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Chengdu Ancient Jinli Street

If you go to Chengdu, the provincial capital of Sichuan in southwestern China, don't miss the opportunity to go to Jinli, a busy trading street with a history stretching back to the Qin Dynasty around two thousand years ago. Today, a new Jinli Street has been built on the site of the ancient lane in the southern part of Chengdu. It has become a tourist attraction, featuring aged buildings and folk customs from the area. Our reporter Yun Feng takes us for a closer look at this bustling street.

Jinli Ancient Street, Chengdu China

The 350-metre-long Jinli Street enjoys a reputation as a historic town. Extending from a gatehouse decorated with two red lanterns, the slabstone-paved street stretches with ancient-style buildings lined on both sides. The grey bricks and crimson columns of these two and three-storey teahouses and antique shops are of classic beauty and primitive simplicity. Porcelain and folk handicrafts displayed in the shops are so dazzling; you can't tear yourself away from them. Yang Ming, a tourist from Taiwan, is impressed by what he has seen.

"I have been in Jinli for only one day, but I've found myself fascinated by its charm. It has an air of great antiquity. There are many antiques sold here and some tasty food as well."

It's true that visitors can experience a particular cultural refreshment at Jinli. Showcased handcrafts, such as clay figurines and paper cuts, bring back vivid memories from childhood. You can also find Sichuan brocade at Jinli, a world-renowned silk product unique to the province. In the Museum of Sichuan Brocade, local girls in traditional wax-printed costumes skillfully demonstrate quilts made with the famous brocade to visitors.

In a courtyard halfway down Jinli Street, classic pieces of Sichuan opera are staged regularly. The most interesting performance for tourists is the shadow play.

Shadow play, or leather-silhouette, shows are a traditional Chinese folk art with over one thousand years of history. The "actors" are brightly painted puppets. The hidden or hooded people manipulate the rods of the talking puppets to tell dramatic versions of traditional fairy tales and myths. The shadow play employs "total theater" integrating dance, music and drama into one art form. Gestures are based on a code of symbolic meanings shared by the actors and audience. The puppeteer moves and gesticulates depending on the stress of the dialogue. When the puppet moves gracefully, the puppeteer moves with the puppet. The puppeteer "transfers" his soul to the puppet, subordinating himself to the puppet and giving life to it.

Every day, these talking puppets attract throngs of visitors who are amazed by this strikingly concerted performance, especially overseas tourists. Among them are Catherine Jones and Roy Jackson from Australia.

"I'm Catherine. I'm Roy. We are both from Australia. We have been on the street for only 10 minutes, but we really love the atmosphere here. The red lanterns all along the street are beautiful and make us feel warm. I like the shadow play very much. It's very interesting."

Zhou Yinong, one of the puppeteers, is proud that this traditional folk art enjoys great popularity.

"I've made many friends from both home and abroad. Last month, an Italian TV network invited me on a TV show to give a demonstration on how to make leather silhouettes and how to act with the puppets. I believe with this show, there will be more Italian friends who will know more about shadow plays and Chinese culture. Above all, I'm so glad to see many overseas friends are interested in Chinese culture."

On the biggest traditional holidays such as the Lantern Festival, Dragon Boat Festival and Mid-Autumn Festival, various themed activities with specific folk characteristics are held at Jinli and attract a large number of visitors to take part.

Since Chengdu is famous for its delicious food, you cannot miss the feast at Jinli where you will find all sorts of well-known snacks from all over Sichuan. You may have heard of kung pao chicken and mapo tofu, which are popular dishes in Sichuan cuisine, but there are more to try.

Zhang Fei beef, for example, named after a historical figure, is salted beef that can be eaten either cold or boiled.

Zhengzhenggao is a steamed bun made of rice flour and sweetened bean paste filling. Lai glutinous dumplings, named after its first producer, are served in soup. Zhong boiled dumplings are hot and filled with pork. We have named only a few here. The rest are left to you to discover. You may enjoy these delicacies at every stop on your trip. They will be one of your best memories of the journey.

Apart from traditional entertainment, modern venues to have fun can also be found at Jinli, such as cafes and pubs. What is different about these pubs and cafes on Jinli Street is that they are the perfect blend of modernism and tradition. The well-structured and beautifully decorated pubs are furnished with red wooden chairs. Carved doors and windows contain classic elegance. The names of the pubs, such as Joy Luck Joint and Lotus Mansion, are written on horizontally inscribed board in Chinese calligraphy, showing the special taste of the shop owners. Outside, wooden desks and chairs of simple styles are placed under oilpaper umbrellas. With a cup of coffee, you can choose to spend an afternoon here, relaxing with a view of the stream of passersby.

Jinli's success lies in the perfect combination of local culture and business. It has attracted thousands of tourists since its opening two years ago. Zhang Lijun, chief official of the Jinli community, tells us the key factors of their success.

"Chengdu is a city with a long history and rich culture. We rebuilt the street of Jinli is to bring back atmosphere of the old Chengdu and offer people a chance to sample the rich flavors of local cultures. I believe the street will also pass onto the later generations who cherish Chengdu traditions."