Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

Fallen Leaves' Homecoming: Notes on the 1893 Gold Mountain Charity Cemetery in Xinhui

Academic journal article Chinese America: History and Perspectives

Fallen Leaves' Homecoming: Notes on the 1893 Gold Mountain Charity Cemetery in Xinhui

Article excerpt

Author's Note: Xinhui, together with three other counties--Kaiping, Enping, and Taishan/Xinning--constitute the so-called Siyi (four counties) regions from which almost 80 percent of the early (pre-1949) Chinese-American population, originated. In the imperial (pre-1911) days, Xinhui was for a long time the administrative center and was regarded as the most educated of the four counties. Known as the Wenhua cheng (City of Culture), it was the home of several outstanding and influential men of letters who made their marks on Chinese intellectual history: Chen Xianzhang (Chen Baisha) in the Ming dynasty, Liang Qichao in the late Qing period, and Chen Hun in the contemporary era. In politics, Wu Tingfang, born of Xinhui emigrant parents in Singapore, and an outstanding diplomat in the late Qing period, became the Chinese ambassador to the United States, Spain, and Peru. Wu Langxi, a modern Chinese writer, was an influential figure holding to the Mao Zedong ideological path in contemporary China. Hence there is t he local saying, "Dongguan quantou, Xinhui bi," meaning that Dongguan county, situated on the east side of the Pearl River Delta, is the "fist" (i.e., home of military men) and Xinhui, on the west side, is the "brush" (i.e., home of literary men). But though Xinhui enjoyed intellectual distinction in the Siyi area, its literacy was not apparent in the history of early migration to the Americas. Like Kai ping, Engping, and Taishan emigrants, Xinhui emigrants to what was called "Gold Mountain" (Jinshan) were mostly peasants, laborers, and working partners of small service-oriented business such as laundries, groceries, and restaurants. This personal essay looks at one aspect of the bond between the new Gold Mountain community and the ancestral homeland--a bond made by working-class participants whose journey to Gold Mountain is the basis of our Chinese-American community legacy and cultural heritage.

DISCOVERY OF THE 1893 GOLD MOUNTAIN "CHARITY CEMETERY" IN XINHUI

For centuries, Huang Kang (Yellow Valley), situated in the southwestern foothills of Guifeng Mountain and in the northwestern outskirts of Xinhui City, was called the shan (mountain), a euphemism for "cemetery" in Cantonese popular culture. Local legend has it that Huang Kang fengshui was superb. Huang Kang is an area along the "dragon's vein" that ran by the northern edge of the city The area farther north of Huang Kang was considered so auspicious that the Xinhui people of the feudal era named it Tianzi di (Land of the Son of Heaven). (1) Perched at the foot of Guifeng Mountain, this area guards the Huang Kang valley At the bottom of the valley there used to be a slow-running creek with its source on Guifeng Mountain. Slopes on both hillsides were gradual, without deep inclines. The eastern slope provided a panoramic view toward the west side. In popular Cantonese belief, "west" corresponds to the mystical Xifang ji le shijie (Western Ultimate Paradise), where deserving souls go after death. Thus the local people believed that, given such excellent fengshui elements, a good burial in Huang Kang after death would bring prosperity to future generations. In pre-1949 days, families who could afford a good burial would seek a fengshui master to determine a lucky spot somewhere on either side of Huang Kang's upper slopes for a family member's final resting place.

Down at the bottom of the valley some peasants grew vegetables on the narrow spread of flatland along the tiny creek, taking advantage of the natural irrigation there. But more often than not, the flatland, which had no panoramic view, was used as a burial ground for the less fortunate who could not afford a hillside grave. Wild bushes and weeds grew over the areas not used for planting. For years there was only a narrow dirt trail along the creek, wide enough for a single file of mourners and undertakers sending the deceased on his or her final journey But after the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), the low land along the eastern hillside was used to widen the trail into a one-lane gravel road. …

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