Some 25 kilometers southeast of the city of Guilin lies Ancient Daxu ("Big Market") Town. The city, situated on the east bank of the Li River, has been a busy center of trade ever since the Qin (BCE 221-207) Dynasty period, when, under the reign (BCE 246 - 210)* of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, the Ling Canal, which connects the Xiang River of the Yangtze River watershed with the Li River of the Pearl River watershed, was dug.
Ancient Daxu's strategic placement on the banks of a river that had "spokes" leading to the Yangtze River system as well as to the Pearl River system made it a natural transit hub for trade between merchants far away and the upland population within a very large radius of the city of Daxu, since, for these areas, there was little alternative to the prosperous city on the banks of the Li River. Thirteen of the old town's shipping docks remain to this day, spread out along the city's 2 1/2-kilometer-long main street, and they bear witness to the town's former high degree of prosperity.
By the time of the Northern Song (CE 960-1127) Dynasty, Daxu had achieved the status of the richest and most influential of ancient cities of what is present-day Guangxi Province, which was no mean achievement for the period. But it was during the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty that Daxu reached its pinnacle of commercial success; Wanshou Bridge, a handsome single-arched stone bridge that was built during the period, spans the Li River, while the streets of Ancient Daxu Town were - still are - paved with naturally-occurring dark-green limestone blocks, now worn to a shiny patina, thanks to centuries of use.
As is so often the case in general, Daxu's particular "claim to fame" - its strategic location on the banks of a busy waterway, with "spokes" radiating out to China's greatest centers of commerce, making Daxu a natural trade and traffic hub - has also proven to be the ancient city's Achilles' Heel, for during the 1930s, waterways ceded their position of prominence to railways and highways, and Daxu's commerce declined rapidly thereafter. Just as many towns and villages along the Silk Road had rapidly blossomed into important centers of commerce, then shrank with almost equal rapidity when the overland Silk Road gave way to the "Silk Road" by sea route, the burgeoning ancient town of Daxu fell into decline once its trump card, as it were, had been played out.
But unlike the many former bustling cities along the overland Silk Road that were eventually reduced to dusty ghost towns, Ancient Daxu Town continued to thrive, albeit, in a down-sized mode. The nearby river was still useful, and though regional trade might have shifted to railroads and highways, local trade and traffic still depended to a large extent on the Li River. With the emergence of the New China - and especially after the opening of China to the West - Ancient Daxu Town has seen something of a revival as a tourist venue, thanks to the hardy folk who have, in the interim, kept the city and its customs alive down through the ages.
Many of Daxu's residents still ply their traditional handicrafts. Ancient Daxu Town is thus home to a number of cottage industries operated by women, such as rice-wine making and the manufacture of bamboo baskets, while Daxu men are renowned carpenters. Along the city's riverfront stand many well-preserved traditional-style buildings that date from the Ming and Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasties. These sturdy wooden structures - built in a quintessentially Chinese style, i.e., with colorfully decorated eaves and elegantly carved doors and windows - still serve as home to many Daxu families. A leisurely stroll along Ancient Daxu Town's main street offers an occasional glimpse into the traditional Chinese courtyard, where the sight of a grandmother surrounded by a knot of attentive children as she recounts a story about the past, or tells a fairytale, is a not uncommon sight.
* The reason for the seeming discrepancy between the length of the Qin Dynasty and the tenure of the reign of its founder is due to the fact that Qin Shi Huang, the ruler who unified China, was initially only the ruler, or king, of Qin State, from which vantage point the King of Qin managed to subjugate the rest of the rival states: Han, Wei, Chu, Yan, and Qi. Having thus amassed sufficient power, Qin Shi Huang then set about the task of defeating the only remaining ruling entity, the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty proper. This was during what has later been termed the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (the first, relatively peaceful period has been termed the Spring and Autumn (BCE 770- 476) Period).
The Eastern Zhou Dynasty was ruled by a series of weak leaders, and therefore its princes - who were in fact the various relatives (sons, brothers - and their sons) of the rulers of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty - all vied for power and ended up carving up the dynasty into small principalities, or states (the aforementioned states conquered by King Qin), which, during the Spring and Autumn Period of weak rule, coexisted more or less peacefully (the princes all recognized, more or less, the nominal rule of the Zhou Dynasty over their respective states), albeit with occasional in-fighting.
Qin Shi Huang replaced his deceased father as King of Qin when he was only 13, but because he was thus an inexperienced youth, the state's premier, Lu Buwei, served as regent in the young man's stead. Alas, Lu Buwei did not willingly cede power, having acquired a taste for it as regent, so in the end, a 22-yr-old Qin Shi Huang had to seize his birthright by force. Qin thus managed to unify China by the use, primarily, of force, and secondarily, of guile. Given the state of internal strife that prevailed in the "China" that was eventually subdued by King Qin cum Emperor Qin, it is hard to imagine that the "China" in question could have been unified - could have become China - by any other means than by brute force. Besides being known as the ruler who first unified China, Emperor Qin Shi Huang is perhaps best known for having commenced the construction of the Great Wall, and for the creation of the Terracotta Army.