The Gateway to Guangdong: Pearl Alley and the Plum Mountain Pass

The Pearl Alley or Zhujixiang 珠璣巷, Nanxiong is in Northeastern Guangdong province was a wealthy town across the border from Jiangxi province. As Han Chinese families migrated from the Central China to Guangdong, for many Pearl Alley was the first stop after traversing the Plum Mountain Pass or Meiguan Pass 梅關 through the Nanling Mountains 南嶺山. As such it could be consider to be the Ellis Island of Guangdong.

The Nanling mountains separate the Yangtse and Pearl River watersheds and are located at the junction of Guangdong, Guangxi, Hunan, and Jiangxi provinces. The mountain range elevation averages 3,000 feet with peaks as high as 6,000 feet. The ancient Meiguan road was first built in the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) and covered the more than 75 miles between Ganzhou, Jiangxi 贛州江西, in the north and Nanxiong in the south. The road quickly became the main north-south trade artery and accelerated the shift of China’s economic center of gravity away from the central plains and toward the south. The pass was named after the numerous plum trees planted along the road.

North gate of Meiguan Pass with "South Guangdong Xiongguan" engraved over the arch, and "Plum Ridge or Plum Mountain Range" on the stone tablet. [Credit: Zhangzhugang – own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33050221]

Zeng Family Migration to Guangdong

The Zeng family had lived in Jiangxi on the northern side of the Meiguan Pass since 10 CE when the entire clan migrated from Shandong Province. Around 963, during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period, Zeng Zhong Mei 曾中美 moved from Ganzhou to Nanxiong. In 1127, the Northern Song Dynasty fell to the Jurchen-led Jin Dynasty, and many Han Chinese families fled to southern China. In 1131, Zhong Mei's 5th great-grandson Zeng Geng Shen moved from Pearl Alley to Lingtou, Xinhui 新會縣嶺頭 in southern Guangdong.


Chen Family Migration to Guangdong

My mother's branch of the Chen family moved to Pearly Alley in 1099. At that time, our ancestor Chen Wen left Long Xi 龍溪 in Fujian Province with his uncle and nephews to avoid persecution for a political mistake his father had made. They moved to Sha Jin Village 沙井村 in the Pearl Alley area. Here, the family thrived and within a few generations had regained some of their political influence. Wen's great-grandson, Chen Feng Tai 陳鳳臺 was an imperial counselor or Daifu 大夫 in the waning years of the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1,127). He had seven sons of whom five were government officials who had obtained Jin Shi status 進士.

Feng Tai was removed from his post when he could not negotiate peace with encroaching tribes. In 1216, he decided that the only way for the family to survive was for them to scatter and hide. They moved south from Pearl Alley into Guangdong. Our ancestor was Feng Tai's second son Chen Xuan Gong 陳宣公 (also known as You Weng 猷翁 and Nan Qiao 南僑). He moved to Gu Gang Zhou, Shi Tou Village, in Xinhui County 新會縣谷岡州石頭村. His brothers and their families moved to different villages in the surrounding counties.

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