-- Taierzhuang in east China's Shandong Province is an ancient brick-walled town sitting on the banks of the Grand Canal. The popular tourist destination is not only famous for its beauty blending southern and northern China, but also a decisive battle during World War II.
-- The reconstruction of Taierzhuang has not only brought the ancient town back in time, but has also improved the residents' livelihoods.
-- Taierzhuang tells us a tale of both past military victory and modern rejuvenation.
JINAN, Oct. 3 (Xinhua) -- Ma Zhiying, the 80-year-old owner of a traditional pastry shop in Taierzhuang, eastern China's Shandong Province, breathed a sigh of relief during the National Day holiday. Roughly 43,900 visitors thronged the 2-square-km ancient town on Thursday, the first day of the eight-day holiday.
"It's not as good as in previous years due to the epidemic," Ma said. "But Taierzhuang is back on its feet, and I've seen far, far worse. After all, the magnificent Taierzhuang ancient town came from the debris of war."
Tourists visit the ancient town of Taierzhuang in east China's Shandong Province, Aug. 20, 2020. (Xinhua/Guo Xulei)
Most visitors to Taierzhuang are attracted not only by its beauty -- urban ponds, canal-lined streets, architectural styles and temples inherited from the past -- but by the history of its significance during the Second World War.
By 1938, the Chinese military had suffered huge losses to the Japanese invaders, an ally of Nazi Germany, following the falls of Beijing, Shanghai and Nanjing.
But the resolve to resist the aggression showed no signs of weakening, and Taierzhuang spoke clearer than anywhere else. The Chinese military braved the Japanese invaders with far inferior weapons and a resolution to sacrifice Taierzhuang to dislodge the aggressor.
The Battle of Taierzhuang, as it was later known, was the first major Japanese defeat since the beginning of the war, which broke the myth of the Japanese military's invincibility, and resulted in an incalculable benefit to Chinese morale.
Photo taken on Aug. 19, 2020 shows a former street battle site of the Battle of Taierzhuang in east China's Shandong Province. (Xinhua/Guo Xulei)
"To the names of small towns famous as turning points in history -- Waterloo, Gettysburg, Verdun -- add still another. It is Taierzhuang, an ancient brick-walled settlement on the banks of China's Grand Canal," American magazine Life wrote at the time, alongside photos taken by Hungarian-American war photographer Robert Capa.
"It greatly encouraged confidence throughout China and the world in the determination of China and the Chinese people to fight and their ability to win," wrote Israel Epstein, then war correspondent with the United Press International who once visited Taierzhuang.
But the town itself was burnt to the ground. Li Jingshan, 86, recalled that when he returned home after the battle, the water would run red when it rained heavily. "There was simply so much blood below the earth."
Taierzhuang gradually came back to life. Zaozhuang City, in which Taierzhuang sits, announced a full-scale revitalization of the town in 2008, the year that marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Taierzhuang.
As a port city on the banks of ancient China's most important canal, Taierzhuang used to be a booming town with a rich history and culture. Local authorities in the 21st century went to great lengths to revitalize the town.
Photo taken on Aug. 18, 2020 shows the gate of Taierzhuang ancient town and a map of the ancient town in east China's Shandong Province. (Xinhua/Guo Xulei)
Wu Zhigang, who is in charge of the town's planning, said that urban planners spent three years poring over 30 local chronicles, talking to every resident over the age of 80, and consulting 130 history books, 380 old pictures, and 1,279 novels from the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911).
Shang Dianzhen, an 86-year-old resident, said he had recounted every address and route in town, the names of residents he could recall, and what types of shops there had been.
"It was the right call to rebuild Taierzhuang in its old image to let everyone see it regain its past glory," Shang said.
With ancient city walls, worn bluestone streets, deep alleys, murmuring water, well-preserved wharves and revetments, the shadows of towers and stone bridges, Taierzhuang is now the perfect place to take a stroll. People can imagine the fierce battle it saw over eight decades ago and look back on its former prosperity.
Yet the reconstruction did not bring Taierzhuang back in time completely -- one key aim was to improve residents' livelihoods in the process.
The upper part of the combo photo taken by Guo Xulei on Aug. 17, 2020 shows an aerial view of Taierzhuang ancient town in east China's Shandong Province. The lower part of combo file photo shows the debris of war in the ancient town after the Battle of Taierzhuang in 1938. (Xinhua)
"Gone are the days when we were helpless during hard times," said 95-year-old Cheng Du, who, like many women of her generation, does not have a given name, using instead her maiden name and husband's surname.
"Generation after generation, my family lived in Taierzhuang, a place torn up by war. In wartime, I used to think that it was good enough if we could survive. Now, I also expect that my business goes well," said Ma Zhiying. "With tourists coming from across the country and the help of the internet, we're selling our pastries all over the country."
(Reporting by Yu Xiaozhong, Wang Yang, Shao Luwen, Wu Feizuo, Wang Zichen, Sun Wenji; Video reporter: Xu Zeyu, Wu Feizuo, Zhao Xiaoyu, Shao Luwen, Wang Yang; Video editor: Zhu Cong)■