South-central China : Anhui : Hongcun
Hongcun (宏村, Hóngcūn') is an ancient village located in Yixian County, Anhui.
Hongcun is the China you think of when you think of ancient China. Imagine an old man stroking his wispy grey beard while smoking a long thin pipe and this is where he probably lives. Hongcun’s narrow cobblestone paved lanes winding around boxy whitewashed buildings with pointed black tiled roofs offer a pleasant place to spend a few unhurried days in a beautiful part of rural China. Several larger residences reflect the wealth of its one time resident in the ornate carvings on every beam and column. Many of the buildings date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties and are regarded as the best examples of typical Anhui-style architecture.
The layout of Hongcun resembles the shape of an Ox and is crisscrossed by a complex network of water canals feeding into the central half-moon pond and southern lake.
Though Hongcun isn’t on most China travelers itinerary’s many would have unknowingly seen it in the background of several scenes from the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.
Hongcun doesn’t feel like it has given itself over to tourism. Tacky souvenir stalls and pushy touts are few and otherwise easy to avoid. Apart from the odd noisy Chinese tour group who bus in for an hour, the atmosphere is quiet and low key. This is real village where people go about their daily lives with little concession to your presence. They hang fish out to air dry at the front of the house to preserve it, not to entice you to buy it for a souvenir.
Hongcun and nearby Xidi (西递; Xīdì) were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage sites in 2000.
Hongcun was established in the Song Dynasty and flourished during the Ming and Qing dynasties when it became a centre for trade. Most of the buildings from this period still exist in the village today.
Several significant buildings are open to the public. Of these Chengzhi Hall (承志堂; Chéngzhì Táng) is the grandest. The sign at the front calls it the 'Folk Imperial Palace'. Its diminutive size may fall short of that onerous title it offers a much of interest. Chengzhi Hall was built by a wealthy salt merchant to accommodate his two wives. Throughout, wooden beams and wall panels are decorated with intricate carvings of nature, Chinese mythology or scenes from Qing dynasty life. Many are gilded in gold. The red army used the hall to accommodate troops during the long march leaving a few, now fading, yellow ‘Long live Mao’ slogans painted on the walls. Though the red army’s usual practice was to deface artwork depicting figures from ancient China by cutting away the face, these ones were spared the soldiers knife and remain intact.
The village layout is said to take the shape of an Ox or the Chinese character for cow (牛; Niú). Leigang Hill at the west end of the village is the head, two huge trees are the horns and the village forms the body. The canal system functions as its intestines. The central half-moon Yuezhao (月沼; Yuèzhăo) pond is the stomach and the larger South Lake the abdomen. The four bridges spanning the Jiyin stream at the front and rear of the village represent the Ox’s legs.
The villages’ intestinal network of canals runs past the front yard of each house, fed by water diverted from Jilin stream which originates from a spring in the hillside behind the village.
Admission to the village is ¥80 or ¥65 in the low season. (3/2009) The ticket is valid for several days and must be show whenever leaving or entering the village. Don’t lose it.
From Tangkou at the foot of Mount Huangshan, take a bus for ¥14 (2008) or a taxa for ¥80-150. The bus service is far from periodic, so confirm your return schedule with the driver when you board.
Family inns are available in the village. Single or shared rooms come with bathroom and air conditioner in winter time(additional charge apply here).