Archive for the ‘ Penglai ’ Category

PENGLAI

 

PENGLAI

An Image of China

Keyvan Tabari

Copyright Keyvan Tabari 2015. All Rights Reserved.

The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or otherwise distributed without the prior written authorization of Keyvan Tabari.

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abstract: Penglai, a city with less than half-a-million population in northeastern   Shandong Province of China, is unique, yet in many ways it typifies China for an outside  observer. It has roots in distinct legends and history but that past is a heritage shared by  all Chinese. It has had special encounters with foreign nations which have influenced other parts of China as well. It showcases the results of the contemporary rapid  developments of the county as a whole. Its future is a promise also planned for all of China. All of this made Penglai an ideal case for an investigation, albeit brief. This is my report.

 

Table of Contents

Legends

            Pavilion

History

            Naval base

            Missionaries

            Tengchow College

            Confucius

Straddling

            Cityscape

            Planning the Future

            Wineries

Conclusion

 

 

Legends

Every year, more than two million tourists come to Penglai. Most of them are Chinese and for most Penglai Pavilion is the most important site. Their long-held beliefs are reflected in the legends of the place, as I learned in September of 2015.

I followed the millenniums-old footsteps of the First Emperor to Danya Mountain, just north of Penglai city in the Shandong Province of China.  The Emperor had proclaimed himself Qin Shi Huang, after establishing the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), the first centralized empire in Chinese history. Then he traveled here from his capital Xian, looking for the elixir of life. As legends tell it, the Emperor had first sent the Taoist alchemist Xu Fu with 500 young men and 500 young women to the eastern seas to find the elixir, but Xu Fu never came back; instead, he landed in Japan and became the founder of Shintoism. The Emperor brought three times as many young girls and boys along with himself, but none of them ever returned either. His sailors blamed their failure to obtain the elixir on vicious sharks. The poor Emperor wandered up and down the coastline shooting at sharks with a crossbow in revenge. There were also dolphins seen from the cliffs above, at which the mighty King cast an impotent spear only to realize that his own days were numbered.

Emperor Qin Shi Huang did not achieve immortality (he is buried in the famous Xian tomb guarded by an army of terra cotta soldiers, horses, and chariots), but his trip contributed to the legend that grew ever more complex, all around what is today called the Penglai Pavilion, on Danya Mountain. It is here that the Eight Immortals are said to have crossed the sea using their special powers after they got drunk. The Eight Immortals are worshiped by Taoists and are, furthermore, an important element in the secular Chinese folklore of today. In Chinese mythology, they are a group of xian (transcendent saints), all men except for one woman, each with the power that can grant life and destroy evil. According to legends they were born in the 7th to 13th centuries and lived on the islands of the Bohai Sea where Penglai is located. They were first mentioned during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368); they are probably named after the Han people’s folkloric Eight Immortal Scholars. Taoism adopted this ancient tradition of depicting humans as becoming immortal. The Eight Immortals became widely known through the works of the Taoists. They have been the subject of many artistic creations, even in modern China.

If the legend of elixir connected the Eight Immortals to Penglai, another seemingly miraculous phenomenon has added its own legend to the place. Because of its rare geographic, climatic and maritime conditions, nearly every seven years, mirages, big and small and in different shapes appear at the sea facing Penglai City. They are more frequent in May and June. The last one happened on May 7, 2005. Thousands of tourists and local residents witnessed this mirage which lasted for four hours.  Off the shore, it reflected an image of the City, with its buildings, streets and crowds of people.  It had rained for two days before, causing the rising mist that created this image. To the believers, the mirage confirmed Penglai’s reputation as a dwelling place of the gods.  To the scientists, it confirmed Penglai’s reputation as a place of often- occurring “fata morgana,” an optical illusion in which layers of mist at varying temperatures refract light in such a way that distant objects are projected on the horizon.

The legends of Penglai entered into the creative imagination of Chinese scholars who came to call it renjian xianjing, meaning “the place of immortals among humans” or, more accessibly, “the fairyland of the world”. According to Chinese mythology, Penglai (Danya) Mountain, together with two other mountains, Fangzhang and Yingzhou, formed Sanxianshan (the Fairy Mountains). The Fairy Mountains were credited for having attracted not only Emperor Qin Shi Huang but later, the Han Dynasty’s Emperor Wudi (141–87 BC) who came “in search of God.” Famed Qing Dynasty painters, Yuan Jiang and Yuan Yao brought the imagined fairyland of Penglai on their canvases in the 1830s. Their works have been recreated by architects and landscapers in Penglai City’s Fairy Mountains Park  . The Park aims at depicting that “ideal realm of romanticism of Chinese ancient scholars into reality” by a number of graceful lakes, gardens and buildings in the style of Chinese classical architecture.

Pavilion

Fairy Mountains Park’s “reality” is not what you see today on the actual site of the legendary Penglai. Perched on the cliff of Penglai Mountain, there is a castle-like assortment of parapets, pathways, and buildings called Penglai Pavilion.  There is no lake and hardly any garden here. One tree, however, catches your attention because of its historical significance. Called the Tang Pagoda Tree, this “1000-year” survivor dates from when the Penglai Pavilion was initially built. The construction of buildings began during the Northern Song Dynasty, and the Song Dynasty complex soon came to rank among the “Four Great Towers” of China in the country’s literary tradition, joining Yellow Crane Tower, Yueyang Tower and Tengwang Pavilion which, unlike Penglai, are all in the south.

Some of the original structures of Penglai Pavilion still remain. Much has been restored, rebuilt and extended over time; recently, millions of dollars have been invested into developing the Pavilion. Although there are some “palaces” here, most of the buildings are in reality temples. The prominent ones are Sanqing Palace, Lvzu Palace, Sugong Temple, Thean Hou Temple, Long Palace, Mituo Temple and Penglai Pagoda. The last one is the main building of the Pavilion. Built in 1061, the Pagoda is a double-layer wooden construction surrounded by corridors with the best view of the mirages. A plaque with bold and golden letters Penglai Ge (Penglai Pagoda) written by Tie Bao, the famous calligrapher of the Qing Dynasty who lived in the 1830s, is hung at the Pagoda . Inscriptions of celebrities and well-known scholars are engraved on the interior walls. The main attractions inside, however, are the sculptures of eight drunken Immortals placed in the center around a square table and chairs, an arrangement of room just as described in the legend of Eight Immortals Crossing the Sea. It is said, the Eight (Lu Dongbin, Tie Guaili, Zhang Guolao, Han Zhongli, Cao Guojiu,  Lan Caihe, Han Xiangzi and the woman He Xiangu ), got drunk at Penglai Pavilion  and crossed the sea by different tricks of their own without using any boats. Nearby, a red rock marks the Red (Dan) Cliffs from which they set out floating over the ocean.

A thousand years later, the great poet, politician and calligrapher Su Dongpo sought immortality when he saw a man on the streets of Penglai who, he believed, was the Immortal Lü Dongbin. Su followed him, disguised as a beggar to the top of the Pavilion where the Eight Immortals were again enjoying a drunken feast before setting off on a journey across the ocean, wielding their magical powers. At Su’s insistence they agreed to take him along as the ninth immortal, but he was ultimately found lacking in the courage to leap out onto the water. Instead, the Pavilion is now adorned with the poems and calligraphy of Su Dongpo (1031-1101) who signed his name as Su Shi.  The Pavilion also features the works of other great calligraphers such as Dong Qichang (1555–1636).  There is calligraphy in Pavilion, now in red, in protest against the Japanese attack in the war of 1592–1598, which failed to damage the Pavilion, anyway, according to our guide. She added that there was even calligraphy by Chairman Mao, done when he visited in 1964, reminding us that “no art form is  more favored in China than calligraphy.”

Our guide also said that there was only one Buddhist temple in the Penglai Pavilion. The rest were Taoist. In addition to the Penglai Pagoda, these included the Dragon King Temple which dates to at least the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). It was dedicated to the Dragon King of the Eastern Sea, whose statue was flanked by eight  officers  standing on his two sides. In the capacity of the ruler of one of the Four Seas corresponding to the four cardinal directions, the Dragon was depicted as a humanoid, dressed in a king’s costume, but with a dragon head. Even older than this temple, was the Sea Goddess Temple, constructed in 1122.  It was dedicated to a local sea Goddess “who died young saving people from drowning,” our guide said. The Goddess’ golden sculpture was in the middle of the temple; there, she also had eight officers attending her.  In Penglai city, this Sea Goddess is also called Thean Hou, and her birthday is celebrated in a major festival in January.

While we were in the Pavilion, worshipers were engaged in burning some brown papers. These were “joss paper,” which are fake or ghost money. The practice of burning them is widespread in China. It is long-standing, a tradition traced back to about 1000 BC. The paper money burned is believed to be thus deposited in an afterlife “bank” for use by the deceased ancestors. The ritual is a mix of Taoism and folklore; Buddhists discourage the practice of burning, saying that the deceased would have no interest in worldly items. In our guide’s opinion, there was another difference: “Taoism does not believe in re-incarnation; Buddhism does.” She added, however, that ordinary Chinese worshipers do not distinguish the origins of their ritual practices which are often a mixture of Taoism, Buddhism and folklore. This was a position also espoused in the Harmony Palace of the Fairy Mountains Park, presumably as reflecting the views of ancient Chinese scholars. Here, Taoism of Laozi (571-531 BC), Buddhism of Sakyamuni Buddha (563-480 BC) and the teaching of Confucius (551-479 BC) were all honored, as each of those sages contributed a different part to an integrated harmony. Laozi’s part is the harmony between human and nature, Buddha’s is the harmony between human and ego, and Confucius’s contribution is the harmony between human and society. Not forgotten in this complex were the folkloric patron saints of the east side (the four supreme commanders) and the patron saints of the west side (four heavenly kings).

History

Naval base

The history of Penglai is a crucial part of the history of China. From the southern edge of Penglai Pavilion I could see the remnants of the fortified walls that once surrounded Dengzhou. That was the old town which in 1990 was renamed Penglai City.  Dengzhou was located on the northeastern corner of Shandong at the point where the Bohai Sea (Bay) begins in the Yellow Sea, which is itself a part of the East China Sea of the Pacific Ocean. Built in 1376 as a water fortress, Dengzhou was one of China’s oldest military ports. It was the harbor for the imperial war fleet and the town for its garrison.  As a naval base it defended China against foreign sea attacks. It proved useless against the Europeans, however, when they invaded the port soon after the Second Opium War in 1858.  At this same time, the replacement of sail-powered boats by steamships moved most commercial marine activity from Dengzhou to the deep-water port of Yantai, 55 miles to the east.

In its heyday, Dengzhou boasted gray protecting walls crowned by gate towers of three stories instead of the usual two, because the uncle of the first Emperor of the Sui dynasty (589-618 A.D.) was once the “prince” of this territory. The southern section of the city, its center around the harbor was completely razed in 2006 to make room for buildings with modern architecture. The northern part that hugs the sea has been preserved. Here, in the Seaside Square there is a massive new sculpture of the Eight Immortals which is a favorite photo spot for tourists. On the poles , called totem, surrounding it the history of the town is inscribed.

The Ancient Ship Museum nearby displays five ships from 800 years ago. Having been found since 1984 in the Bay of Penglai Sea Castle, these are evidence of the area’s trade, transportation and shipbuilding technology.  In particular, they demonstrate the Chinese invention of crossbeams bracing “ribs” which strengthened the ship and enabled it to better resist wind and waves. A couple of the vessels were Korean. They, too, had ribs, but the Chinese ships were the only ones that, additionally, had the “spine”  and, therefore, were better for battle as cruisers. The Koreans were treated as friends in the Museum displays. The Museum featured a statue of Menzhou Zheng, said to be the man who brought Confucianism to Korea. Before that, a sign said, Koreans did not have “ethical principles.” The Japanese, in contrast, were portrayed as old enemies in Penglai. The restored residence of the favorite local “patriotic” general Qi Jiguang is a tourist attraction, not far from the Ancient Ship Museum. He was a 16th century naval officer from Penglai who made his reputation by battling Japanese pirate ships in the Jiajing-wokou raids of 1547-1567.

Missionaries

 Penglai was the first port on China’s Shandong peninsula which was opened to foreigners upon the defeat in the Opium War. Among the first Westerners to come were American missionaries. In 1861, Jesse Boardman Hartwell arrived and set up Northern China’s first church of Southern Baptist Convention at a Guanyin Temple -Guanyin was the patron goddess of the seafarers. Today, close to Qi Jiguang’s old residence, still stands the Penglai Christian Church . On the day I visited, its bible- school class was nearly full . A Church official told me that it had a congregation of some 700 members and the membership was increasing. An early woman missionary is fondly remembered here. Called Lady Lottie Moon, she was the American Charlotte Digges who came in 1873 and stayed for nearly forty years. She followed local customs, saying that “she would be like the Chinese and wanted to die here.” A stone monument to her is erected next to the church.

Penglai also bestows especial honors on two other American missionaries. Presbyterian Calvin Wilson Mateer and his wife, Julia Brown Mateer, are remembered as “sincere Christians who wanted to help.”  This accolade accompanies their pictures, singled out to hang on the wall of the entrance to a hall which serves in Penglai as a museum of Tengchow College. Tengchow was the Romanized version of the Chinese name Dengzhou in the late 19th century. The museum we were shown, in a modern building in the new part of Penglai, consisted simply of a number of panels in Chinese that told the history of the College. A young woman, standing erect in a formal pose, explained the story on the panels for us, but also in Chinese. Another young woman, an instructor in English at the College, translated.

Tengchow College

Mateer transformed what began as the Tengchow Boys Boarding School into Tengchow College in 1882. He had established the Boys School with six “poor” students in1864, soon after arriving in Tengchow a year earlier. They were offered free board and lodging as well as paper and other study materials. In 1876, the school was renamed Tengchow College which was, at the time, actually a secondary school. Mateer himself compiled the textbooks and taught classes in mathematics, physics, chemistry as well as the Bible, Chinese and English. His wife taught history, geography and music. Some of the “poor boys” from the school graduated to become the school’s executives.

The Mateers had help from other American Presbyterian missionaries.  Among them as shown on the panels in the Tengchow museum, were John Livingston Nevius and Henry Luce Sr. Nevius collaborated with Mateer and Hunter Corbett to develop a method of spreading Christianity that made Shandong the strongest Presbyterian mission in China. Corbett is also credited with establishing in 1864 the Yi Wen Boys Academy at Tengchow which was eventually converted into an institution of higher education as Cheeloo University in 1928, becoming “the first university in China.”  In 1882, however, Tengchow College was the first modern institution of higher learning in China.

Henry Winter Luce and his wife came to Penglai in 1897 and their son, the future publisher of Time magazine, Henry Luce, was born here in 1898.  Henry Luce, Sr. gave up his job as a lawyer in the United States. to convert the “heathen hordes” because he saw China as a laboratory to establish the virtues of America’s “sentimental imperialism.” Some Chinese in Shandong had other plans.  Between 1899 and 1901 China was gripped with the Boxer Uprising, the movement of the militia united in Yihetuan (Righteousness). These were the well-trained, athletic young men whom the American missionaries referred to as “boxers” because of the martial arts and calisthenics they practiced.  The Uprising was fueled by nationalist sentiments and opposition to foreign imperialism and its associated Christian missionary activity.

The Eight-Nation Alliance of foreign powers, after being initially turned back, brought some 20,000 armed troops to China, defeated the Chinese Imperial Army (which had come to side with the Boxer Uprising), captured Beijing and suppressed the Boxers.  In the heyday of that Yihetuan Movement, Tengchow College suffered attacks and damages. Later, the school was moved to Weixian County in the Shandong Province, was renamed Guangwen College and eventually developed into Qilu (Cheeloo) University. The map in the museum showed this progression from Tengchow College to Shantung (Shandong) Protestant University, then to Shantung University, Christian University and, finally, to Cheeloo (Qilu) University. The multiple merges and restructuring of these and a dozen other academic institutions have resulted in today’s Shandong University.

If Tengchow College still exists independently, it was not listed among Penglai’s institutions of higher learning, in a Google search.  Yet our host at the museum said Tengchow was “today the only Christian school in Penglai.” He presented himself as the “Dean of the International Exchange Office” of Tengchow. He said the school had over 7,000 students from all over China, “because of its reputation.” A map in the museum showed how its students had indeed come from all over the country, a measure of Tengchow’s contribution to China’s elite. The Dean’s command of the English language indicated that he had “taught English for 10 years before” his current position. At the luncheon in the museum’s dining room, I sat next to a current instructor of English at the school. She told me that it offered all undergraduate degrees in “communications, management, technology and mechanical engineering.” There were no classes in Christianity. I asked if there were “any missionaries here now?” She replied: “We don’t encourage it but anyone can have his opinion.”

Confucius

On the walls of this dining room there was only one framed picture . I asked the Dean if that was Confucius. He said “Well, yes, but he lived so long ago, nobody can be sure what Confucius looked like.” In another school building across from the museum, where the Dean first welcomed us, a massive statue of Confucius dominated the lobby. I now asked the Dean: “What principles of Confucius do you consciously follow in the teaching here?” He gave a deflecting response: “Very good question but very hard to answer.” He did not amplify. Instead, he glanced at the person who could have been taken for an old style “minder” from the government and  Communist party, as though seeking approval.

My question was not an idle inquiry. Based on what I had been reading, China has been experiencing a revival of Confucian teaching. This was ignited in part by President Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” which he proposed as a program of national rejuvenation upon taking office in 2011. “To solve China’s problem,” he has argued, “we can only search in the land of China for the ways and means to suit it.” He aims to establish China not just as a strong power, but also as a civilization with its own core values equal to the West’s. He foresees a long-term contest of values and ideologies in which Western political ideas of individual freedom and democracy are rejected by China’s distinct “cultural genes,” manifested in the traditional teachings of Confucius, and his contemporary sage Mencius: commanding respect for elders, filial piety and moral rectitude. This revivalism comes at a time when not only Communist dogma but also Chinese-style capitalism have lost their appeal. The Communists upon taking power in 1949 banned Confucian rituals as “feudal practices” and Mao’s 1966 -1976 Cultural Revolution was also an anti-Confucian campaign. But even before that, the New Cultural Movement of 1915 which was espoused by Christian missionary-educated Chinese, indeed led by Christians such as Dr. Sun Yat-sen, had concluded that China’s weakness was largely due to its conservative Confucian culture. It had sought to build a modern nation based on Western political and scientific thought.

The Mao age’s iconoclasm was only followed by unbridled materialism that, some believe, has led to moral collapse and corruption. President Xi, aware of the lingering strong influence of the Communists, wants to merge Marxist and Maoist ideas with elements of China’s ancient culture to forge a new ideology. Accordingly, under him, the education ministry has decreed that traditional culture and literature, deleted from the curriculum for nearly a hundred years, be taught at all levels of schools in China. They are to be especially a prominent feature of university entrance exams. Textbooks are being revised and teachers retrained to that end. University students are instructed to study “important books of ancient Chinese thought and culture.” Confucius occupies a central place in this plan. He is also a native son in Penglai, having been born in the Shandong Province.

Straddling

Cityscape

Like President Xi’s China, Penglai appeared to straddle the recent past and a planned future. Nowhere was this more visible than at Haishixi Road/ Haishixi Lu . From the traditional window  of my room at Sanxianshan Hotel, I could see the contrasting Internazionale Hotel of Penglai under construction on the other side of the Road. My hotel was built in a classic Chinese royal style with ancient architecture and decor. It had a lobby gilded with golden decorations and sculptures made of precious woods such as rosewood, scented camphor wood, pear  wood  and jade . Its 150 rooms were furnished with heavy chairs of rosewood and Yangzhou lacquer, and Jingdezhen porcelain. It catered to the wealthy Chinese guests. Yet, it was modest in comparison with the “super luxury” promised by the modern Internazionale Hotel. Sanxianshan Hotel’s own vast size and 150 rooms were dwarfed by the immense edifice of the latter establishment which was expected to have 2,500 guest rooms.

When I stepped out of Sanxianshan Hotel, I had a glimpse of the complex of European-looking buildings on the other side of Haishixi Road. Called Europark, they were Penglai’s answer to Disneyland. For the Internazionale Hotel which they faced, this was the counterpart of Fairy Mountains Park which was just behind Sanxianshan Hotel. Like the Internazionale, the Europark was still an unfinished project. Even the shops of its front part which had apparently opened for business needed much work. The foods it advertised were all Western dishes: pizza, hamburgers and coffee, and the faces of the happy customers in the advertisements were all Western, but it offered slashed admission prices in Chinese-language signs.

Next to the Europark, closer to the Haishixi Road, were rows and rows of multi-story modern buildings, residential but still seemingly unoccupied. City officials claimed they were “70% occupied.”  I crossed the Road and took an alley just behind Sanxianshan Hotel. This was, in contrast, the inhabited part of Penglai. Modest hotels were advertising their rooms  for Chinese guests on signs with pictures. The open stairway in a building looked in urgent need of painting. Breakfast was cooked and served on the sidewalks.  Signs, all in Chinese, were courtesy of “Tsingtao Beer,” spelled in English. A woman carried a bag of groceries on the street with sidewalks of uneven heights. Several passengers were ferried in a make-shift cart rigged on top of a motorcycle. Laundry was strung to dry in front of stores. A neighborhood of small one-story homes indicated an older generation of housing construction from the multi-story buildings across the street. When I completed the loop back to Haishixi Road, the striking orderliness of its wide sidewalks, with the trimmed green shrubberies on their two sides, matched the neat red uniforms of two students striding on their way to school. The happy students at the primary school here, which I visited during their play time, posed for a picture with the inevitable “V” sign. Their narrow eyes and long-shaped face, in this town so close to Manchuria, were distinguished from the more familiar rounded Han Chinese features.

In this new part of town, you could see people jog or do a variety of kung fu . Sanxianshan Hotel was only a few hundred yards away from the beach. I took Haishixi Road just before the sunrise the next morning and stood on the shore of the Yellow Sea, which takes its name from the silt deposited by the sand of the far away Gobi Desert in the rivers that fed the sea. The sky and the sea were a canvas on which the rising sun played a symphony of glorious   colors . I tried not to be distracted by a man behind me who made a loud noise, spitting. I held onto the image of the little boat calmly moving near the shore. A man who was digging in the scraggy edge of the water caught my attention. When I got closer, I saw him shovelling and, every so often, putting something he found into a straw basket that sat next to him. When I looked into the basket I saw worms mixed in with the sand. I learned later that the worms were valuable to the fishermen as they were scarce in the Penglai market.

Planning the Future

I was told that the Bohai Sea that hugs the other side of Penglai had “some of the best sea food” in northern China. This was at a dinner given by the Mayor of Penglai for a group of visiting Americans which had invited me to join. Numerous dishes served on the round turning-table, indeed, testified that Penglai was blessed with plenitude in meat and produce as well. By some estimates, over 80% of the population of Penglai are employed in agriculture. Agricultural products constitute the largest industry in the province of Shandong. For Penglai officials, however, tourism is deemed the primary industry and wine-making the second. The American group was from Sonoma, California, sharing interest in both wine and tourism with Penglai as a “Sister City”.

Penglai Pavilion is classified as a “5A” tourist site by the China National Tourism Administration. That is the highest ranking, reserved for the likes of Mutianyu section of the Great Wall near Beijing. The beaches are also attractions; the visitors I saw at the shores, however, were strolling rather than swimming. Substantial sums have already been invested to develop the Penglai Pavilion’s tourism potentials. The absence of the desired non-Chinese tourists is noticeable. Now efforts are made to exploit the scenic hilly landscape on the outskirts of the urban center. Penglai encourages the extensive project undertaken by the privately-owned Hesheng Agricultural Technology Development Co. to promote “leisure tourism.” We went to see it.

We were received by the manager on the site. In his simple barn-type office, we munched on cucumbers and apples which were among the first products of this farm of “integrated ecological agriculture and ecological tourism.” Self-assured, the manager told us that he was developing “100, 000 Chinese acres” (about 16,500 American acres) of land at this area of rolling hills. We followed him for a brief tour of the headquarters section. A modest inn to our left was all ready to receive the first “leisure tourists” in the near future, as the manager said. Next to it was a simple horse-riding arena. Presently, two horses were produced. The manager mounted one and a horse enthusiast from our group climbed onto the other animal. Equestrians were a type of tourists the farm hoped to attract. The manager now took us to a stable with several horses. The protection of those “national Bohai original breed” horses was one of the goals of the farm. The manager was proud of his “star stud,” a German “warmblooded horse,” which the Hesheng farm had just acquired. “It cost us 5 million euros,” he said as we admired the stud which he had ordered brought out of his stable. “We expect to make 300 babies” by hybrid optimization of the thoroughbred with the Bohai horses, the manager said.

Wineries

We were told that Hesheng is a Chinese company, “owned by a man who made his money in highway construction.”  From his farm, we drove down a few miles on a dusty road to a building under construction which would be the future home of Chateau Lafite. Its wine was expected to come to market in 2016.  “The foundation of Baron de Rothschild (Lafite) CITIC Winery (Lafite)” in 2012 was billed as a landmark since it “transformed” Penglai into a “hot spot for high-end” wineries. It is said that Lafite chose Penglai because “it is the only coastal wine-producing region in Asia” with the soil, sunshine, and temperature to produce high-quality wines.

The decision to establish “the grape and wine industry” as Penglai’s “core industry” was made by its “municipal party committee and municipal government.” Accordingly, in 2005, the Penglai Grape and Wine Bureau was founded. In Penglai’s middle schools, fifteen-year old students are taught wine-making.  Penglai now boasts “the largest number of grape and wine businesses in China.”  It has 12 “boutique chateaux” and another 11 new chateaux under construction.  We visited one of those completed chateaux (wineries). Called Scottish Castle, it indeed resembled a castle in design and was built into the rocky hills. From its patio you could see some of the vineyards where it grew several vintages of grapes. Inside the Castle we saw what was, in effect, the sometimes residence of the owners, a hedge fund manager from Yorkshire, England and his Taiwanese wife. The Castle also serves as a six-room hotel for guests from around the world. There is, furthermore, a great hall for events like weddings. We examined the antique furniture and climbed the spiral staircase where a colorful mural depicted the old tales of a Scottish explorer who experienced shipwreck on the Penglai shore but was welcomed by the Chinese officials.  On the main floor, around a wooden table, we noticed a few non-Chinese guests sipping the Castle’s wine. In 2005, the winery had its first 35,000 grape vine plants air-freighted from France and planted here. It has since grown a wide variety of grapes, including Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Grenache and Viognier. “We just didn’t know what types would work,” the owner has said.  In 2010, the winery started selling in the Chinese market it first 5,500 bottles, a Marsalan/Merlot blend called Treaty Port. The name came from the fact that the vineyard is situated near the coastal treaty ports, set up in 1842 by the British for foreign trade after the First Opium War.

That evening we visited a different style of winery-guesthouse establishment. Chateau State Guest served us dinner in the style of the guests of an Emperor of Tang Dynasty (618-907). According to legends the Emperor once visited Penglai and bestowed gifts of wine on his soldiers and civilians alike. Henceforth, the local residents started planting grapes. Chateau State Guest is a splendid Tang Dynasty palace. The award winning wines at our dinner were from Grand Tang Emperor Valley of Penglai. At that dinner, I learned a more plausible version of the Penglai’s wine-grape growing history. The grape from abroad was introduced here by the American missionary Samuel Wells Williams in 1873.  In that year, he happened to serve also as the U.S. Charge d’Affaires in Beijing; later, Williams would become the first American Professor of Chinese studies at Yale University.  The main current varieties of grapes in Penglai today were Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Gemischt, Chardonnay and Merlot.

There are 76 wineries in Penglai. Wealthy Chinese who have made money in other businesses are becoming major players in the wine industry. An example is Wu Feng and his wife Mei Ling who run a Chinese oil company. They are co-owners of Chateau Reifeng-Auzias. Another Chinese family has a much longer history in the area’s wine industry. Chateau Changyu in nearby Yantai traces its background to the Changyu Wine Company established in 1892 by Zhang Bishi. Also known as Cheong Fatt-Tze, a Cantonese businessman, he came to reside in Penang, Malaysia. He built such a huge trading empire there, extending it to China and Indonesia, that the New York Times called him “China’s Rockefeller” just before he died in 1915. By then Changyu was China’s largest wine producer. Its wines won gold medals in that year’s San Francisco’s Pacific Panama Fair of Nations, the first international awards for Chinese wines. Grapes for those wines originally came from France’s Burgundy and Bordeaux regions. The winery has kept its distinction to the present day and has become one of the top 500 industrial enterprises in China. In 1949 the Winery was nationalized.  Built in 2002, Chateau Changyu is now run by China’s bestselling winemaker, Changyu Pioneer Wine of Yantai.

The Chinese are still a nation of beer drinkers. In Penglai’s streets the signs for Tsingtao were everywhere. From 2002 China has been the world’s largest beer market, but only since 2011 it has been the world’s 5th largest wine market. To be a bigger player in the world’s wine market, it needs to export more. This explains the need for promoting participation in its wine industry by fine winemakers from abroad. Major foreign wine companies such as Lafite bring not just expertise but, equally important, they also have established access to foreign markets.

Conclusion

It would be audacious for a first time visitor to draw conclusions about Penglai from limited observations during a short trip. First hand contact, on the other hand, can provide some insight which might serve in understanding, and perhaps assessing, the current conventional generalizations about Penglai and even China. In Penglai I have found enough evidence not to dismiss offhand the following propositions. Tradition, legends, folklore, Taoism and Confucianism, all in an undifferentiated mix, still hold an important place in Chinese imagination and beliefs. Order and safety and the absence of signs of unrest indicate a stable environment.  Big projects are undertaken with the approval of governing bodies, indeed sometimes at their direction. The entrepreneurial motto of “build them they will come” was followed in the recent period of phenomenal growth. There has been overbuilding of infrastructures which are now underused. The phase of development emphasizing investment is giving way to the phase where emphasis has to be on expanding consumption. The need for contact and trade with the outside world is felt while generating pride in indigenous values has become another focus of attention. In all of these, Penglai presents a reflection of what is said also of China as a whole. In that sense, Penglai is a “mirage” of China.

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