Zhujixiang (珠璣巷) or Pearl Lane is located about 9km north of Nanxiong city (南雄市) off the main highway to Jiangxi Province (江西省) on the east side.
1,000 Year Old Banyan tree 千年榕樹
From the Tang Dynasty (618-907) (唐朝) onwards waves of migrants came to northern Guangdong Province via the Plum Pass/Meiguan into Nanxiong County (南雄縣). Most of the officials’ families settled down in old Zhujixiang in Shashui Township (沙水鎮) and lived there for several generations. Many of the old buildings still remain and now contain small shrines in the front facing the cobbled lane. All of the original residences that probably housed officials are referred to by surname as Zuju (祖居)(ancestral home) or Guju (故居)(old home). In historical terms, Zhujixiang (珠璣巷) can perhaps now be labeled as a “half-way house” in terms of the migration of people from central and northern China toward the south over the centuries.
This place was quite unique, even for China, as it became a focal point of congregation in northern Guangdong Province for all the different clans that fled south which also included court officials during the waning years of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) (南宋朝). It consists of a lake with three gates, the South Gate (南門) which also serves as the main entrance, the Middle Gate (中門) and the Northern Gate (北門) with a cobbled lane, Pearl Lane/Zhujixiang (珠璣巷) connecting them. All the clans had official residences lining both sides of the cobbled lane and even today these old buildings have been preserved as remembrance clan shrines. Banyan trees were planted in several locations and the one identified as a “thousand year old banyan” (千年榕樹) is located beside the Double Dragon Bridge (雙龍橋) which is not far from the new Chen shrine.
Today, Zhujixiang consists of two sections, the old quarter with its cobbled lane and old single story buildings is still preserved as a heritage site. There is also a newer section which skirts the western perimeter of the old quarter and it is here that new clan shrines have been built (and still building) including a large museum and a post office. The southern approach to the village has an arch with statues on either side signifying the populace fleeing during the Hu Fei calamity. One statue shows people navigating rafts down the river and the other depicting people fleeing on foot with wheel barrows and their livestock of chicken and pigs.
A visit to Zhujixiang, especially for descendants from Southern Guangdong Province, is awe inspiring. When you walk through the cobbled lanes you will sense the past history that once occurred there especially when you realize your ancestor once lived in this village perhaps some 800 years ago. That experience alone is worth the effort to visit Zhujixiang.
There are two anecdotes on the possible origin of the name, Zhujixiang (珠璣巷).
The first story says the original name of the place was Jingzongxiang (敬宗巷). During the Tang Dynasty (唐朝) there was a person called Zhang Chang (張昌) whose first ancestor Zhang Xing (張興) had lived in Jingzongxiang and the Zhang family had lived there for seven generations at the same residence. At the beginning (824) of Tang Jingzong’s (唐敬宗) reign (824-826) the emperor was to present Zhang Chang with pearls to commemorate this auspicious event of seven generations having lived under one roof. In those days it was forbidden to use the reigning emperor’s name, in this case, Jingzong (敬宗) which also happened to be the name of the lane. So, the emperor's gift of pearls to the Zhang family facilitated a name change to Zhujixiang (珠璣巷) or Pearl Lane.
The second story says there was originally a lane called Zhujixiang (珠璣巷) in a city called Gaixiangfu (蓋祥符) which is today called Kaifeng (開封) in Henan Province (河南省). Over the years there were frequent migrations of people southward into Lingnan (嶺南) (the old name for Guangdong Province), Nanxiong County, Shashui Township (南雄縣沙水鎮). So, the lane inside the village of Shashui was called Zhujixiang in remembrance of the one they left behind in Kaifeng, Henan Province.
Which one is true? Both sound plausible and either one could be true.
Later on, a calamity in the small community involving the Song Dynasty concubine Hu Fei (胡妃) brought fear of persecution by the imperial court and caused many officials and their families to flee southward and re-settle in the Pearl River Delta Region (珠璣三角洲).
Today, Zhujixiang is considered an important Chinese historical and cultural heritage site by the government of Guangdong Province as the majority of the descendants in the Pearl River Delta Region had their roots there for many generations.