Shaxi is a town in northern Dali prefecture, about three hours drive from Lijiang. By public transport, you can get there by taking a bus to Jinhua (in Jianchuan county) and then getting a minibus to Shaxi.
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich has set up a conservation and sustainable development project here, their Shaxi Rehabilitation Project website says:
the old village of Sideng [Shaxi], a once vibrant staging post along the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail, primarily channeled trade in tea, horses and other valuables between diverse ethnic groups residing along the eastern Himalayan riff beginning in the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907). Sideng flourished over five centuries throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368 – 1911) before stalling under the changing economic, political and industrial landscape of the mid-20th century.
Dr Jacques Feiner, who began the project, is quoted on the Global Heritage Fund site:
“When I first told my guides in China that the dilapidated market square of Sideng was their main [site with tourist] potential they did not believe it. Later, after Shaxi had been selected for the WMF List of the 100 most endangered sites, the attitude of the local government reversed completely to the other extreme. At that time, they virtually believed that they could build a second Lijiang in two years’ time. Despite us telling the government from the start that this was neither possible nor desirable, their dreams were ‘flying high’ and the deception was therefore even stronger when they realized that their plans were in fact not possible in Shaxi and neither were the enormous profits,” Feiner said.
Quite different from the fashion of Chinese government officials, the project people are preaching slow development without excessive commercialization, or what Feiner calls “Lijiangization” of the Shaxi Valley.
Sources: For excellent information on the tea and horse caravan road, see the Silk Road Foundation Newsletter
The market square in Sideng, Shaxi:
If you look closely at the photo above of the opera stage in the market square you can still just make out the characters 农业学大寨, “In Agriculture Study From Dazhai” on the side of the building.
These two statues (of the figures Heng and Ha) stand in the temple opposite the market square’s stage.
These two mythical generals come from a novel written in the Ming dynasty, called Creation of the Gods, which found inspiration from the two guardian deities that stand outside Buddhist temple entrances. They are the fearsome duo Zheng Lun, who destroyed enemies by blowing white steam from his nose (making a “heng” noise), and Chen Qi, who vanquished enemies by blowing yellow gas (with a “ha” sound) from his mouth.
The tale the Creation of the Gods says that the evil Zheng Lun served the notorious King Zhou of the Shang Dynasty, his power to use magic steam given to him by his mentor, the immortal Du’er. When Zheng Lun snorted it sounded like a defening bell, and two rays of white light shot forth from his nostrils sucking up people’s souls. Later he was caught by King Wen of the Zhou dynasty, who reformed Zheng Lun into an upstanding member of society.
Chen Qi was also a general of King Zhou, secretly given his magical yellow gas power by a mysterious, shadowy individual. Chen Qi was taught how to create yellow gas in his stomach, so that whenever he uttered the gutteral “Ha!”, the yellow gas burst forth sending the souls of all who witnessed this to oblivion. Later he was killed by Nezha.
When the prime minister (immortal Jiang Ziya) canonized the gods, he promoted Zheng Lun and Chen Qi as guardians, proselytizers of Buddhism and protectors of Buddhist Law. Thus Heng and Ha entered Chinese folklore. If you want to know which is which, try saying Heng and Ha to yourself, and you can tell from their facial expressions.
哼哈二将 heng1 ha1 – er4 jiang4Zheng Lun [郑伦Zheng4 Lun2] and Chen Qi [陈奇Chen2 Qi2]. In fact these two characters have even older roots, as the Vajrayaksa, protector of Buddhist Law 金刚夜叉Jin1 gang1 ye4 cha (Chin-kang-ch’a in Wade-Giles, Kongoyasha in Japanese). The 金刚 part is interesting, it’s also another word for diamond (usually 钻石zuan4 shi2), the Chinese name for King Kong, and for cars that change into giant robots: 变形金刚 bian4 xing2 Transformers! More Than Meets the Eye…
Creation of the Gods《封神演义》feng1 shen2 yan3 yi4 封 means “to confer a [noble] title upon”, related to 封建 Feudal. There is a Chinese – English bilingual version of Creation of the Gods, the answers.com page says that 演义 can loosely be translated as “epic” (as in 三国演义).
“blowing white steam from his nose” 能鼻哼白气制敌 actually the “white steam” is 白气
the immortal Du’er 昆仑度厄真人 kun1 lun2 du4 e4 zhen1 ren2(真人 is the Daoist word for immortal, as opposed to the usual 神仙shen2 xian)
From “his power to use magic steam given to him by his mentor” 窍中二气 qiao4 zhong1 er4 qi4 窍 qiao4is an old Chinese word that can refer to any of the individual organs of the senses, the ears are two 窍, the eyes two 窍, the mouth one 窍 etc. If someone is really angry, you can describe them as 七窍生烟qi1 qiao4 sheng1 yan1 (even in spoken Chinese) which means, literally, smoke blows from every orifice in the head (much like something off of Tom and Jerry).