About half of the ancient architecture has been destroyed but around 300 buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties remain.
Today Xidi Village is more open and modern, with many stylish boutiques, cafes, bookstores and hostels. But the spirit and ambience of the ancient village has remained through generations.
At the entrance to the village stands an imposing carved stone archway representing virtue and achievement. It was sculpted from valuable local stone and dedicated to Hu Wenguang, a Xidi native who became a high official of the Ming Dynasty.
The arch in bas-relief is a masterpiece measuring 12.3 meters high and 9.9 meters wide. The carvings depict Hu's achievements in his 32-year official career.
During the Ming and Qing dynasties, ancestral temples were important in folk culture. Hu's ancestral temple is a prime example, constructed with richly carved horizontal beams, rather than arches. The carvings depict vivid characters and scenes.
The residences are mostly two-story compounds built behind white horse-head walls in dark-tiled tiers. Most of the interior construction is wood and brick. Beams and pillars are elaborately carved and colorfully painted, depicting Chinese legends and scenes from daily life. Wooden window screens are delicately carved.
A winding waterway flows through the village, harmoniously integrating water elements and architecture.
Hongcun Village: Scene from a Chinese painting
Not far from Xidi Village, as we drove through green hills, we encountered Hongcun Village, famous for classical scenery that evokes traditional Chinese ink-wash painting. It also has a remarkable water system for climate control, fire fighting and irrigation.
Just 18 kilometers from Xidi Village, Hongcun Village is justly called the "Chinese village in a painting."
Built on South Lake, the 800-year-old village contains around 140 buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Photographs cannot do justice to the beauty of the harmonious setting. Rows of art students sit on the banks and try to capture the spirit and moment.
You must be there to breathe the fresh air, appreciate the reflections of the village in the water and watch children playing on the banks.
You must be there to taste the salty and spicy pickles, the braised chicken with pickled vegetables and chilled osmanthus-flavored rice wine.
You must be there to appreciate the traditional Hui-style architecture and intricate carvings of flowers, birds, animals, figures and scenes from local operas. They cover marble door frames, stonework, beams, pillars and windows. Villagers have kept the art of carving and decoration alive.
Along the waterways of the village are ancestral temples and academy buildings. Simple, elegant stone bridges cross the lake, pond, canals and streams.
The most outstanding building in Hongcun is Chengzhi Hall, built by salt dealers in the Qing Dynasty.
The ornate wood and brick structure covers more than 2,000 square meters. The carving is extensive and lavish, covering ceilings, arches and window frames. The carved figures wear vivid, lifelike expressions.
Apart from the architecture, the most amazing part of the village is its water system, built in the shape of an ox.
Leigang Hill is the "head," two huge trees on the hill are the "horns," the residences are the "body," the winding waterways are the "intestines," and the crescent pond in the center of the village is the "stomach."
This course purifies the water that then runs south to the lake outside the village.
The design of the entire village and the water system help villagers manage water usage and fight fires. It keeps the temperature balanced so the village remains relatively cool in summer.