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Poetic ancient hamlets

2013-07-25 10:21:45

(Shanghai Daily)


Situated at the foot of Leigang Hill and facing South Lake, Hongcun Village covers 30 hectares of land and is known as the "Chinese village from a painting." The mountains are green because of the water and the water current is lively because of the elevation. Mountains, lake and architecture are in harmony.[Photo/Shanghai Daily]

Entering quaint ancient villages in southern Anhui province is like viewing poetic ink-wash paintings of classic architecture, waterways and misted landscapes. Fu Rong explores UNESCO World Heritage hamlets.

It was drizzling and misty as we entered the historic remote land of Huizhou with quaint villages and structures of ubiquitous white walls, dark gray roof tiles and graceful upturned eaves.

We felt as if we were entering a poetic traditional Chinese ink-wash painting depicting life lived close to nature, as it existed centuries ago.

Here, in mountainous southern Anhui Province (part of the Huizhou region) there are many Hui-style old towns, some very well preserved. The famous ancient villages of Xidi and Hongcun are UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Viewers of the 2000 film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" may remember dramatic scenes featuring Hui-style architecture, a major type of Chinese architecture.

The villages were built deep in mountain areas without good transport, but remote locations did not stand in the way of builders' dedication to harmonious planning, delicate, meticulous design and decoration.

Entering these villages, visitors cannot help but be struck by the wisdom, resourcefulness and skill of ancestors in creating such beautiful structures and working in difficult conditions.

The structures are well integrated into the landscape, frequently positioned near ponds and streams in auspicious locations reflecting the principles of feng shui.

One of the most distinctive features is the horse-head wall (ma tou qiang) in which a stone wall descends step-like along the angle of the roof. The horse is an auspicious animal and the upturned tiers of dark tiles are said to resemble horses' heads. The contrast with whitewashed walls is striking. The walls were originally built between wooden structures to prevent fires from spreading but wealthy merchants later built high horse-head walls of as many as five or even six tiers to symbolize their status.

In Chinese history, Huizhou was an administrative district and today represents a geographic area, a period of history and a style of architecture and culture. Today Huizhou mainly refers to the counties of Shexian, Jixi, Xiuning, Qimen, Yixian and Wuyuan with a common history, language and culture.

Huizhou is also the birthplace of the famous Hui merchants who dominated Chinese business for more than 500 years.

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