China's Yaxi gets the title of 'slow city'


Beijing: Yaxi, a tiny village with a population of just 20,000 in China's Jiangsu province, has been given the title of "slow city" by a global organisation that researches on life in places which have resisted the fast-moving world.

Cittaslow International celebrates diversity of culture and specialties of a town, which has resisted "the fast-lane, homogenised world so often seen in other cities throughout the world".

It has classified cities in Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Turkey, Britain and the US.

Cittaslow, a movement that started in Italy in 1999, categorises places where there is a "slow and healthy succession of seasons", "authenticity of products and good food", richness in "fascinating craft traditions of valuable works of art", "places of the spirit and unspoiled landscapes", "characterised by spontaneity of religious rites, respect of traditions through the joy of a slow and quiet living".

Now Yaxi, a tiny village in Jiangsu, has been given the title of "slow city".

Even though teenagers of Yaxi are impatient with the leisurely pace of hometown life and there is no nightlife to speak of, no bright lights, no excitement and they cannot wait to grow up and leave for the urban attractions of the big cities, it is this laidback lifestyle that has attracted international attention, the China Daily reported.

Residents at Yaxi are, however, unfazed and pretty much unimpressed by the honour. To them, life has been like this for as long as they can remember.

"Slow city? That sounds like us," says 81-year-old Mei Weibing, whose shoe shop in Old Street has been around for more than 50 years.

Mei does not believe in mass production and three of his sons and their wives help out in the family business, learning the vanishing trade in the process. Every cloth shoe is painstakingly hand-stitched and Mei proudly declares: "I spend three days making one perfect pair of shoes."

The award is only a confirmation of the effort to preserve a country-like atmosphere where growth is limited, chain stores are discouraged and civic life revolves around a close-knit society.

Unlike retired people in urban centres who find too much time on their hands, Mei is too busy to be bored.

"I learnt how to make shoes when I was 13," says Mei. "I picked up the skill in the countryside while hiding from Japanese soldiers during the war and I have used this skill all my life."

But things are changing. It takes longer to make a pair of shoes now.

"Hand-stitched soles are no longer available in the local market, and that means I have to make them from scratch," says Mei. A radio keeps him company as he works and he proudly says the local station has just started all-day broadcasts from November.

Nobody living in this little county had, however, heard of Cittaslow.

"The first time I heard the term was in July, when the vice-president of Cittaslow, Angelo Vassallo, visited Yaxi," says Zuo Niansheng, chief editor of local newspaper Gaochun Today.

"Vassallo was deeply impressed by this village's natural and cultural resources and said it perfectly fitted the requirements for a slow city. That was how Yaxi became connected with Cittaslow," he said.

Cittaslow was founded as a spin-off from the Slow Food movement which started in 1986 as a protest against the first McDonald's in Rome. The movement championed a return to healthy, nutritious home-grown, home-cooked food.

Slow Food has since expanded globally to over 130 countries. There are now 135 accredited slow cities in 24 countries.

"The criteria is very selective at the moment, and no town or city with more than 50,000 residents can be called a slow city," says Cittaslow chairman Pier Giorgio Oliveti.

But the slow city label has drawn criticism from some quarters.

Zuo says: "In ancient times, we used to be a famous trading port as merchants from Anhui province congregated here to do business. But with the advance and development of land transport, we were left behind.

(Article published by Daily.bhaskar.com)