The art and architecture of ancient China has captured the admiration of people across the globe for its elegance and beauty. Unlike traditionally Western styles of art, ink painting in China was designed to reflect the individual’s interpretation of their subject matter, rather than recreating a faithful depiction of how the scene looked in real life. This means that Chinese works of art offer an unparalleled insight into the thoughts, feelings, and motivations of the scholars who painted them hundreds of years ago.
This tour is specifically tailored to suit lovers of Chinese art, architecture, and history. Beginning our journey in Shanghai, we’ll pay a visit to the most highly regarded museums in the city. From there, we’ll embark on a journey across the eastern Chinese countryside in order to visit some of the most picturesque ancient villages in the country, including those that are located in the historic region of Huizhou. Our journey will culminate in a visit to Jingdezhen, which is regarded as the porcelain capital of China and is the birthplace of the famous blue-and-white porcelain of the Ming Dynasty.
Participants: Max. 8.
Duration: 13 Days and 12 Nights.
Tour in 2020: 17th of October - 29th of October
Tour in 2021: 17th of October - 29th of October
With its startling whitewashed walls and ornate black roofs, the village of Hongcun looks like a backdrop torn straight from a martial arts epic. If you feel like you recognise the place, then you probably do! Several scenes from Ang Lee’s Kung-Fu masterpiece Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were filmed on location in this very village, sky-rocketing it from isolated rural paradise to local superstar. Alongside the nearby village of Xidi, its unparalleled beauty and historical importance meant it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.
In accordance with feng shui theory, the village was founded at the foot of a hill next to a stream. A network of canals throughout the village channels water from the stream, culminating in the Moon Pond at its centre and the South Lake at its southern edge. The emphasis on harmony between man and nature is palpable throughout Hongcun, from the tranquil alleyways lined with potted plants to the picturesque gardens and soft rippling of water as it trickles through the many tiny canals.
Among the ancient villages of Anhui province, its most unique feature is its unusual layout. The village was arranged to resemble the shape of an ox, with nearby Leigang Hill as its head and the two trees standing on it as its horns. The four bridges that span the Jiyin stream at its front and rear can be interpreted as its legs, while the houses form its torso. The canals are its intestines, the Moon Pond is its stomach, and the larger South Lake represents its abdomen. So, if you decide to visit Hongcun, you could say you’re walking into the belly of the beast! Read more about Hongcun.
The scenic village of Lucun was originally established during the late Tang Dynasty (618-907), although much of its magnificent architecture dates back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. Of the more than 140 stunningly well-preserved buildings dotted throughout Lucun, Zhicheng Hall is considered the most spectacular.
This hall is almost entirely made out of woodcut pieces, a characteristic feature of Huizhou-style buildings. These wood carvings are so elaborate and vivid that setting foot inside this hall is sure to take your breath away. Plus you’re spoilt for choice if you ever need to knock on wood! It was constructed by the wealthy merchant turned politician Lu Bangxie during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). By that time, Lu had amassed such a colossal fortune that he had earned the nickname Lu Baiwan, meaning “Lu the Millionaire”!
The building complex consists of seven courtyards, of which Zhicheng Hall was used by Lu as his own personal living room. The interior is so exquisite and well-preserved that it is frequently used as a set for operas and television series. After all, when your name is “Lu the Millionaire”, the only thing you can’t afford is to look cheap! Read more about Lucun.
With the lofty Mount Huang and the Xin’an River running through it, the unmatched beauty of Shexian made it a fitting capital for the ancient state of Huizhou, a region marked by its picturesque scenery. The county of Shexian was founded during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) and it is widely considered to be the birthplace of Hui culture. Over 100 structures in Shexian date back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and thousands date back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), making it a veritable treasure trove of traditional Hui-style architecture. The most acclaimed are typically referred to by experts as the Three Wonders of Ancient Huizhou Architecture: the residential houses, the ancestral temples, and the stone archways. When it comes to these elaborate constructions, three truly is the magic number!
While the residential houses and ancestral temples of Shexian are undeniably magnificent, many people consider the stone archways to be the county’s crowning jewel. There are over 250 of these archways scattered throughout the county, the most famous of which are the Xuguo Stone Arch and the Tangyue Memorial Archways. In ancient times, the building of a special archway or “paifang” had to be formally approved by the Emperor himself! This was because these archways signified that the individual or group being honoured had made great contributions to or were viewed as positive role models by the imperial court.
They could be built from tile, wood, or stone, and were typically placed at the entrance to a village, street, or tomb. The number of pillars and the patterns engraved on the archways were also imbued with a deep significance and usually denoted the status of the person or group being honoured. For example, patterns incorporating the dragon or the phoenix signified that the person was either a member of or close to the royal family, since these mythical creatures were the symbols of the Emperor and the Empress respectively. Read more about Shexian.
When you look at Nanping, it’s hard to believe that this sleepy little village was once the site of two major battles, the home of the “10,000 silver purses”, and the backdrop for a handful of blockbuster movies. Yet there’s more to this rural slice of paradise than meets the eye! The nearby Nanping Mountain served as a battlefield during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280 AD), but the area itself wouldn’t be settled until much later. Towards the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), the village was established by the Ye clan, who had immigrated there from nearby Qimen.
During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), two other merchant families known as the Li and Cheng clans decided to settle in the village, which was a rarity as most villages were made up of just one clan during imperial times. And it seems that, though two may have been company, three was definitely a crowd in Nanping!
The success of these three families is often attributed to their competitiveness, as an abnormal number of villagers went on to become wealthy merchants, imperial officials, and learned scholars. Their accomplishments are living proof that a little healthy competition can go a long way! Read more about Nanping.
The Mukeng Bamboo Forest
If you’ve ever seen Ang Lee’s martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, you’ll surely remember the iconic fight scene that takes place in (or should we say on!) a bamboo forest. While most film stars gradually fade into obscurity, the Mukeng Bamboo Forest is as beautiful as the day it first graced the silver screen! Although it has yet to make a second cinematic debut, it has since been opened to tourists and is just a short 15-minute drive from the ancient village of Hongcun.
As the sun rises and cascades off of the jade pillars of bamboo, the villagers of Mukeng awake to another quiet day spent tending to their crops. Since the area has yet to be fully developed for tourism, the bamboo forest remains a tranquil place where visitors can get lost in a sea of lush greenery. As you climb through the dense thickets of bamboo, you’ll come across many charming pavilions, bubbling brooks, and miniature waterfalls. Though the climb is steep, you’ll be rewarded at the top with a breath-taking panoramic view of the surrounding countryside and many of the ancient villages that populate it.
Tunxi Old Town
Resplendent with white-washed walls, coal black roofs, horse head eaves, and a level of ornamental decoration befitting a palace, the buildings that flank the Old Street of Tunxi Old Town are some of the finest in Anhui province. This street, one of the last remnants of a bygone area, sits at the centre of Tunxi District in Huangshan City and was originally established during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Though a handful of buildings reflect this dynastic style, the most famous ones were built during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties.
At the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, in a bid to expand the town and add to his growing wealth, a local Hui merchant invested money into building 47 stores along Tunxi’s Old Street. This helped open up the town to trade with businessmen from neighbouring provinces and, by the Qing Dynasty, the town had become one of the major distribution centres for the ancient region of Huizhou. The town is truly a testament to the old saying; you have to spend money to make money!
Nowadays many of these old stores have retained their original characteristics and maintain the traditional layout of “shop in the front and living quarters in the back”. Many of these buildings are between two to three storeys high and are beautifully decorated with Hui wood carvings and red lacquered shop signs. A variety of curios, such writing brushes, delicately carved ink stones, and locally picked tea, can all be found within this tiny slice of ancient China. A few examples include Tongderen, a Chinese medicine store, Tonghe, a steelwork store, and Chengdexin, a sauce and pickle makers, who have all operated on the street for over one hundred years and still use the same, archaic methods of production. Read more about Tunxi Old Town.
The picturesque water town of Xitang rests at the confluence between nine separate rivers, with elegant stone bridges connecting different sections of the town itself. While most of its extant buildings date back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) or the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the town itself is believed to date all the way back to the Spring and Autumn Period (c. 771-476 BC)! Its beauty is legendary and it was frequently the subject of many Chinese classical paintings.
There are currently 104 bridges in Xitang that split the town into 8 distinct areas. What makes these bridges so special is that they each have their own unique identities. Alongside these decorative bridges, Xitang is famed for its elaborate covered corridors, which were designed to shelter pedestrians from inclement weather. In essence, they are simply lanes with roofs, which are typically constructed from bricks or wood and covered in black tiles.
Xitang is also home to a handful of traditional gardens, and a wide variety of museums that are each dedicated to a particular aspect of the town’s history, including the China Button Museum, the Jiangnan Eave Tiles Exhibition Hall, the Root Carving Hall, the Ming & Qing Woodcarving Exhibition Hall, and the Chinese Wine Culture Museum. Read more about Xitang Water Town.
Since the Han Dynasty, Jingdezhen was renowned throughout China as its “Porcelain Capital” and it has been producing stunning works of pottery for a staggering 1,700 years! During the Ming and Qing dynasties, it rose to fame as one of the four great towns for commerce in China and, during this time, there were over 9,000 pottery kilns operating in this quaint town. It is perhaps most well-known internationally for its characteristic blue and white porcelain wares.
Nowadays, the town is renowned for its plethora of flea markets and professional ceramist workshops, where visitors can catch a glimpse of the skill that made Jingdezhen one of the most successful commercial towns in China.
With a population of over 24 million people, Shanghai is the largest municipality by population in China, so it goes without saying that things can get a little crowded there! The municipality consists of 18 districts and several islands just offshore in the East China Sea, while the city itself is located right on the coast between the mouth of the Yangtze River and the bay of Hangzhou. With its humid, subtropical climate and four distinct seasons, Shanghai is a bustling metropolis with a quaint coastal charm.
Arguably one of the most famous parts of the city is the district of Pudong, which rests on the eastern banks of the Huangpu River. It was established in 1870 as one of the city’s earliest industrial areas. Nowadays it is renowned for its unusual and futuristic skyscrapers, which include the Shanghai World Financial Centre, the Shanghai Tower, and the Oriental Pearl Tower. At over 490 metres (1,600 ft.) in height, the Shanghai World Financial Centre is the eighth tallest building in the world, while the colossal 632-metre-tall (2,000 ft.) Shanghai Tower ranks second in height only to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
Unlike this burgeoning modern borough, the centre of Shanghai is characterised by its random and labyrinthine street pattern, a throwback to its days as a simple fishing village. Until the 20th century, this old part of the city was still surrounded by ancient city walls. These two districts serve as an embodiment of the dichotomy in Shanghai, as modern-day advances wrestle with ancient traditions. From the Bund and the Lujiazui skyline to the City God Temple and the 16th century Yu Garden, the city is a hectic mixture of contemporary architecture and ancient Chinese history. Read more about Shanghai.
The City God Temple District in Shanghai
The City God Temple is considered so integral to the history of Shanghai that there is even an old local saying which states, “Anyone who fails to see the City God Temple, fails to see Shanghai”. So, if you’re braving that long flight to China and stopping off in the city, you surely don’t want to be accused of missing out! It is located in the old, walled part of Shanghai and nowadays the name applies not only to the temple but also to the surrounding district, including Yuyuan Garden, Chenxiang Pavilion, and over a hundred shops. Most of these stores are over a hundred years old and have retained their antique charm, proving that modern technology isn’t always the way forward!
The temple is dedicated to the “Chenghuangshen” or “City God” of Shanghai, which was regarded as the guardian of the city. Chenghuangshen literally means “God of the Moat and Walls”, but is frequently abbreviated to “City God”. The term originally applied to a deity belonging to Chinese folk religion who was charged with the protection of a particular village, town, or city, and its corresponding afterlife location. This tradition dates back over 2,000 years and over time the term gradually changed in meaning, being applied not to a deity but instead to a deified deceased official or leader of the city. It was believed that this deity held sway over the souls of deceased citizens from the city and could also intervene in the affairs of living citizens.
Read more about The City God Temple District in Shanghai.
During this tour, we will:
- Admire stunning Ming and Qing dynasty architecture of ancient villages in the Huizhou region;
- Marvel at the beauty of a traditional water-town in Zhejiang province;
- Visit the porcelain capital of China and wander through the local porcelain markets;
- Browse the time-honored wares of shops that have remained unchanged for hundreds of years;
- Experience the modern and ancient sides of Shanghai.
Please Note: You can choose to stick to this tour entirely, or you can just incorporate it into your wider plans to travel across China. We can provide you with information and help you with any other travel plans you may have if you need us to. We also provide a hotel booking service and a flight or train booking service for all of our members’ traveling in China outside of the 15 designated days of the tour. We will also provide a consultancy service for you, which will help you to plan your journey across China and give you useful tips on traveling in China.
Day 1 – Arrive in Shanghai
Meeting Point: Shanghai Pudong Airport.
We will arrange one airport pick-up in the afternoon and another airport pick-up in the evening, depending on the flight times of all of the participants.
A late pick up (after 19:00) service is also available, but there will be a fee depending on the time.
If you decide to take the train from another city in China to Shanghai, please let us know in advance and we can meet you either at the hotel or the railway station. If you need any help making travel arrangements, please don’t hesitate to ask us!
Food: Dinner included. We will enjoy a welcome dinner together, where we will sample traditional Shanghai-style cuisine.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Shanghai.
Day 2 – Xitang Water Town
We will take the bus from Shanghai to Xitang Water Town. The bus takes approximately one hour. Once we’ve arrived, we will leave our luggage at the hotel and then soak in the leisurely atmosphere of this picturesque water town. It is one of the set locations for the film Mission Impossible 3!
There are a number of antique residences and temples that are open to the public, including an exhibition of ancient fans painted with calligraphy, a tile museum, a root art museum and several other museums dedicated to traditional Chinese art.
What’s Included: Entrance ticket to Xitang.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Xitang.
Day 3 – The Ancient Huizhou
We will take a taxi to Jiaxing Station and then take the high speed train to Huangshan North station. From there, we will take our private minivan to the Tangyue Memorial Archways.
There is a small village beside the Memorial Archways, which we will visit in order to see how Chinese painting has influenced local life there.
What’s Included: Entrance ticket for the Tangyue Memorial Archways.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel decorated with traditional Chinese art style in Shexian.
Day 4 – The She Ink Slab Factory
In the morning, we will head straight out to visit a small factory where the famous She ink slabs and Huizhou inksticks are produced!
According to traditional Chinese scholarship, She ink slabs are considered one of the Four Treasures of the Study, alongside the writing brush, Xuan paper, and the Huizhou ink stick. All of these beautiful items were originally handcrafted in southern Anhui province and can still be found in the region today.
When we have finished our factory visit, we will visit Shexian Old Town. After a guided tour, everyone will be free to explore the town at their leisure.
What’s Included: Entrance ticket for Shexian Old Town
Accommodation: 3-star hotel decorated with traditional Chinese art style in Shexian.
Day 5 – The Xuan Paper Factory
We will take the high speed train to the birthplace of Xuan paper - Xuan town, where we will visit the Xuan Paper museum. At the museum, we will get to see the entire process of making the Xuan paper.
We will also have the opportunity to make the paper ourselves!
After taking the high speed train back Shexian, we can relax and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere near the river bank.
What’s Included: Entrance ticket to the Xuan Paper museum.
Accommodation:3-star hotel decorated with traditional Chinese art style in Shexian.
Day 6 –Hike the Mukeng Bamboo Forest, Exploration of Hongcun
In the morning, we will take the minivan to Hongcun, which will take about an hour but which will take us through some truly beautiful countryside.
In Hongcun, we have opted to stay in an ancient mansion that has been renovated into a boutique hotel. Hopefully this will help you transport yourself back in time to the life of luxury enjoyed by the ancient Chinese elite!
Rather than visiting Hongcun immediately, we will take a minivan to the Mukeng Bamboo Forest. The hike around the Mukeng Bamboo Forest is, for the most part, very gentle and only takes about 2 hours, although there are a couple of steep sections that can be a bit challenging. The hike takes you through the picturesque village of Mukeng, which is home to many buildings dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties.
In the late afternoon, we will take a tour of Hongcun and delve into the history behind its many ancestral halls.
What’s Included: Entrance ticket to Hongcun and the Mukeng Bamboo Forest.
Accommodation: Traditional Hui-style boutique hotel in Hongcun.
Day 7 – Traditional Art in Lucun
In the morning, we will either hike or cycle to Lucun, depending on your preference. Lucun is about a 20 minute hike away from Hongcun and it’s all on flat ground, so it makes for a pleasant and leisurely walk.
Although there is a fee to enter Lucun, this small village hasn’t been developed for tourism, so we’ll largely have the place to ourselves. First, we will enter the village and visit its main attraction: Zhicheng Hall.
Once we’ve visited the hall, we can either explore the village more or climb up the nearby hillside to enjoy a panoramic view of the countryside, depending on your preference.
In the late afternoon, we will either hike or cycle back to Hongcun. Everyone is then free to explore the village at their leisure.
What’s Included: Entrance ticket to Lucun.
Accommodation: Traditional Hui-style boutique hotel in Hongcun.
Day 8 – Visit Nanping, Travel to Tunxi Old Town
If there are any parts of Hongcun that we haven’t visited yet, we will visit them in the morning. Otherwise, we will take the minivan back to Huangshan.
However, we will stop at the village of Nanping along the way and spend a couple of hours exploring it. Like Mukeng, this is one of the few Hui villages that has not been developed for tourism, so it provides a unique and authentic insight into what these villages would have looked like in ancient times. We will also enjoy lunch in this village.
Rather than going back to Huangshan, we will go directly to Huangshan North train station, which is just outside of the city. From there, we will have plenty of time to get through train security before we have to take our train.
What’s Included: Entrance ticket to Nanping.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Jingdezhen
Day 9 – Explore Ming Qing Yuan Ceramists’ Workshops and the Jingdezhen Ceramic Folk Museum
Ming Qing Yuan is a district with many young ceramists’ workshops. On Sunday morning, there is a flea market that is designed to help local artists exhibit their wares.
In the afternoon, we will pay a visit to the Jingdezhen Ceramic Folk Museum. Unlike other museums, the Jingdezhen Ceramic Folk Museum is actually a vast complex that is made up of ancient buildings and gardens dating back to both the Ming and Qing dynasties. Alongside the ancient relics housed within the museum, there are also several kiln-workshops within the complex that continue to manufacture ceramics, where visitors can watch ceramics being made using traditional methods.
We'll need to get an early night tonight, because tomorrow we'll be getting up at the crack of dawn to catch the "Ghost Market"!
What’s Included: Entrance ticket to Jingdezhen Ceramic Folk Museum
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Jingdezhen
Day 10 – Explore the Ghost Market, Travel to Tunxi Old Town
Since the Ghost Market is a very traditional type of flea market, we will be leaving before dawn (about 5:30) in order to properly experience what the market is like. This is the oldest market in Jingdezhen and was originally started so that people could trade antiques back when it was illegal to do so during the early years of Communist rule. This is why the market was and continues to be held from late Sunday night right through to early Monday morning.
The market isn’t strictly dedicated to ceramics and instead offers an abundance of different antiques. As such, the market offers a variety of relics, including Communist paraphernalia, old coins, and jade ornaments. However, you must be particularly careful when shopping in this market, as there are numerous fake antiques that are mixed up with the authentic ones, and it is surprisingly difficult to tell them apart!
Once we have finished at the Ghost Market, we will enjoy a late breakfast and return to the hotel for a rest. Around midday, we will have lunch and take a taxi or minivan to the train station. From there, we will take the train from Jingdezhen back to Huangshan.
In the afternoon we will pay a visit to Tunxi Old Town.
Food: Dinner included. Let's enjoy the traditional Hui-style cuisine together.
Accommodation: Traditional Hui-style boutique hotel in Tunxi Old Town
Day 11 – Explore Tunxi Old Town, Return toShanghai
Since we will stay overnight in Tunxi Old Street, we will be able to explore this slice of the old town early in the morning.
We can also spend the morning browsing the time-honoured shops in Tunxi Old Town and pick up some trinkets for our return trip, or cross the bridge to visit another part of the old town.
In the afternoon, we will take the high speed train back Shanghai.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Shanghai.
Day 12 – Sight-seeing in Shanghai
In the morning, we will pay a visit to the Shanghai Museum, which is widely considered to be one of the finest museums in China. The museum is primarily dedicated to ancient Chinese art and currently boasts a collection of over 120,000 pieces, including bronzes, ceramics, calligraphy, furniture, jade ornaments, paintings, sculptures, and art by China’s ethnic minorities. It is also home to one of only three “transparent” bronze mirrors that dates all the way back to the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220AD).
Then we will walk to the Bund. It goes without saying that the Bund is one of the must-see attractions in Shanghai and the cityscape makes for some wonderful photography opportunities. It is also home to some of the most stunning examples of colonial and art deco architecture in the city. We will spend around one hour taking in the sights and enjoying a leisurely stroll along the Bund before walking to the City God Temple District.
Once we arrive, you’ll be free to explore the City God Temple District at your leisure. While the City God Temple District is free to enter and explore, we haven’t included the entry ticket prices for Yuyuan Garden, Chenxiang Pavilion, or the City God Temple in the tour price and it is up to you whether you want to go inside or simply admire them from the outside.
Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Shanghai.
Day 13 – Your Onward Journey
In the morning, we will escort you to the train station or airport with plenty of time for you to catch your train or flight. If your flight isn’t until the afternoon, please let us know and we can arrange some extra sightseeing in Shanghai for you.
Prices and What’s Included
Cost pp: £2,200/7-8 people in one group; £2,450/5-6 people in one group; £2,850/3-4 people in one group; £3,680/2 people in one group.
Single supp: £450 (Please be advised that, if you are the last person joining the tour or if there is no one in the group who you can share with, you may need to pay for the single supplement. We will advise you if this is the case when you enquire about the tour.)
What’s Included: 12 nights of shared accommodation (based on 2 people per room at hotels ); all transportation costs during the designated tour time; breakfast every day; two dinners; all entrances fees to the designated attractions within the tour; and services of our tour guides for the entirety of the tour.
What’s Not Included: Flights; visa; travel insurance; lunches and some dinners.
If you like the look of this tour but would prefer to take it privately, we can tailor it to your specifications and design a bespoke tour for you or your group. Simply contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free email consultation with one of our travel experts.
How can I sign up to this tour?
Step 1 ⇒ Contact us directly to talk about the tour in more detail.
Step 2 ⇒ Book online and pay the £100 deposit. If you have an exclusive discount code, please enter it into the Enquiry box.
Step 3 ⇒ We will send you the invoice confirming you have been booked on the tour. Once you receive the invoice, you have 30 days to pay an additional £500, which will secure your place on the tour.
Step 4 ⇒ Please note that the final cost of the tour will be based on the number of participants and will be split into two payments. The first payment must be made within 3 months of the tour’s start date and is based on the minimum price of the tour minus your £600 deposit. After that, you will need to pay the remaining balance one month before the tour is due to leave based on the tour subscription. In the meantime, we will advise you on how to apply for your visa and keep you updated on the subscription of the tour.
Step 5 ⇒ Once you have made the final payment, we will send you our exclusive tour e-book, which contains a detailed itinerary of the tour and in-depth information on the areas we’ll be visiting.
Step 6 ⇒ Prepare yourself for an unforgettable adventure!
We are happy to answer any questions you may have and we will always keep you up to date on the progress of the tour subscription.