Situated along the Jialing River, Peng'an county of Nanchong, Sichuan province, has long been leveraging its rich cultural and tourism resources to attract people from across the nation.
Each year between April and October, visitors to Youfanggou community in Xiangru Street are able to witness a natural wonder: hundreds of buffalo swimming across the Jialing River to graze on an island in the morning and returning at dusk.
According to local officials, in the 1990s, an island was formed in the river due to a water conservancy project. Since then, buffaloes raised by the villagers have ritually headed there. The seasonal spectacle has become part of an event brand called Bainiudujiang, which means hundreds of buffaloes crossing the river. On the last weekend of April every year, the local government launches a buffalo-herding festival.
The event has transformed Youfanggou community from an impoverished fishing village into a demonstration village. It is among the second batch of key national rural tourism villages and in the first batch of Sichuan's rural cultural vitalization villages.
"To date, we herd buffaloes, open farm homestay businesses and farmsteads," said Gong Qiwei, Party secretary of Youfanggou community. He added that because of increasing job opportunities, more young people are returning home.
The event has also given a strong boost to Tazishan community, which is adjacent to Youfanggou. It has set up a 666.67-hectare citrus industrial park, making itself a rural vitalization and development demonstration park in the county.
"What were once barren hills are now citrus trees, which we started to plant in 2013. Nowadays, visitors can travel to our community by shuttle bus after they watch buffaloes swim across the river. They can surround themselves with flowers of radiant hues and pick citrus fruits at our community," said Fu Yong, the community's Party secretary. "Our tourism and related industries have improved since we integrated with the brand."
The tremendous changes taking place in Youfanggou community offer a sneak peek of Peng'an's growth in integrating agriculture with tourism and rural vitalization. In the next step, the county will dig into its local culture and build a number of farmsteads and industrial parks, said a local official.
Located in the middle of Peng'an, Xiangru Ancient Town is the birthplace of statesman and musician Sima Xiangru (179-118 BC). The town covers a total area of 13,000 square meters and has five historical blocks, 50 characteristic ancient courtyards and 100 miniature museums.
In April 2021, on the 2,200th anniversary of the birth of Sima, the newly restored town opened to the public. Since then, it has become a hit with culture lovers. On June 14, the Sima Xiangru Research Association of Sichuan hosted an event at the town in memory of the historical figure.
According to local officials, visitors to Xiangru Ancient Town can expect themselves to be transported back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 220) and immersed in various activities such as wood carving, textile printing, paper-cutting, calligraphy and painting. At 12 spots in the ancient town, there will be performances featuring Sima's stories.
"Xiangru Ancient Town offers an outdoor space for visitors to walk and shop, and indoor space for them to learn about culture and history," an insider said.
With support from the local government, the town is expected to become a national historic and cultural scenic spot.
In addition, Peng'an is home to 40 cultural relic protection sites, 50 intangible cultural heritage items, three large-scale musical shows, hundreds of cultural and creative products and 23 cultural and travel activities.
Local officials said that visitors should not miss Zhouzi Ancient Town in Peng'an, which has also undergone a renovation. In Peng'an, there is an intangible cultural heritage base of boatmen's work songs and chants. For those fond of dragon dances, Xiangru Street is the place to go, as it was named the hometown of folk culture and art in Sichuan province.
Moreover, the 89-kilometer-long section of the Jialing River that flows through Peng'an is said to be as one of the most beautiful in China, according to a local official.
Behind these achievements is Peng'an's strategy that integrates culture and tourism. Tapping resources related to the Jialing River, Xiangru Ancient Town and historical figure Sima, Peng'an offers diverse experiences for visitors to choose. They can either travel along the Jialing River and enjoy the natural scenery or visit two ancient towns－Xiangru Ancient Town and Zhouzi Ancient Town－or come to Bainiudujiang scenic spot and Hongdou village to discover rural life. "Clusters of high-quality scenic spots have taken shape," said a local official.
At the same time, Peng'an has made great efforts in building tourism brands, highlighting cultural elements at its scenic spots and stressing the importance of cultural context in its projects and products.
The county has also harnessed the latest knowledge to innovate its tourism and promote the transformation of its cultural symbols from being static to dynamic. It launches projects with local characteristics with the aim of making its tourism stand out from the competition and reach out to more visitors.