It is always interesting to visit a new city. In February I had the chance to spend a couple days in the Southern Guangdong city of Chaozhou, or as it is sometimes transliterated from the Cantonese pronunciation Chiuhchow (chiùhjāu) ; it is also sometimes written as Teochew. This smaller Chinese city (less than 3 million) sits along the Han River and is just 40 kilometers from the port city Shantou (Swatow) on the South China Sea. It is in the far southeastern part of Guangdong Province, quite close to Fujian. I was in Guangzhou and decided to take the 6 hour train ride out to see Chaozhou. When I was living in Hong Kong back in the early 80’s I had met many people from Chaozhou; I was also interested in Chaozhou cuisines which has a major culinary tradition, though it is usually considered a subcategory of Cantonese cuisine.
Many Chinese cities have two distinct parts, the old, original part, and the newer built up part. The old sections of these cities are full of character with winding alleys, vendors hawking their goods on the streets, and small restaurants and shops lining the streets. The new sections of these cities have wide streets, skyscrapers, and very little character, in my opinion. Chaozhou has a quaint feel to it. Though there is a newer section to town, most of the city seems to have retained that old China feel to it. The most interesting part of town consists of a maze of narrow alleys clustered around the Kaiyuan Temple (Buddhist). In ancient China these religious centers were the focus of any city and vendors would set up stalls and shops all around these temples. Even now in China some of the bigger outdoor markets surround Buddhist, Taoist, or Confucian Temples. The famous Fuzi Miao shopping area in Nanjing is a classic example of this. The very name of this market means “Confucius Temple.”
The pace of life seemed slower and more laid back than many other parts of China where I have spent time. Instead of large grocery stores and discount stores, there were open meat and vegetable markets. Vendors sold goods off the backs of their bicycles. Traditional hats and clothing were observed on the streets and in the markets. Three wheeled pedicabs were abundant, both for transporting people, as well as the flat bed variety for transported large goods. Restaurants were everywhere, sometimes with tables set out on the sidewalks. The people of Chaozhou take their food and eating very seriously, just like the Cantonese. Street food was everywhere and the snacks were delicious. The people were friendly, gracious, and not afraid to talk to a foreigner. The Chaozhou dialect is completely different from Mandarin or Cantonese. Since I don’t know any Chaozhou dialect I was stuck with using Mandarin, or occasionally Cantonese when I met someone from somewhere else in Guangdong Province.
I enjoyed two and half days wandering around sampling the local cuisine, strolling the narrow alleys, talking to locals, and relaxing in this rather laid back small city in China’s far south. The following photographs are my impressions of Chaozhou. Black and white seemed fitting for Chaozhou as the area I spent most of my time had that old China feel to it. It was a very nice change of pace from bigger, more hectic Chinese cities.
Awesome people pictures!
The way you captured life and the streets’ atmosphere is really catching; makes me want to visit the place!
I lived in Chaozhou in 1996 as a teacher. The photos bring back many fond memories. I want to return again. Thank you for reminding me of this special place.
This is exactly the kind of place I was hoping still existed in China. I dream of visiting a place as such to feel I have traveled back in time. Chaozhou is definitely going on the top of my list for places to visit in China. Thank you so much for sharing this!
Great photos. This was our ancestral town and we enjoyed the atmosphere, in particular that for FengXi. Do you know where we can find old photos of Chaozhou & Fengxi?
From this article, I was able to learn that most Chinese cities consist of two distinct parts which is the old original part and the newer built up part. While I haven’t actually visited Chaozhou, I recognize this phenomenon in my own current home of Shanghai. In Puxi, there’s clearly marked historic areas compared to the newer shopping districts and malls. Parts of the French concession are preserved historically while there are also shopping malls a couple of streets done. This illustrates the dichotomy talked about in this article regarding old and new areas of places in China.
It is really aesthetically pleasing to see all of these photographs in black and white.There is something so peaceful and serene, yet lively, about these photos.I especially love the photograph of the fisherman on the Han River. Sometimes I think about how wonderful it would be to live a life like that!
I found it very interesting to see that Chaozhou has an entirely separate and distinctly different dialect from that of mainland China. The pictures gave a beautiful representation of the difference in age and contemporary feel. This article reminded me of New York University and its layout. Parts of the campus were modern and industrial, while others maintained original streets and buildings from before the university came to be.