A bridge links China's Dongxing City of the northern bank, and with the Vietnamese border town of Mong Cai on the southern bank across the Beilun.

Dongxing has been a famous border trading port in China's modern history. It was once a flourishing port in South China for trading with Southeast Asia, France, Britain, the United States and Japan. Between the 1920s and 1940s, in particular, merchants in businesses of shipping, salt, fish and tobacco from other parts of China and other countries gathered here in large numbers, and the population reached over 20,000. In those days, the financial market at Dongxing was controlled by eight Chinese and foreign banks.

There were also 100 moneychangers, who exchanged between gold and silver, Chinese and foreign currencies. The streets were crowded with a countless number of companies, shops, restaurants, hotels, gambling houses and brothels. The market bustled with activities during the day. In the evening, feasting and revelry, songs and dance, went on throughout the night. Dongxing in those days were called "Little Hong Kong".

As times changed, Dongxing ceased to be an "adventurers' paradise", though it continued to be an important border town and top trading port. Later, after the border war with Vietnam, Dongxing sank into silence for some time. But today the city is regaining its vigour as never before and taking advantage of its favorable geographical location as the only port linking China and Vietnam by both land and water. With favorable political and economic conditions, Dongxing has been transformed since the early 1990s into an international business and tourist paradise.

Strolling down the streets of Dongxing, it is obvious that the border city has some very unique features. Most of the old buildings on both sides of the narrow streets are of combined Chinese-Western architectural style, reminding visitors of bygone days. There are many French-style multi-storey buildings, evidence of the French influence when Vietnam was under French occupation. During the Sino-Vietnamese War, Dongxing was hit by 3,280 cannon shells, which did great damage to the buildings. Although much of the damage has been repaired, curious visitors to this border town still search out the destruction.

The old buildings, however, are decreasing in number as modern business mansions springing up as trade and commerce develop are rapidly replacing them. Both the old and new streets seem to be always crowded.

Visiting the Jing People
Dongxing is a place where the peoples of China and Vietnam have had the most frequent contact. The good neighborly relations of the border people on both banks of the Beilun River were described as "people drinking water Dongxingfrom the same river" in the 1960s.

The close relationship can also be seen in the customs of the Jing people, who live on the Jingdao Islands at the mouth of the Beilun River, are related by blood with the Vietnamese people.

The Jingdao Islands, also known as the Three Islands of the Jing People, are the only places where the Jing people live as a distinct community in China. As the sea between the islands has been reclaimed, the three islands??Wutou, Shanxin and Manwei??are now connected with the continent by a long dyke and have become a peninsula. The ancestors of the Jing people moved to the islands from Don Son and other places in Vietnam 800 years ago. With a population of 12,000 now, they have retained their own customs and habits.

The first thing visitors see on arrival at the Three Islands of the Jing People is a wide beach lashed by rolling waves, where groups of Jing fishermen move huge fishing nets out to sea on unique bamboo rafts and boats.

Another interesting sight is fishing on stilts. With great ease, the fishermen walk on stilts into the sea, where they cast a small net. This style enables them to fish in deeper water and prevents injury to their feet from the shells and rocks on the sea bottom. This is indeed a unique method of fishing only seen here.

The Jing depend on the sea for a living and are deeply attached to the sea. Their beliefs and festivals are also associated with the sea. One example is the Ha Festival. Ha means "song" in the Jing language, hence the name, the Song Festival; its origin is associated with the sea.

According to a legend, there was a man-eating centipede spirit in the sea. Every time a boat crossed its path it had to give the spirit a live man to eat. Otherwise, the boat would be capsized. Later, an immortal came to eliminate the evil for the people by throwing a pumpkin filled with hot peppers into the mouth of the centipede spirit. After swallowing the pumpkin, the centipede spirit broke into three sections, which became the three islands of Wutou, Shanxin and Manwei. The immortal was honored as the Sea Pacifying King, or Sea God. The Jing people celebrate the Ha Festival with song every year and give offerings to the Sea God. Gradually, the festival also became an occasion for singing and other amusements. During the festival, people carried the altar of the god to the seaside, where he is worshipped in the Ha Pavilion, a temple that serves not only as an ancestral shrine, but also as a singing hall and a place for amusements.

A sideshow of the festival is called "kicking sand" or "throwing leaves". When a young jing man and woman are in love, they will take a stroll on the moonlit beach. At the right time, the man will cough aloud, the first signal for the marriage proposal. The woman will slow her steps and wait; the man will scoop up a pile of sand with his feet and kick it to the woman, the second signal. If interested, she will kick sand back to the man. They thus become engaged. If there is no sand, they will wind some creeper vine leaves into a ball and express their feelings by throwing it at each other.

With the increasing number of tourist, the Three Islands of the jing have undergone great changes. More visitors come to see the virgin forest on Wutou Island where tens of thousands of egrets gather. The beach of Manwei, in particular, has become a tourist hot spot. This 13-kilometre-long broad beach is covered with fine, golden sand and washed by gentle waves. As it is facing the Silver Beach in Beihai, it is called the Gold Beach. During the summer, the beach is crowed with swimmers and colorful beach umbrellas, and some jing people have transformed into entrepreneurs of seafood restaurants and shops selling and renting swimsuits. Fishing boats now also serve as pleasure boats.

If time permits, visitors should not miss the opportunity to visit Mong Cai in Vietnam on the other side of the bridge over the Beilun River. The border checks point in Dongxing is already crowded with people early in the morning; among them are businessmen and local people visiting relatives. But most are tourists going on a one-day tour of Vietnam or starting off their trip to tour the whole of Vietnam. A line drawn across the Friendship Bridge over the Beilun River marks the international boundary.

Nowadays there are only a few cargo vessels plying both sides of the river, but few years ago before the bridge was built, there were innumerable vessels sailing between the two shores of Beilun. Today, as most of the goods in bulk are transported across the bridge by trucks, the river has become deserted.

Mong Cai was once the capital of Vietnam's Quang Ninh Province with a population between 70,000 and 80,000, which made it a city of considerable size in Vietnam. After the outbreak of the Sino-Vietnamese War, most of the buildings in the city were pulled down and moved 30 kilometers away. The provincial capital was also moved to Hong Gay. Mong Cai literally disappeared. With the normalization of relations between the two countries and the development of border trade, Mong Cai has once again become a market town.

The largest building in this town is a hexagonal market building at the center of the town. On all sides of this building are open-air stalls. There are shops in both large and small streets, selling all kinds of things, ranging from surplus war materials, agricultural and sideline products, mountain delicacies and games, down to gold and silver jewellery, gems, medicinal herbs, spices, hardwood furniture, arts and crafts, and anything else that can be sold. The most characteristic of Vietnamese arts are the bone and shell carvings, which are sold at reasonable prices. Parked in the square in front of the central market are row upon row of buses, mini-buses and passenger-carrying motorcycles, awaiting passengers starting tours in Vietnam.



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