In eastern Zhejiang, immortality beckons

By Ma Zhenhuan in Xianju, Zhejiang | | Updated: 2023-05-30

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A group of visitors wave to a drone at the Shenxianju Scenic Area in Xianju county of Taizhou, Zhejiang province, on Saturday. [Photo by Qi Xiao/]

Located in the western part of Taizhou, Zhejiang province, Xianju county is known for its mouthwatering yangmei — waxberry — and its breathtaking natural scenery.

One of the most popular attractions in Xianju and across Zhejiang — is shenxianju, which literally means "dwellings for immortals" or "residences for celestial beings".

The name itself might have already given visitors some idea as to what to expect even before they arrive: majestic mountains shrouded in misty clouds.

A national 5A-level tourist spot, the Shenxianju Scenic Area is the core of Xianju National Park.

It has received nearly a million visitors from Jan 1 to May 25 this year, with total revenue hitting over 170 million yuan ($24 million), more than triple the figures of the same period in 2019, said Chen Haoze, deputy general manager of the Shenxianju Tourism Group, which manages the area.

"Over the past few years, we have installed cable cars and escalators so that tourists, especially the young and the elderly, can have a better experience."

Meanwhile, sustainable tourism is always the top priority, he said, as some 50 million yuan is invested each year for the protection and maintenance of the environment in the area.

Booming tourism has also helped nearby residents. In Xiaye village, which sits in the foothills of the Shenxianju mountains to the west, almost every household is connected to some form of tourist business. Xiaye currently has 120 homestays, seven of which have won recognition from the French Development Agency.

In 2022, the village welcomed more than 590,000 tourists, and per capita disposable income of residents increased to 29,027 yuan. In 2010, the per capita income was only 5,020 yuan.

Chen Jinwei, a resident whose family owns a homestay in Xiaye, said they earn about 300,000 yuan annually.

"We used to run a food stall in Shanghai," Chen said, "and the highest annual income for us was no more than 100,000 yuan despite having to work long hours."

After 15 years in the city, Chen decided to return to Xiaye in 2010, when Xianju began to renovate and build new houses for rural residents, including Xiaye village.

"Now I can take care of my children, parents and fields, and live a much more comfortable life," he said.

During past Labor Day holidays from April 29 to May 3, Chen's homestay received 56 visitors, garnering 13,000 yuan.

In 2022, Xiaye village was chosen by the World Tourism Alliance, an international global NGO, as one of 50 examples of tourism helping to reduce poverty and promoting rural revitalization.

Xianju's rich biodiversity has put it on the map as well. Some 279 families of 2,044 species of flora and fauna have been recorded in the county, which covers an area of more than 2,000 square kilometers.

Junpu (a mushroom guidebook) is believed to be the world's earliest existing monograph on edible mushrooms. It was written in 1245 by a Xianju resident named Chen Renyu during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279).