late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and the Republic of China (1912-1949).

During the late 19th century and early 20th century, much flooding occurred in the region of the lower reaches of the Yellow River for several consecutive years, and with the additional social unrest caused by wars, the people living in Shandong and Henan provinces “broke through” the pass on their way to northeast China, becoming one of the largest movements of people in Chinese history.

As for the local conditions north of the pass, the region is vast and the soil fertile, but sparsely populated. Most of the people living there at the time were roaming herdsman who were not good at tilling the ground. As the people from Shandong Province arrived, they introduced their farming lifestyle to the region. They cultivated vast amounts of wasteland and turned northeast China from a region which theretofore lacked grain into a granary.

At the same time, the large migration of people from Shandong also promoted the merging of culture of the central plains, particularly that of Shandong — cradle of Confucianism, and the original culture of northeast China of fishing, hunting, and nomadic animal herding. This, together with the influence of foreign cultures of neighboring Russia and Japan, have formed the unique modern culture of northeast China.

After Japan invaded China in 1931, it occupied Northeast China for the following 14 years. During that time, people south of the Shanhai Pass traveled much less to that region. In order to plunder the minerals and timber resources in the Changbai Mountains, Japan recruited large numbers of workers from Shandong to build a railroad. It was later completed and called Yada Railroad in 1940. When the War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression came to an end, the surviving railroad laborers from Shandong joined other emigrants from the province and settled down in the Songling region.

The architectural design of the houses in Songling Snow Village has maintained the traditional look of the villages east of Shanhai Pass.

Life in the Snow Village

Today, the people of Songling Snow Village still retain aspects of Shandong culture, including an industrious and hospitable spirit. Architectural designs of the houses also resemble the traditional designs of houses in Shandong, featuring single unit houses with courtyards. Dietary preferences also bear similarity with those of Shandong.

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, this region became the ideal shooting location for many movies. Today near the local parking lot, visitors can read up on the various movies that have been filmed there. In 2014, China Snow Village — Songlingtun Village, Huashan Town was jointly built by seven government agencies, including the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development and National Tourism Administration, listing it among the Third Batch of Traditional Chinese Villages.

Local farmers can still be seen plowing their fields with oxen or riding carts pulled by oxen, the method of farming from a century ago. People here still rely on farming to make their living, and corns can be seen hanging on the doors of each home.

Locals grow crops in the field, collect wild greens in the mountains, and plant medicinal herbs. Of the various wild edible delicacies found in the mountains, the main items that bring revenue for local farmers include mushrooms, fiddlehead, pine nuts, hazelnuts, edible fungus, and mountain hemlock.

Today, the beautiful scenery, simple village life, and rural environment attract many tourists, providing an unparalleled development opportunity for the Songling region. More than half the visitors who come to see this village stay overnight to see the red lanterns as they cast their pale colors on the white snow-covered ground at night and view extraordinarily vibrant sunrises and sunsets over the village.

Visitors enjoy experiencing the traditional farm life, including sitting on heated brick beds and eating steaming dishes of food stewed in clay pots and corn porridge.

The number of local bed and breakfasts has grown from just a few to about 70, which provides locals with an extra source of income. All room prices are regulated. Room and board for one day per person ranges between RMB 120 and RMB 200.

In addition to all this, several artists have also moved into the area. Over the past two years, dozens of photography studios, art salons, and traditional Chinese medicine wormwood bases have opened in the village. Several Jilin Province intangible cultural heritage successors have also settled down locally, using the traditional country village environment as inspiration for their photography, Chinese ink paintings, calligraphy, oil paintings, stone carvings, wood carvings, tree root carvings, paintings on deer skins, reed art, iron paintings, dough modeling, and miniature carving on stones from the Changbai Mountains.  

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