Text by Li Shuya Photographs by Dong Fang
A movement founded in Italy in 1999 with the aim of slowing down cities’ overall pace, Cittaslow admitted Yaxi as its 143rd and first Chinese member two years ago at its assembly in Scotland. The organization has helped bring Yaxi under a media spotlight, which in turn has made it a new tourist hot spot.
Geographically, Gaochun, about 60 kilometers south of the Lukou International Airport, is the remotest county from urban Nanjing, capital of Jiangsu Province. Located on the border between Jiangsu and Anhui provinces, it is surrounded by mountains and enjoys flourishing vegetation, which inspired its nickname, the “backyard garden of Nanjing.” Yaxi is found about 20 kilometers west of the garden. It comes as no surprise that Yaxi’s flora seems even more lush and vibrant.
Actually, this “slow town” is comprised of a group of villages. A zigzagging asphalt road (rare in rural China where roads are usually paved with cement) slopes up and down as it stretches over the horizon. Patches of knee-high yellow heronsbills along the road sway in the wind, seemingly greeting guests from afar. Pristine mountains and forests, crystal clear water, varying shades of green and clusters of traditional Anhui-style houses featuring grey eaves and white walls together create a tranquil pastoral landscape romanticizing the area south of the Yangtze River.
Like many small towns in China, Yaxi has changed much since the reform and opening up started in the late 1970s. Young people left the village for work and returned to construct two and three-story buildings with the money they earned. Life in the village has gradually improved. In 2004, officials carefully planned for construction of a country road, “eco-tour,” to connect the six picturesque villages and their combined 20,000 residents. Local governments hoped to develop eco-tourism with their unique ecological resources. In 2009, the first Yaxi Golden Flower Festival attracted a flood of visitors from Nanjing to see the area’s blooming canolas.