Descendants re-trace steps of ancient traveler, geographer

08:36, May 19, 2011      

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Treading the stone path tucked away in the verdant and fairly remote Tiantai Mountain, Xu Zhenqing cannot help but get caught up in feelings of nostalgia.

For 69-year-old Xu, it is a trip back in time, which, in a sense, reconnects himself with his tenth great grandfather, Xu Xiake, a legendary traveler and geographer in ancient China who is known to have travelled to the Tiantai Mountain three times during his life.

"It is dreamlike. I feel so excited and surreal as I realize that I am now walking in the footsteps of my ancestor," Xu said.

Xu Zhenqing, from the eastern city of Shanghai, arrived at Tiantai County in east China' s Zhejiang Province with his five family members on Tuesday at the invitation of the local government, as part of the county' s celebration of the inaugural Chinese National Tourism Day, which falls on May 19.

The central government last month set the tourism day on May 19, which is believed to be the date when Xu Xiake started writing his famous travel book to document his travels around the country.

About 400 years ago, Xu Xiake, dubbed the saint of travel in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), travelled throughout the country for more than 30 years and wrote a masterpiece entitled "Travel Notes of Xu Xiake", which is recognized as both a literary and geography treasure.

As recorded in his travel book, the first stop of Xu Xiake' s journey was the Tiantai Mountain. Located about 200 kilometers from Shanghai, the mountain is well-known as a Buddhist Mecca.

Xu Zhenqing and his family visited several scenic spots that are thought to have been tread by Xu Xiake, including the Huading Temple and the ancient routes in the mountain.


Xu Zhenqing felt fulfilled as the trip provided him with a golden chance to know more about his ancestor.

"My admiration for him grows as my understanding about him deepens," Xu said, "Just imagine how much courage and perseverance it had to take for him to travel around for so many years all by himself, on foot or on horseback."

"Driven by his love of nature and a quest for knowledge, Xu Xiake overcame all kinds of hardships, including running out of food and being robbed." Xu said, "His travels brought him to many climates where he would be at the mercy of the elements. He was dependant on the kindness of strangers, such as the local scholars and monks in the villages he would visit."

Xu said that the characters of Xu Xiake have been cherished by his family as a treasure handed down from one generation to another throughout the years.

Xu Zhenqing was once a soldier and then worked as a policeman before retirement. "Xu Xiake has always been an inspiration for me," Xu said, "Whenever I am upset by adversities, I can feel the blood of Xu Xiake running in my veins giving me strength and hope."


Xu Zhenqing said, what makes Xu Xiake admirable is not only his extensive journeys, but also his contributions to science, as his travel book detailed his observations about geography, hydrology, geology and botany.

One of Xu Xiake's most significant contributions to science was his scientific study of the karst landforms, which are features created by the drainage of water into the ground such as sinkholes, caves, and natural bridges. He visited over 270 caves and kept records of their height, depth, and the cause of the formation.

Mao Peiqi, professor from China's Renmin University in Beijing, said, Xu Xiake was born at a time when the scientific ideas were taking root as China was transforming itself from a traditional to a modern society.

"Xu Xiake' s passion for scientific exploration and his respect for nature are reflected by his travel books and are a great treasure for the Chinese nation," Mao said, "By celebrating the tourism day, I hope that more Chinese people, especially young people, can benefit from the ancient wisdom."

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