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A home of values protects heritage

Updated: 2022-04-11 09:13 ( Xinhua )
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KUNMING-Even in the era of new, magnificent high-rises, 51-year-old Li Junxing lives with pride in a 147-year-old house that has been converted into a living museum.

Located in the Old Town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Southwest China's Yunnan province, this house-museum has been the abode of four generations and is emblematic of Li's merchant family heritage.

Built in 1875, the house is named Heng Yu Gong and it boasts delicately carved wooden doors and windows with dim gold-plated patterns, reflecting the history of the ancient Tea Horse Road and its own cultural significance.

"My great-grandfather dealt in silk and tea in Lijiang, and after accumulating wealth, he built this house," Li says, explaining that Heng Yu Gong is a trade name, which implies that external wealth is based on fairness.

Lijiang was an important commercial town along the ancient Tea Horse Road-a network of caravan paths winding through the mountains of Southwest China, which can be traced back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907) and reached as far as India, West Asia and East Africa.

Li's house is 666 square meters in size and features a quadrangle layout with five courtyards, which is typical of the ethnic Naxi people that live mostly in Lijiang.

The house features a unique design. In the center of the courtyard, there is a pattern of a copper coin with a deliberately-set protruding round stone within it.

"The stone acts as a stumbling block and through this distinctive element, our grandfather wanted to teach us that money should be trampled and that we should not pursue desires blindly," Li says, adding that this has been the motto of his family for more than a century.

Li still remembers that after China's reform and opening-up began in 1978, a German businessman came to the city and visited their house. He made an offer of 5 million Deutsche marks-equivalent to around $2.8 million at the time-to buy their house, but Li's father rejected it.

The businessman then offered another 100,000 yuan ($15,730) to purchase the gold-plated carving on the front door of the main hall, but Li's father declined the offer once again.

"My father told us not to sell or divide the house just for the sake of money," Li says.

"The root of the family and the original appearance of the ancient house should be completely preserved. Its cultural value is far greater than a lot of money," he says.

Li decided to convert the heritage house into the Heng Yu Gong Folk House Museum in 2010 and open it to the public for free.

Things, however, did not come easy. Li and his wife faced financial hardships, supporting themselves by selling cakes for 1 yuan apiece and rice noodles for 5 yuan a bowl.

"Even during the most trying times, I didn't take down the bricks and tiles to exchange for money," Li says.

Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the museum received between 500 and 4,000 daily visitors and people were so enthusiastic that they filled 27 A4-sized guestbooks. "Their enthusiasm makes me feel that everything is worth it," Li says.

"Only from such people can we know how the history of the city evolves. No city should lose its own culture in the fast-paced development," says Wu Xiaojing, a 28-year-old visitor.

In 2016, the local government backed Li's unflinching conservation efforts.

In recent years, the protection administration of the Old Town of Lijiang has made unremitting efforts to promote the integration of culture and tourism to help preserve ethnic culture. So far, 27 ancient courtyard demonstration sites, including Li's home, and 12 cultural experience sites have been established, enhancing the historical aura of the old town.

Through concerted efforts of the government and the locals, the idea of preserving the ancient town has been firmly ingrained in people's hearts.

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