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  1. Heshun Library in Tengchong County,Baoshan

Heshun library, the earliest and largest village library in China

In southwest China's Yunnan Province, Heshun Township lies right at the southern end of the Chinese section of an over century old 'tea-horse trade route' that borders Myanmar. Having a history of over 600 years, which is shorter than that of the 'tea-horse trade route', Heshun still stands as one of the ten most charming ancient towns in China. Many well-known Chinese merchants and literati were born in Heshun. Despite its glory of history, locals are most proud of their town's library, the first and largest village library in China.

Heshun Library lies beside the river that runs through the town. It was built by stone and wood in 1928 and resembles a college campus with a dooryard. Books, magazines and newspapers in six reading rooms are available to locals free of charge.

Liu Fuqing, a 58-year-old businessman, is reading newspaper in the library when we arrived for a visit.

"I like our library very much. I came here when I was small. It's a holy place for me to study. Though I'm working in the county, I come here every day to read newspapers and books. I was born and grew up here and can't live without the library."

As the biggest village library in China, Heshun Library boasts a collection of around 80,000 books, most of which are easy-to-read and are related to people's daily lives such as farming. About 10,000 of the books are rare and ancient ones.

Unlike other libraries in big cities, Heshun Library was built with the fund donated by both local merchants and the Heshun people who had settled down in Myanmar. They subscribed to newspapers and magazines and kept abreast of domestic and international current affairs.

Cun Maohong, former curator of the library, says:

"Back then, transportation was very poor. There were no roads in remote areas. If donors wanted to transport books from Shanghai by land, it took about two months. They had to transport the books to Myanmar by ship and then use horses to carry them here. It took about two weeks."

Heshun is a remote town of no more than 20 square kilometers on China's southern border. It is located at an altitude of more than 1,500 meters, and has a population of 6,000. Most of the residents in this mountainous border town are farmers.

The library has remained intact for more than 80 years, withstanding wars and political turmoils. It has become an important source of education and leisure for locals.

Famous scholars have travelled far and wide to visit the Heshun Library. Among them was Hu Shi (1891-1962), a great Chinese modern scholar, poet, historian, and former president of Peking University.

Now, the library opens at 8 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m. every day. People can borrow books with a library card. Only five people work there. 37-year-old Cun Jianqing takes charge of the library's periodicals.

"One half of Heshun's population, or over 3,000 people have library cards. Senior citizens and children who have more spare time to visit here frequently. When the young people are free, they are also frequent visitors to the library. Every day we receive about 50 readers. My kid reads books here very often. It is our tradition to attach importance to education and cultural development."

Thanks to this tradition, Heshun also built a middle school and four primary schools before 1949. The middle school has become the second most important middle school in the county.

Cun Maohong says the Heshun Library's geographical location has contributed a great deal to raise locals' awareness to education.

"Farming is the main means for people to make a living in Heshun. But the town has always had a large population and shared limited farmland. Many people had to go to Myanmar, India and Southeast Asia to make a living. Through their struggles in foreign lands, our ancestors began to realize the importance of education for the development of our hometown."

Locals describe the library as a beacon that guides them forward and a treasury from which they absorb wisdom. It has contributed to their pure folk customs and culture and served as a source of enlightenment for many famous literati.

"The establishment of the library aimed to enlighten people. It has achieved its goal as generations of Heshun people have come here to read books. We have benefitted greatly from the library. People in our town are known for civility and friendliness." Liu Fuqing, a local businessman who visits the library frequently, said.

In 1980, the Heshun Library was included in the national library administration system, and listed as a provincial cultural relics site. Tourists have flocked to Heshun since 2000 when the town became better known to the outside world. Many of them say they are impressed by the library.

"It's difficult to find another library like this in other areas. I heard a legend that a farmer in Heshun left his cattle on the mountain and went to read books in the library."

"It's very unique. Farmers come here to read books and newspapers when they are free. They can also borrow books from the library."

"Locals are gentle and cultivated. From the library we see how much importance they place a library on education and culture."

But the pickup in Heshun's tourism industry has also put some pressure on the library's service.

Cun Yunguang is the library's curator.

"There are conflicts between the development of tourism and the protection of the library and its reading environment. For example, the reading room is supposed to be very quiet. But now it's noisy because many tourists are coming here. In the future, we are moving the reading room to the back of the library. The reading room now will mainly be for visiting."

Not to be left behind by the digital revolution, the township library introduced computers in 2000. Now locals can share their stories with the rest of the world, online.

In the meantime, local residents and people from the surrounding areas continue to donate books to the library.

Curator Cun Yunguang says he hopes the library will expand to serve more people in the future.

Admission Fee:¥0

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