A week or so ago, we went to Huidong (惠东), one of the poorer counties in Huizhou City (惠州市). Huidong is located within the valleys of the mountain range that runs parallel to the eastern coast of Guangdong. Via mountain paths, it is a four-hour hike from Huidong to Haifeng (海丰县).
The area is the location of Guangdong’s fourth largest reservoir and clear creeks weave throughout the mountains. Historically, these valleys were settled by Hakka and each valley supported small settlements, roughly 200 to 300 people, or 30-odd households. However, since the deepening of Reform and Opening Up after Deng Xiaoping’s 1992 Southern Tour, the area has gradually emptied out; most villagers have migrated for work to Shenzhen and Dongguan, while others have moved to a nearby market town where the elementary school is located. In every village we visited, The rice polders have been overgrown and streams have been converted to swimming areas for returnees on vacation. Many houses have collapsed and been removed, while those still standing have been renovated and upgraded and are occupied by solitary caretakers, who visit each other to drink tea, play cards, and gossip.
The area, of course, has a deep history that extends back to at least the fall of Southern Song, when Buddhists, Daoists, and other itinerants set up temples in the mountains. One of the oldest and largest compounds is the Xilai Temple (西来古刹) , which was built into the mountains and has welcomed many different gods and their worshippers. It is a beautiful site that manages to remind us how difficult mountain life is to sustain.