My recent travels to China took us to Jiangxi province (the area shown in red on the map), a south-west journey from Shanghai, 3 hours via bullet train.
Here, is Mount Longhu - literally meaning 'Dragon Tiger Mountain'. It is one of the birthplaces of Taoism/Daoism (romanised version), with many temples built into the cliffside landscape. Although China is known as a mostly Buddhist nation, the 'true' Chinese way of life is based on Taoist philosophy- less a religion and more of a perspective on life.
The classic yin-yang sign derives from Taoist thought- a duality that represents a balanced life. The different binary definitions are not prescriptive, just like Taoism itself, and are entirely relative. But basic tenets include the dual notions of night (yin) and day (yang), female (yin) and male (yang).
This is the same well which the first-generation Taoist, Zhang Daoling drank from thousands of years ago. I'd never had well water before and it was pleasantly sweet and slightly warm. In ancient times, people had to wash their hands in this holy well water before visiting the temple, since it was disrespectful to show unclean hands to the deities. In the same vein, Taoists pray with their left hand covering their right, since the right hand was usually used in combat and had therefore encountered bloodshed, impolite to show to the heavenly gods.
We went through the old town, situated in the mountains. It was an amazing snapshot of local life and felt so far away from the 21st-century city life I am used to. Although everything seemed novel to me, turning me into the dumbfounded, gaping tourist who couldn't stop taking photos- it must've been strange from the locals' point of view who likely knew no other way of life, and did not see the same jarring juxtaposition of old and new that I did. Most of the dwellings opened straight onto the main road, with everything inside visible- TV sets, plastic chairs and kids toys next to traditional wooden tables, men playing mahjong; each dwelling a striking tableau of mountainside life.
If you look closely at the last photo, you will see holes in the cliffside. The ancient practice was to place coffins inside these openings, with more important people placed higher up. It is still unknown how these coffins were placed in the holes since the rock face is sheer. These cliffside resting places had to face east to catch the morning light as a sign of good luck and prevent the wooden coffins from rotting.
The peace and continuity of a simpler way of life in the Chinese mountainscape contrasts immensely to big cities like Shanghai. It is a reminder amidst all the criticism, corruption and problems which we read about China, providing us with a cynical point of view- that there is a rich, inspiring cultural history that lies largely unspoiled, an escape where such reflection comes easily.
The mountains are well-traversed and suited to domestic tourists, but may not come easily to Western travellers since it is not particularly developed. Although there is an innocent charm in the poor english on signs and sense of authenticity with young local tour guides- and I hope these remain in the future- but with a sustainable focus on developing tourist information to make the experience more accessible for international travellers.