Across China: An American's bond with ancient road system "Shudao"-Xinhua

Across China: An American's bond with ancient road system "Shudao"

Source: Xinhua| 2024-03-21 18:19:45|Editor:

CHENGDU, March 21 (Xinhua) -- Hope Justman, an 81-year-old American, completed her 24th trip to "Shudao," an ancient road system with a history of more than two millennia in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

"I'm not a hiker, but a hiker by accident. Because the only way to see it is to hike it," she said.

Spanning over 1,000 km, "Shudao," or the roads of the Shu Kingdom, winds through rugged mountains and tumultuous streams, connecting present-day Sichuan Province with the northern Guanzhong Plain, once the heartland of ancient China.

Justman's connection to the ancient road system can be traced back to her college days. As part of a course on Chinese literature and art, she visited an exhibition in Boston, where a painting named Emperor Minghuang's Journey to Sichuan, captured her full attention.

Huge mountains, verdant trees, mountain streams and winding plank roads made that painting look deep and gorgeous, with a certain sense of mystery. "I was particularly intrigued by the plank road skirting the sheer mountain peaks in the background," she said, adding that when she found out that the road actually existed, she knew she had to go to China to find it.

In 1997, after reading almost every English book on travelling in China, she finally found "Shudao" with the help of local guides. "It was old, dignified and beautiful, just as in the painting," she said.

Since then, she has made an almost annual pilgrimage to "Shudao," hiking more than 400 km so far.

Justman not only shared the photos she took on the ancient road system with friends and family in her hometown Philadelphia, but also created a website and wrote a book on it. In 2015, her friend shot a documentary about "Shudao" and uploaded it to YouTube, attracting like-minded people who asked to join Justman.

Last Friday, Justman brought some friends to the Cuiyunlang section of Shudao in Jian'ge County, Guangyuan City. The ancient cypress trees along this section boast an average age of 1,050 years, with the oldest tree dating back approximately 2,300 years.

Presently, the Cuiyunlang section proudly harbors 7,803 ancient trees, with a staggering 7,778 being ancient cypress trees. It has become the most extensive and populous group of ancient trees lining a man-made pathway, with the longest recorded existence.

"I could have been walking in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), so I kind of feel that I traveled back in time. And that was the great appeal to me. Ancient people were passing those trees, and I'm passing the same trees. It's really amazing," she said.

What also amazes Justman is that the tradition of planting and protecting cypress has been passed down from generation to generation. From ancient to modern times, the Chinese people have always kept a record of the protection of ancient trees. Today, there is a QR code on each ancient tree, which can be scanned to know its growth status and age.

"They're beautifully preserved. I think the Chinese love old trees, even in cities, any old tree is well-preserved. And even a tree in the middle of the highway, they don't cut it down," she said.

In 2015, Justman planted a sapling at the Cuiyunlang section. This year, she and her friends planted another two, and they promised to meet again here next year.

"Most of me belongs to America. But the cypress trees that I planted make me feel that a part of me still remains in this ancient place, and I'm so glad," she said.