LANZHOU, Sept. 27 (Xinhua) -- Li Sen's stall contains the tools of his trade: self-designed "clearance visas" redolent of ancient times; brushes, a seal and a vermilion inkpad; and a handwritten booklet on the Jiayu Pass, a part of the Great Wall.
Li earns a living playing the role of an ancient "general" at the Jiayu Pass scenic area in the city of Jiayuguan, northwest China's Gansu Province. Visitors can buy ancient "visas" at his stall, paying dozens of yuan for each. These documents are designed by Li and form an essential part of the role-play, allowing tourists to travel back into ancient China.
With tanned skin, Li, 43, sports a long beard and sideburns. In a costume of thick armor, he interacts with tourists and stamps their "visas," adding some personalized information with his ink brush. Then, with a clear and resonant voice, Li announces that they may cross the Jiayu Pass and head to their next destination.
Many visitors are happy to wait patiently in line for their "visas," hiding from the wind and scorching sun behind sunglasses.
The Great Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, consists of many interconnected walls. Regarded as the largest and greatest fortification system in China's history, the Great Wall was built across the country during different dynasties to protect its territory and resist invasion from various nomadic groups.
The Jiayu Pass is the starting point of a section of the Great Wall constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The pass also served as a vital passage on the ancient Silk Road.
In ancient times, some generals were responsible for checking the business envoys leaving or entering via the pass, and those who passed through would be issued an official document.
In June, a video of Li chatting with tourists surfaced on social media, attracting more than 100,000 followers on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok. The video also highlighted the importance of promoting the pass as a tourism destination.
Li was born in Gulang County in the city of Wuwei, Gansu Province. At the age of 12, he moved with his father to the city of Jiayuguan.
During his childhood, Li and his friends often played under an ancient tree near the Jiayu Pass, and climbed onto the Great Wall to view the snow on the Qilian Mountains.
After graduating from high school, Li left Jiayuguan and migrated to coastal cities in search of work. During those years, he picked up odd jobs and learned various craft skills, including fan painting and making wooden seals.
He was determined to "achieve something" before returning to his hometown of Jiayuguan. However, he never made any secret of his battle with homesickness.
At the age of 21, he came back to Jiayuguan and tried his hand at selling trinkets to tourists in the Jiayu Pass scenic area, renting a stall from the local authorities. However, he soon found that the tourism market in his hometown was not as lucrative as in other coastal cities.
"Why are so few people traveling to the Jiayu Pass, which boasts a history of more than 600 years?" he wondered.
He pondered various ways to raise the profile of the pass, such as developing souvenirs with a sense of cultural experience, providing people with greater understanding of its historical significance.
Li sought work once again in other parts of the country, but returned to Jiayu Pass during each peak tourist season, seeking to boost his income with innovative ideas.
He struck on the notion of issuing personalized "visas" for visitors, a concept that soon became popular. He also created a little information booklet, acting as his go-to reference source for the pass and the ancient names of Chinese cities.
In recent years, with the development of tourism in Jiayuguan, the peak season has been lengthened. Li's stay in Jiayuguan every year has been extended from the previous one or two months to nine months.
In 2011, Li married his wife, a native of east China's Jiangsu Province, and they settled in Jiayuguan. At this point, he decided to make a career out of promoting the pass.
Since 2019, he has uploaded various videos on Douyin, mostly centering on his routine work in the scenic area. His efforts are "making a difference" for him, the pass and the city. Li currently has more than 410,000 followers on Douyin.
Moreover, the pass and the Jiayuguan city have gained in popularity. According to official statistics, the city received more than 5.8 million tourist visits from January to August, a year-on-year increase of 134.6 percent.
Looking to the future, Li plans to systematically organize the historical and cultural information relating to the pass, while also developing cultural and creative products suitable for children.