Nanping

nanping

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! Throughout the Ming and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties, these families built glorious mansions, private schools, and ancestral halls as a testament to their fortune.

nanping old hotelTheir prosperity was so renowned that the 20 families living in the village came to be known as “the 10,000 silver purses”. Even the frequent peasant uprisings during the establishment of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom[1] (1851-1864) weren’t enough to shake the foundations of this tiny village.   Unfortunately, when the Qing Dynasty finally collapsed and the imperial regime with it, the families in Nanping fell on hard times. Though their fortuitous streak may have been curtailed, their magnificent architecture was spared from damage by warfare and looting, and remains well-preserved as a monument to their former glory.

Nowadays the village is still inhabited by over 1,000 people from the Ye, Cheng, and Li clans, as well as a handful of outside families, and over 300 of its buildings date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties. These stunning mansions, with their white-washed walls and coal black roofs, are dotted throughout a maze of 72 lanes that zigzag throughout Nanping. A stretch of ancient woods, known as Wansonglin, surrounds the village and only adds to its mystical quality.

The village’s spectacular architecture is punctuated by eight ancestral halls, of which Xuzhi Hall and Kuiguang Hall are considered the most well-preserved. Both belong to the Ye family and, while Kuiguang Hall is an impressive 490 years old, Xuzhi Hall is a staggering 530 years old!

Xuzhi Hall is divided into three parts: the front hall, which was used for recreational activities; the main hall, which served as the centre for sacrificial ceremonies; and the back hall, where the memorial tablet to the ancestors is enshrined. This hall served as the main backdrop for the critically acclaimed film Ju Dou, directed by Zhang Yimou and starring the exceptional Gong Li. Many of the sets from the film have been maintained so, if you ever wanted to be in a movie, now’s your chance! Similarly Kuiguang Hall, with its smooth marble ornaments and elaborately decorated interior, was used as a set for the Oscar-winning film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, directed by Ang Lee.

Other places of historical note include Banchun Garden, West Garden, and Baoyi Study. Banchun Garden was built during the Qing Dynasty by a wealthy merchant from the Ye family to serve as a private school for his children. The three spacious study rooms, half-moon shaped courtyard, and fragrant abundance of colourful flowers will make you wish you could go back to school! West Garden was also built as a study room but was tragically destroyed, leaving behind only a few ruins and a handful of multi-coloured peonies, plum trees, and towering bamboo grasses.

Yet by far the most poignant is the story of Baoyi Study, which was built by Li Huomei of the Li clan. Li had wanted to be a scholar but was only able to study for two years before he was forced to return home and work, as his family were very poor. He became a merchant, laboured diligently and eventually amassed a great fortune, which he used to build three private schools for the local children. As the old saying goes: “children are our future”!

[1] Taiping Heavenly Kingdom: An oppositional state in China that was formed from 1851 to 1864 and controlled some parts of southern China during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

Make your dream trip to Nanping Village come true on our travel: Explore Traditional Culture in Picturesque Ancient Villages

Lucun

Lucun 01

The scenic village of Lucun is just one kilometre (0.6 mi) north of Hongcun village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and matches it in both artistry and beauty. The village 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.

lucunThis 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!

Make your dream trip to Lucun Village come true on our travel: Explore Traditional Culture in Picturesque Ancient Villages

Huangshan City

Huangshan City

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

 

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.

It all began when Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty moved his seat of government to the city of Lin’an (modern-day Hangzhou) and commissioned droves of architects and workmen to help build his new capital. Several of them came from Tunxi and, when they finally returned home, they chose to imitate the style of architecture that they had seen in Lin’an. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

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. The street itself starts in the west at Zhenhai Bridge, which was built during the Ming Dynasty, and ends at the magnificent Memorial Archway in the east. It is about 1.5 kilometres (1 mi) long and is paved by stunning rust-coloured flagstones that have been worn smooth by centuries of use.

There are even two delightful museums along the street. One, known as Tunxi Museum, has a plethora of Ming and Qing dynasty artefacts on display, as well as a charming exhibition of paintings, calligraphy, and porcelain on its second floor. The other, known as Wancuilou, is a privately-owned, four-storey affair with famous examples of the Four Treasures of the Study (the writing brush, ink stick, ink stone, and paper). These ancient, elaborately carved calligraphy articles will surely put your ballpoint pen and notepad to shame!

The street itself is teeming with all kinds of shops, some of which have been plying their wares for over one hundred years. 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.

Just off of the main Old Street, but still within Tunxi Old Town, you’ll find the households of the Cheng family. These gorgeous mansions were built in the traditional Huizhou-style during the Ming Dynasty and have stood tall for centuries.

 

Make your dream trip to Tunxi Old Town come true on our travel: Explore Traditional Culture in Picturesque Ancient Villages

Hefei

As the provincial capital, Hefei is the historical, cultural, and political centre of Anhui province. With a growing population of approximately 7.6 million people, you’d expect this prefecture-level city to be an urban jungle of concrete high-rises and tarmacked roads, yet its scenic surroundings add a natural flair to this otherwise man-made affair. The Huai River flows to the north and the Yangtze is to the south, while the magnificent Chao Lake, one of China’s great lakes, is just to its southeast. The shimmering waters, dense forests, and colourful meadows that surround the city all endow it with an inimitable charm. Yet this peaceful place once played host to a battle so infamous that it has become practically legendary.

In the 3rd century, during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), one of the most significant conflicts of China’s history took place; the Battle of Xiaoyao Ford. This was the culmination of several decades of warfare between the Kingdoms of Wu and Wei and was waged at Xiaoyao Ford in Hefei. General Zhang Liao of Wei led the attack, a skilled cavalry of 800 men, while the Kingdom of Wei boasted an army of over 200,000 soldiers.

Yet miraculously General Zhang Liao and his minute force defeated the Wei army. So the next time you’re in a competition and you’re facing unwinnable odds, just think of General Zhang. Even if you’re just buying your lottery ticket! The site has since been converted into a public park, where visitors can ironically relax in a place where such a heated battle once raged.

Throughout the 4th and 6th century, the area represented a crucial border region between the northern and southern states and so was much fought over. As a result, its name and administrative status frequently changed. The current city dates back to the Song Dynasty (960-1279), as the original city rests a little to the north, and it is sometimes referred to as Luzhou, since this was its name throughout the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties.

Bao gongBy far its most popular and prestigious attraction is the Memorial Temple of Lord Bao, which rests in Lord Bao Park. Imagine how important you have to be in order to get your own park and your own temple! In fact, Lord Bao was such a focal figure in Chinese history that there’s even a second memorial temple dedicated to him in Kaifeng, Henan province.

Lord Bao, also known as Bao Zheng or Bao Gong, was a government official during the Song Dynasty who was born in Hefei and who rose to prominence thanks to his honesty and righteousness. He became well-known for punishing even the most powerful families and showing no nepotism when it came to dispensing justice. The temple itself was built in 1066 but went through extensive reconstruction during the Qing Dynasty.

Aside from this, the city has many other charming parks, including Xiaoyaojin Park, Xinghua Park, and Yaohai Park, as well as the lovely Hefei Botanical Gardens. In the southern part of Xiaoyaojin Park, the ancient Mingjiao Temple stands as a testament to the many battles that Hefei has endured. Although it has been destroyed and restored many times, it has managed to remain a focal feature of the city for nearly 1,500 years.

Mount Dashu is another popular sight-seeing spot where, after only a short 30 minute hike, visitors are rewarded with a panoramic view of the city. At the foot of this mountain, the delightful Kai Fu Buddhist Temple is a haven where visitors can relax and admire its elaborate architecture.

However, to truly understand Hefei as a cultural centre, you must see a local performance of Lu Opera. This type of opera originated from the area and emerged as an independent style during the Qing Dynasty. It is often described by fans as natural and simple yet rich and vivid in its range. Either way, it’s bound to be better than the Spice Girls!

After a long evening of wandering through parks and watching Lu Opera, most locals wind down by indulging in a plate of Luzhou Roast Duck or a bowl of crayfish; two of the tantalising delicacies that can be found in this city. During summer, people from all walks of life can be seen sat outside, drinking beer and dipping freshly boiled crayfish in a tart vinegary sauce. You’d be cray-zy not to join in!

Mount Huang (黄山)

Mount Huang is located in the southern part of Anhui Province. It is undoubtedly the most popular mountain among tourists in China because of its grandeur and beautiful scenery. It was called “Yi Mountain” in the past. In ancient times people believed that Huang Di (a King in Chinese legend) had come here to make pills of immortality. So it was given the name “Mount Huang” in AD 747.

Mount Huang towers majestically over the hilly regions of southern Anhui and takes up an area of 1,200 square kilometres (40 kilometres from north to south and 30 kilometres from east to west), however, 154 kilometres makes up the area of most significance on the mountain. It incorporates almost all of the finest features found in the famous mountains of China: the majesty of Mount Tai, the precipitous shape of Mount Hua, the cloud and mist of Mount Heng, the flying waterfalls of Mount Lu, the fantastic rocks of Mount Yandang and the quietness and coolness of Mount Ermei. Its fascinating appearance has drawn many distinguished travellers, including poets, writers, and painters, to travel to Anhui and contemplate its majesty. Xu Xiake, a well-known geographer from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), extolled the beauty of Mt. Huangshan using the following words: “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 (Mount Hua 华山, Mount Heng 衡山, Mount Tai 泰山, Mount Heng 恒山 and Mount Song 嵩山) if you have been to Mount Huang.” “After climbing Mount Huangs, a trip to any other mountain would not be worthwhile.”

The mountain has 72 famous peaks. The shape of each is thought to resemble a human or animal figure, such as “A Celestial Being”, “A Monkey Watching the Sea” and “A Golden Cock Crowing at the Gate of Heaven”. The three major peaks of Mount Huang are the Lotus Peak, the Heavenly Capital Peak and the Bright Summit. They are all over 1,800 metres above sea level. The Lotus peak is the highest one, the Heavenly Capital peak is the steepest, and the Bright Summit is the flattest. The highest peak, the Lotus Peak (1,864.8 metres), towers over the central part of Mount Huang. The mountain is a body of granite, often with vertical joints. When it is cloudy, the peaks loom in the mist as if they were an illusion. When the sun shines, they appear in all their majesty and splendour.

Mount Huang is consistently both beautiful and peculiar all year round. The queer pines, the misshapen rocks, the sea of clouds and the hot springs are reputed to be the four major natural wonders without equal.

Mount Huang is one of the many wonderful stops on our tour: Explore Chinese Culture through the Ages

Huangmei Opera

A great number of plays in the Huangmei Opera style have been performed and have achieved great popularity, including plays such as the Goddess’ Marriage, the Emperor’s Female Son-in-law, the Cower Herd and the Weaving Girl, the Couple Watching Lanterns, and Picking up the Green feed for the Pigs. Their themes and content are generally taken from folk legend and normal routine life.Huangmei Opera is well known for being particularly expressive and has a rich lingering charm, melodious music and graceful movements. The dialogue is easy to understand, and is imbued with the realistic essence of routine life and the flavour of traditional folk songs. Therefore, it is very mellifluous and pleasing to the ears.