Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Lost World of the Guans (Shangguans)

Bei Mu Zhen (椑木镇) was a small town that seemed just like any other town. It was well known as 川南第一门户 and  蓉城第一关, which means south gate of Sichuan and first gate of Chengdu. The town started in the Qing Dynasty. It was about 52 Kilometer to my grandmother's city Zigong.  I took a few pictures and asked around if there was still any one with the family name Guan or Shangguan. The first three elders said there was no Guan or Shangguan they knew. While asking around, a young man came up to me and said that there are Guans in the town. He knew that they were not far from where we were. I was excited. I asked him if he could take us there. He agreed and we followed him through very narrow alleys, where the taxi could not get in, and a few flights of stone stairs up and down. 
We went into a residential courtyard, which was similar to the one I had lived at with my grandmother, only not as nice and cluttered and with a few more additions in the yard. There, we met Guan SueLan (官淑兰) of my grandfather’s generation Xuan (选). She showed me all the Guan’s in the big courtyard; one old man also in my grandfather’s Xuan (选) generation seemed to confuse me with someone else. His wife kept correcting him that I was not the person he thought I was. Despite her efforts, he kept getting excited every few minutes thinking I was someone else, but his wife kept repeating that I was not. He stared at me as if he had not seen me in a long time; I noticed his bright blue eyes shining with excitement. He wanted me to stay and have lunch with them. I took a close-up picture of his face, showing his blue eyes. 
SueLan reminded me about my own grandmother and we connected instantly. She told me there were over 2000 Guans and three family shrines on the nearby farm with our family history books still in existence. She could not take me there, since all the young people were out working, but said she could call her nephew to take us.
She talked to her nephew on the phone and I could tell the conversation was not going well. She kept asking him to come and he kept saying that he was busy doing something else. I could not let this happen, so I told her to let me talk to him directly. She handed the phone over to me; he said that he was busy and could not come. I had to tell him that I came all the way from America and that this was my first time ever meeting any Guans outside of my immediate family. No one in our family ever knew about their existence. I needed him to show me this place. This was the first time and possibly my last time to reach this far.
He asked me to recite our generation name poem, as if he wanted to make sure I was one of the family members. It was the code, I just learned few months ago from my uncle’s five pages of family history. I could only recite the first few lines of the whole poem 朝庭选举, 忠孝尊荣, 武功丕显, 新体昭明, 长思世德, 大振家声 I am in the Zhong (忠) generation; he told me he was in my mother’s generation, Ju (举), so I needed to call him uncle, which I did. If he could simply come meet us that would be good enough for me.  He then said he would come. I asked him when. Our taxi’s meter, after all, was still running. Then, he said about fifteen minutes at the fastest, so I told him we would wait for him to take us to the Guan’s farm.
Generation Poem from the old Guan family Zhu Pu
Grandma SueLan asked if we wanted to stay for lunch since it was lunchtime; I told her that we had to run and thanked her for her help. On the way out, the young man pointed out the properties the Guan used to own and my newfound uncle confirmed what he said. He then pointed to a big house high up on a hill with quite a few steps and a big front gate. The house used to belong to the confused man’s family. It was taken away from them after 1949, and became a grain storage house for a long time. Now, a dozen families had moved in. I took few pictures outside, thinking I could take a few pictures inside too. Again, the inside yard was crowded with new additions; it was a mess, so I did not feel like taking any pictures. All the Guans were pushed into one big courtyard and they too had to live like everyone else and share the very limited space. I asked Juting if our Guan had asked the local government to return those courtyards, since there were still three. He smiled and said “you have seen all those families live inside; they are as poor as we are; they could not afford to buy a place. The government gave it to them over 50 years ago, and they have been living there ever since. Guan’s descendants will not live there; it is run down.” Still, I hope that there would be money someday to restore it back to its old glory.
From a local newspaper printed on December 6, 2009, Xiong Yongzhi (熊永志)内江新闻网 had interviewed my aunt Guan Ju Pei (官举培) about how the Chinese liberation army came into town. She was eighteen years old at the time and lived in the Guan’s family courtyard in Bei Mo Zhen (椑木镇) in Neijiang. There were a lot of rumors in existence about how the Communist army would kill, rob, rape, and burn everywhere they went. On the evening of Dec 4, 1949, there was gently knocking on their front gate. Whole families were scared, trying to find anywhere to hide. Ju Pei was scared to death. The man asked if they could come in to stay overnight; his voice was gentle and warm. After a while, Guan Ju Pei’s older brother peeked out and saw only one person outside, so he opened the front gate (朝门). About 120 soldiers then came in and settled down first. Next, they set campfires cooking with the food they brought with them. The next morning, the solders cleaned the whole courtyard, carried water, and filled up all the water storage tanks. They also chatted with her parents, which made all the Guans relax. The Guans decided to let them stay another night. The next morning, the solders cleaned the whole courtyard all over again and filled up all the water tanks again from the river (沱江). They sailed from there into the city Neijiang. Guan JuPei was seventy eight years old at the time of the interview; she said the Communist army was really good when they passed; they paid for everything and did not take anything; the first army came without looting. I was disappointed that the interview stopped right there. I wanted to know what happened afterward. How did the Guan family lose everything in the land reform?
I found an article about the Guan family courtyards. The article described the towering “Temple of the East King,” the railway to Chongqing on the foothills, layers and layers of black roof tiles connecting to each other, wells, square courtyards combined with other old houses, and rivers that led into today’s old town. All the square courtyards belonged to the Guans and it is still called “Guan’s family courtyards” (官家大院) to this day.
During the Qing Dynasty, Zhang and Den controlled most of the land in town and were by far the most powerful. The Guans were a big family that owned most courtyards in town. After the land reform and the Cultural Revolution, most of the old houses disappeared. Only the ones hidden away survived, about thirty in total.
The second Guan courtyard became a local, famous winery run by Guan descendants. The last one was run by a son-in-law with a Guan wife named Xuao (肖) until 2000. Today, all the equipment still lay in the courtyard covered with dust.
My cousin Guan Zhongwei was taking pictures at Guan’s old winery
Another local article talked about the three Guan family courtyards again. One of them was mostly destroyed in 1981’s big flood that complely submerged this courtyard. Even so, the stone walls and steps show how big the courtyard used to be. The front gate’s stone steps connected the steps all the way down to the river. There were over eighty rooms, three gates and five wells. The Chinese words left read “四水归一”、“礼、乐、忠、孝,” which means “four rivers united into one” and “Manners, Joy, Loyalty, and Filial Piety.” What a profound message to his descendants I thought; I was moved. There were four rivers in Sichuan and our first ancestor, Yuen Hui from Fujian, left four sons in Sichuan in 1724. He would want the four sons united always.
 The third Guan courtyard on the highest ground was preserved the best. It became a grain storage warehouse after 1949 until 1979. Now 24 families had moved into the courtyard to live. I only took a picture from the outside, inside was such a mess with many additions, which caused it to completely lose its original appearance. Four generations of Guan lived there until the land reform. They were forced to live like everyone else in one or two rooms. The local people who live in the Guan’s courtyard clearly said there were still a lot of Guans living in town. Still, the authorities said no one knew if the courtyard belonged to those with the surname Guan or the official Guan name, since both are pronounced and written the same.
We told the taxi driver our change of plans, but said we would pay him the same amount of money, not going as far as my grandmother’s fortress, Dou Wan Zhei. He was, however, complaining about the rough dirt road to the farm damaging his car. My newfound uncle’s name was Guan JuTing (官举廷); he was in his 60s.  We traveled along the river called Toujing (沱江) to the Guan’s farm.
He told us that their grandfathers had at least six wives each, so they had to build three family shrines. The first one (上祠堂) was for the upper class first and second wives and their children and family. The middle class (中祠堂) consisted of the third and fourth wives and their children and the lower class (下祠堂) consisted of the fifth and sixth wives. They still had about twenty Xuan (选) generations from younger wives still alive, but quite a few of them had blue-ringed eyes (central iris heterochromia). I thought my grandfather’s brothers had too many wives, with two to three wives each. Our Xuan (选) generation was long gone before I was born or when I was little. Their Xuan (选) generation was as old as my oldest uncle and my mother. Few of his generation Ju (举) were actually younger than me and I was not about to call them uncle or aunt. At the same time, I found one who was of the Xiao (孝) generation (my children’s generation) older than me, with her grandchildren in the Zhuen (尊) generation.
We reached the site. We could see the San Yan Tar (三元塔 Bogota) on the top of hills on the other side of the river. The Bogota was built in the Tang Dynasty, destroyed in the late Ming Dynasty and rebuilt in 1805 by the Qing Dynasty. The Guan family farm is on the riverbank with houses scattered in between farmland. It was amazing to see so many Guans there, 2000 of them, and we all shared the same great- grandfather who lived nine generations ago. 

Map of the Guan family's Ancestral Hall (老祠堂), across the river was San Yan Tar (三元塔 Bogota) , from Guan family over 100 years old Zhu Pu, it was amazing to visit the site over 100 years later where most of our Guans still live.
The upper family shrine is on the upper slope; now a Guan family lived inside. It did not function as a family shrine anymore. He pointed out where the lower family shrine used to be, but it was taken apart over the years. The middle shrine was abandoned after a child from the Chen family set a fire by accident. I could see that the front stone steps had already turned green from moss growing on the stones. There was an old tree trunk blocking entry to the central hall. On the side, black scorch marks still showed, but overall, the structure stayed strong. In the center of the courtyard, there was a stone structure for water storage. On the left side of the house, there was a little shed for animals, except it was empty. On the end of right side, there were still good portions of the house standing where one of Guan’s surviving wives was still living. Overall, the whole courtyard was ruined and abandoned, which made me feel very sad. 

Noble Guan Family Houses Along the TuoJiang: from the Neijiang News Network reporter Xiong Yongzhi (熊永志) 矗立在沱江岸的官家​豪门 【发表时间:2012​-05-11 16:21:44 来源:内江新闻网】
“Larger traditional Ming and Qing style buildings of ancient courtyards are rare. Large ancient residential buildings built by any family in Sichuan are even scarcer. But inside the city, there are three ancestral shrines (3座飞檐翘角、风火墙高耸、四合院层叠), encompassing a total area of over 10,000 square meters, within an area less than 600 meters in diameter along the Tuojiang River (沱江) bank. Now, nearly one hundred families live there.
The buildings were built since the middle of the Qing Dynasty (清中期). In chronological order, they are the Old Ancestral Hall (老祠堂), the Middle Ancestral Hall (中祠堂), and the Lower Ancestral Hall (下祠堂). Outside the Guan family, local people usually call them the Guan’s Grand Courtyards. The Guan Grand Courtyards were built along the Tuojiang River (沱江), located in Dongxing Creek Town’s Republican Village across from Neijiang Sanyuan Pagoda (三元塔). Guan ancestors were blacksmiths who built the Old Ancestral Hall (老祠堂). It was located in front of a pond, which was about 120 meters long, 35 meters wide; you can see new houses and bamboo forest behind the hall, lined with green tiles of the old house. This Old Ancestral Hall (老祠堂) was 80 meters long and 40 meters wide. Only the black stone courtyard’s shape remained, most are now beyond recognition. The left wing of the hall was destroyed by fire. The right wing is still intact, and includes 8 tall wooden doors, a room with a central patio, and an alley connecting the backyard. 84-year-old Guan Zhongzhi (官忠志 which is my generation) has been living in the Old Ancestral Hall. He is in my generation of Guan descendants, although he is three years older than my mother. He said our ancestors, two brothers, settled in Sichuan from Fujian, were skilled blacksmiths. Their business and fortune grew, so the brothers bought large tracts of land, built the Old Ancestral Hall (老祠堂) and the sugarhouse. Guan Zhongzhi (官忠志) heard from his elders that between the end of the Qing Dynasty to the beginning of the Republic of China Period, the Guan family had a modern private school (洋学堂), offered modern Chinese, Math, and Science lessons to over one hundred students. The school was free of charge for non-Guan family’s children; they only needed to pay for their own books. The Guan Ancestral Halls subsidized the teachers’ salaries (the same tradition Guan Fortress did). Yang (洋) means “overseas and foreign,” 洋学堂 means “foreign school,” not traditional Chinese school. My grandmother used to call a lot of things yang (洋), such as yanghuo (洋火), which means “matches,” and yang qiang (洋枪), which means “foreign gun.”
After the Communists took over in 1949, especially after Land Reform, this Old Ancestral Hall was given to sixteen 16 Guan families as their residence.
The Middle Ancestral Hall (中祠堂) was built by Guan’s business fortune. After you enter the door (朝门), you cross the black stone courtyard, which is 30 meters wide, then go up a flight of stairs containing 13 steps. Each step was built with a 3 meters long, 0.4 meter-wide stone. In front of an area of 100 square meters courtyard, there is a 6 meters high, 15 m long screen wall (照壁). Then, along each side of the wall, 13 more stone steps lead to another door (朝门), and you enter the Middle Ancestral Hall, which includes a front hall, main hall, living room, east and west wing. The building has four entries and 10 courtyards, about 100 m wide and about 50 m deep. The 73-year-old Guan Juzhi (官举治) said, after the ancestors built the Old Ancestral Hall, through the efforts of the later descendants, farming, and doing business, they finished the Middle Ancestral Hall (中祠堂) 10 years later in Guangxu (清光绪年). Guan families owned land and real estate in a ten-mile radius. When the country was in turmoil, in order to guard against bandits, they poured silver from the storage house (库存) into the Pond and buried them in mud (same trick Guan Fortress used). The 65-year-old Zhou Qilu (周期禄 ) said his father used to rent the land from the Guan family. After 1949, he received part of the Guan’s Middle Ancestral Hall, half of the main room and a bedroom. The main room of the building is 9 meters high, the walls from the floor up to three meters high were all wood panel siding. Behind the wooden wall in the main hall is a hallway of width of 0.8 meters, where the women and the maids could peek through to see the Guan family man’s business world in the main hall. This Middle Ancestral Hall housed more than 30 families since 1949, and the complex also included the grain storage warehouses, local leader’s office, dining hall, and the shop. In the early 1980s, a fire destroyed the hundreds of square meters wide right wing. Now, most people work outside the home as China’s cheap labor force called migrant workers; only six families still live here; it is extremely quiet and lonely. 
Grand-scale Lower Ancestral Hall (下祠堂). After the two ancestral halls, the Guan’s descendants continued to work hard, at slightly lower terrain, from the present site of the Middle Ancestral Hall (中祠堂), about 250 meters away, and then spent millions building the Lower Ancestral Hall (下祠堂). Although it is gone, there are traces of the Lower Ancestral Hall, old houses, the old grayish black brick wall, firewall, stairs, patios, suites, front hall, rear hall; compounds, courtyards, front yard, backyard. The original layout is apparent but devastated. According to 72-year-old Guan Juqian (官举谦), the front of the Lower Ancestral Hall (下祠堂) was 120 meters wide, about 45 meters deep, and contained at least 100 rooms, where the sugar house and oil mill were. After 1949, five to six hundred villagers lived in it. In 1981, the flood of the Tuojiang River’s water reached the 3rd step out of 10 steps in front of the first big gate (大朝门).
Today, this run-down scene of the Guan family (官家豪门) makes one feel the ancient “feng shui,” the traditional concept of architectural aesthetics and culture, from which we roughly derive the stories of the rise and fall of immigrants into Sichuan.

This was the house my great-great-grandfather Rong built after he married Chen. We are his second wife Tong’s descendants. When he died at age 50, his youngest son from Tong was only 10. He died at age 35 leaving two sons who left this farm for Gongjing’s salt well business in the 1800s.
This was the first house our ancestors built when they moved into Sichuan from Fujian. It was very similar to the houses in San Dou Zhei in Zigong; the house was simply set lower on the ground. At the back of the house, the path was as high as the roof. Two of our ancestors’ tombs looked as if they were embracing the house, unsure of which was which, since the tombstones were long gone. Maybe the tomb maps in our family history book could give us the answer.
The rest of the family tombs were on the higher slopes of Mt. Omei (Emei Shan). Guan JuTing asked if I was interested in seeing the Guan tombs on the slope of Mt Omei; I told him yes. Immediately, we started to climb the hill; I was eager to see the other tombs. After a short while, I realized that my little sister was not around, so I turned around looking for her; my poor sister was still far behind on a lower part of the hill. I yelled down to see if she needed any help, she said, “you guys go ahead, I will take my time.” It was my mistake to forget about her and only focus on the newly found Guan.
The tombstone of our first generation YuenHui’s (云辉) wife Zhang (張氏), was not readable; YuenHui’s  (云辉) youngest son Ning (濘) and his two wives, the third generation of Guan in Sichuan was readable after I applied red ink.
I could see one of the tombs sitting on a half circle of land with a tombstone; unfortunately, the words had disappeared. My companions all thought it was YuenHui’s (云辉) wife Zhang (張氏). Nearby the tomb was another one with clear words. It was YuenHui’s (云辉) youngest son Ning (濘) and his two wives, the third generation of Guan in Sichuan. I took a picture, but the words did not show up because the paint had long faded. There were many other Guan Tombs there. I had reached the Guan’s family plot.
Our presence quickly drew a crowd of Guans. It was a shock to see this many Guans there and find out they were able to recite our generation poem:
朝庭选举, 忠孝尊荣, 武功丕显, 新体昭明,长思世德, 大振家声.
“I am a Xuan (选) generation, I am a Ju (举) generation, I am a Zhong (忠) generation, and I am a Xiao (孝) generation.” They all knew who they were and where they stood in the family. Two-storied single homes one next to the other, housed 2,000 of them. They were all the Guan in this small, lost world.

Please help to rebuild the eleventh generation
(1699-1775) grandfather Guan Yuen Hui ' s tomb: 亟待修复的内江官氏祖坟-云辉公墓
Please wire your donations to Yuen Hui ' s tomb restoration payable to: 
Guan zhong pu (官众仆)
新修内江官氏祖坟外地捐款帐号:   中国工商银行四川内江支行玉溪路分理处
                                                      官众仆 621723 2307000080724
Sichuan_ Neijiang, introduction videos-驚鴻一瞥話內江