Huangshan City is a prefecture-level city at the southernmost point of Anhui province. It was named for the magnificent Mount Huang or Huangshan, which is just 50 kilometres (31 mi) northwest of the city centre. A popular Chinese saying, coined by geographer Xu Xiake, goes: “It is not worth seeing other mountains if you have been to the Five Great Mountains; and it is not worth seeing the Five Great Mountains if you have been to Mount Huang”. If it’s more impressive than the five greatest mountains in the country combined, then it certainly deserves to have a city named after it!
The city itself has a population of just 1.5 million people and covers much of what was once the ancient region of Huizhou. Thus the city and its surrounding areas are all steeped in ancient Hui culture, with its delightful architecture, sumptuous ornaments, and tantalising delicacies. Its urban centre was once the city of Tunxi and is now referred to as Tunxi District, although many locals still use “Tunxi” to refer to the city as a whole, using “Huangshan” only to refer to other parts of the prefecture. With a Huangshan Prefecture, Huangshan District, Huangshan City, and Huangshan Mountain Range all in one place, it’s understandable that newcomers to the area frequently get lost. When you ask to go to “Huangshan” expecting to see a mountain, and instead are presented with a block of high-rises and a shopping mall, you’d be justifiably disappointed!
Yet the city isn’t all just contemporary clothes stores and fashionable cafés. The old part of town, known alternately as Old Street or Tunxi Old Town, features stunning buildings in the style of the Song (960-1279), Ming (1368-1644), and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. The three large mansions that once belonged to the Cheng family are just some of the highlights that can be found in this old, tucked away part of Huangshan. It’s also the perfect place to try some of the famous local teas, such as Huangshan Maofeng, and to sample a few of the signature Hui dishes.
The prefecture itself is home to not one but two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Mount Huang and the ancient Hui villages of Hongcun and Xidi. These two Hui villages were both established during the Song Dynasty and contain some of the most well-preserved examples of Ming and Qing dynasty architecture in China. With their white-washed walls, coal black roofs, upturned eaves, and ornately decorated features, these mansions look like miniature palaces scattered throughout the countryside.
Tunxi Old Town is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region