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Mount Lushan strives to revive past glory

Source: Xinhuanet  [2009-10-08 08:48:55]
Running a small restaurant on Mount. Lushan, Yu Hongxing has found little trace of the political influence that used to crown the mountain decades ago.

"People come to Lushan just for a cool and comfortable vacation, and not many really clear about what had happed here in the past," said Yu, 30, who also works as a part-time tour guide.

Located in east China' s Jiangxi Province, Lushan has long been known for its cool climate, wooded hills and glistening waters. But different from other mountain reserves, Lushan has on its top a small town of 120,000 people, with most of them relying their life on tourism.

When there are not many guests, Yu will leave the restaurant business to his wife and stroll around the mountain, trying to offer guide service to tourists for an extra 50 yuan (7.4 U.S. dollars) a day. If lucky enough, tourists will eat at his restaurant, too.

He also makes a deal with the cableway company on the mountain. For each person he brings to take a cable car, he will get two to four yuan (0.59 U.S. dollars) as a kickback.

"I can tell some (of the tourists) don't like us. But it's getting more difficult to make money now, so we have to try more possible ways, just like businessmen in other scenic areas," said Yu, father of a nine-year-old daughter.

The difficulties are partly from a sightseeing bus project implemented since May. The planners, determined to restore the mountain's historic and environmental glory, have bought 110 Toyota Coasters shuttling on two sightseeing routes to cover all the major scenic spots.

The new traffic system has made Yu's catering business more costly, as no private cabs, travel agencies' buses and other automobiles from outside Lushan, including trucks from the vegetable market, are allowed to run on the mountain during the daytime. He has to get up before dawn and rent a car on the mountain to carry meat and vegetables back before 7 a. m.

"Developed as a summer resort much earlier than other mountains, Lushan has good roads for driving almost everywhere, but increasing cars have grown to be a big threat to the mountain's beauty and quietness," said Cui Feng, an officer in charge of the economy, trade and traffic with the Lushan administrative bureau.

The development can be tracked back to the end of the 19th century, although a devastating era of invasion by western powers had just started in China at that time.

To escape the hot season by the Yangtze River, foreigners fled to Lushan on its southern bank. Edward Selby Little, an English missionary, was the first to come. He rented a large area of land on the mountain in 1895, where he developed and sold real estates as summer villas.

Little named the new place Kuling, implying "cooling" , which later formed the current Guling town. He might not have thought that this ideal summer retreat would get bustling with cabs run by Guling residents, tourists' own cars and travel agencies' buses one day.

"Many make a better living because of Lushan, just as the cab drivers. But people have rested too much upon the mountain's past fame and thought too little about how to protect the mountain and how to develop its tourism economy in an environmental and scientific way," Cui Feng said.

He has been advocating to promote unified sightseeing buses with less emissions for more than 10 years, but confronted a lot of setbacks. Some worry the shuttle buses, running in an interval of every five or 10 minutes, leave too little shopping time for tourists and will dampen the local economy.

"It' s normal to have some complaints from souvenir stores and travel agencies at the beginning," he said, "but the project will benefit the mountain and the tourists in the long term, with better traffic management, less automobiles and clean air."

To launch the project, the Lushan administrative bureau cleared more than 200 automobiles on the mountain, mostly cabs not up to the state emission standards. It purchased the automobiles and offered each owner an annual compensation of 8,000 to 16,000 yuan (2,353 U.S. dollars) for lost profits according to the automobiles' remaining years after depreciation. Aside from the sightseeing buses, the bureau is also planning to relocate part of the Guling residents to a new town at the foot of the mountain in a couple of years to ease the environmental pressure.

Cui Xiaoyi, deputy director of the publicity department of the Lushan administrative bureau, said 1,000 mu (67 hectares) of land has been allocated for the new town, where 1,000 apartments, a school, a tourism service center and a re-employment center are currently under construction. Later it will have 4,000 to 5,000 new apartments in total.

Those living near water sources or in core scenic areas and old villas on the mountain will be among the first to move due to the urgent need for preservation. "Officials and cadres will take the lead in moving," Cui said.

The 683 western-style villas left by Edward Selby Little and his followers used to be Lushan's most precious attractions. Among them, the most famous one is Meilu Villa, which had housed both Mao Zedong, former top leader of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and Chiang Kai-shek, former leader of Kuomintang. The two were old rivals during the three-year civil war till the founding of new China in 1949.

Chiang Kai-shek and Soong Mei-ling, the then first couple of the country, spent many summers on Lushan between the 1930s and 1940s. After 1949, all the villas were converted to be state properties. Mao Zedong, showing an usual favor over Lushan, hosted three plenary meetings of the CPC central committee on the mountain, remembered as Lushan meetings, from 1959 to 1970.

"Though having no air conditions in those years, China was not short of cool mountains. But no mountain other than Lushan had so many nice villas to accommodate more than 1,000 CPC Central Committee members, nor could they compare traffic and living facilities with Lushan," Cui Xiaoyi said, "It' s natural that Lushan was picked to be the country' s top meeting place in summer."

But except Meilu and a few other villas, these century-old luxuries are now filled with people all year long. "A villa of less than 300 square meters is usually home to seven or eight families. Some villas even have temporary kitchens and bathrooms built alongside them," Cui said.

Li Zhen, manager of the scenic compound consisting of six old villas in Lushan' s east valley, thought the relocation of the inhabitants would help both maintain and re-plan the villas.

Working for a tourism development company in Wuhan, central China' s Hubei Province, Li first came to Lushan in 2002 and was shocked to see the old villas, mostly in dilapidated conditions, were used as residences, guest houses and dining halls. So he rented six villas, including one used to be inhabited by Nobel Prize laureate Pearl S. Buck, and started to develop them into a scenic spot since 2003. Li named his project Stories of Old Villas.

"Before my project, no one here realized the history and stories of these villas could be good resources for tourism. It was hard to imagine that the mountain was among the first to activate tourism industry in China after the reform and opening-up policy was implemented in 1979," Li said.

Before 1979, tourism remained to be a strange concept to Chinese. Mao' s repeated visits to Lushan added more political influence to the mountain, and it became an honorable place to receive Party cadres, model workers and heroes for vacations between the 1960s and the 1970s.

"Awarded by their work units, they gathered here from May till October every year to enjoy a casual time," Yin Yinyuan, a retired local commerce official, recalled, "but no one came as individual tourists, and the public didn't even have the idea of 'tourism' at all."

The situation lasted until 1980 after the release of a hugely popular film called Romance on Lushan, which tells a story about the daughter of a retired Kuomintang general who comes back from the United States to revisit the mountain and falls in love with the son of a CPC general.

The free pursuit of love, with the backdrop of Lushan' s picturesque landscape in the movie, was a hit through China after 10 years of Cultural Revolution and attracted millions of people to the mountain that year.

"There were no hotels then, so people swarmed into villas, classrooms and theaters. But there were still not enough indoor place, and many had to slept on road," Yin recalled.

About 2 million people visited Lushan every year in the early 1980s, triggering an unexpected economic transition for the mountain. "Schools started to charge visitors accommodation fees, and the mountain also began to sell admission tickets, fostering a sprout of the tourism economy," Yin said.

Even with its political fame fading under the market economy, Lushan still had its leading edges. "It had the most visitors, and built the first and best three-star hotel in the province," he said.

However, little progress has been made since the mid 1990s and Lushan has lagged behind. Planners find it' s now imperative to wake up its past glory.

"The relocation plan, part of our long-term development plan for Lushan, will also help ease the water pollution caused by residents and tourists, and make the mountain a more comfortable place for vacations, just as what model workers had enjoyed decades ago," Cui Xiaoyi said.

The government will give subsidies to the relocated residents and sell the new homes to them at a half the market value.

Not sure whether he himself will be included in the relocation, Yu Hongxing is not opposed to move. Actually, he has bought an apartment in Jiujiang City, although it' s still hard for him to think about giving up his home and business on Lushan.

"The winter is hard on the mountain. It is cold and many elderly people suffer rheumatism and arthritis," he said.

Yu also believed the children were looking forward to moving "because they are always wanting to know about the life outside the mountain".

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