Cultural Tour in Shanxi

Loess Plateau

Do you want to explore a traditional loess cave house for the first time? Do you want to stay in a monumental mansion which once belonged to a rich Chinese family? Do you want to see something completely different from what you’re used to? Then Shanxi province is the place for you!

Shanxi Province is considered “the museum of ancient Chinese architecture”. This province contains more than 70% of the old buildings constructed during or before the Song Dynasty (960-1279). There you will also find the Yungang Grottoes, Mount Hengshan,which is one of the “Five Great Peaks” of China, the ancient city of Pingyao, many Shanxi Grand Compounds and an amazing view of the Loess Plateau. The Ancient City of Pingyao is a well-preserved ancient town which was particularly prosperous during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties. The Shanxi Grand Compounds act as fantastic examples of the artistry of Northern Chinese architecture. And the stunning view of the Loess Plateau is something unique to Shanxi Province. (Read more about Shanxi)

During this tour, we will

  1. visit the most famous cultural attractions in Shanxi Province;
  2. enjoy the splendid scenery in the Loess Plateau, including the Yellow River;
  3. learn the history of the Jin Merchants (read more about the Jin Merchants);
  4. experience life in a loess cave house;
  5. try various kinds of local food made from flour.

This tour includes:

  • A well-planned cultural tour, which covers all of the most famous cultural attractions and amazing scenery in Shanxi Province;
  • All entrance fees, transport, and accommodation costs and some of the meal costs;
  • An English speaking guide with knowledge of Shanxi History, particularly with regards to the history of the Jin Merchants and the architecture of the Shanxi Grand Compounds;
  • Small group sizes (no more than 10 people);
  • The opportunity to experience real local life and public transportation;
  • The feeling that you are travelling with friends;
  • A pdf file of the culture, history and other useful facts about Shanxi Province.

Highlights of the tour:

hanging temple01

The Hanging Temple 

The Hanging Temple, or Xuankong Temple, was built onto a cliff-face in Mount Hengshan and has survived for more than 1,500 years. It is the only existing temple that combines teachings from the three traditional Chinese religions: Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. The supportive foundation of the structure is hidden within the bedrock. The temple includes 40 rooms; the highest room, Sanjiao Hall, is 90 meters above ground level. There are more than 80 statues made of copper, iron, stone and clay within the temple. (Read more about the Hanging Temple)

pingyao02

Pingyao Ancient Town

Pingyao was the financial centre of China during the Qing Dynasty. The first bank in Chinese history was set up there. Now it is considered the most well preserved ancient city in China, in that it illustrates perfectly what a typical big city in the Ming and Qing Dynasties was like. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Read more about Pingyao)

 

Qiao's family compund02

The Shanxi Grand Compounds

Jin Merchants (merchants from Shanxi) played a dominant role in Chinese history during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. They became incredibly wealthy and used that wealth to build grand compounds for their families. These castle-like structures were constructed based on the architectural style of northern China. Similar to the traditional Chinese Quadrangle, the courtyard is usually rectangular in shape and all of the rooms will face towards the courtyard. The whole mansion looks like a compound formed by many small quadrangles. The external walls are high and strong, which makes them perfect for defensive purposes. (Read more about the Shanxi Grand Compounds)

Yungang Grottoes01

The Yungang Grottoes

This group of grottoes was carved between 453 and 495 AD, during the Northern Wei Dynasty (386-534 AD). It was the first group of grottoes to be constructed under imperial patronage. The whole site is composed of 252 grottoes with more than 51,000 Buddha statues and statuettes. It is one of the “Four Grand Groups of Grottoes” in China and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. (Read more about the Yungang Grottoes)

The Yaodong Villages 

house cave01The Yaodong (Loess Cave House) is a typical type of dwelling found in the Loess Plateau, with more than 4,500 years of history behind it. Nowadays, there are still more than 40 million people living in this type of building. (Read more about Yaodong)

Of the Yaodong Villages, we have chosen Qikou Ancient Town and the two other listed villages to visit on our tour. We have chosen these three villages specifically so that you can see all three types of Yaodong, which can be found in these three places respectively.

Qikou

“Qi” means “the moraine in the river” in Chinese. Qikou was the most important port on the Yellow River during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), which was the most prosperous era for the Jin Merchants. More than 200 hotels, along with numerous warehouses, in Qikou were constantly busy during that period. (Read more about Qikou)

xiwan chen's house

Xiwan Village

Xiwan village was a small port, and the whole village also acted as a castle-like compound for the Chen clan. One of the Chen’s Ancestral Halls still remains in the village and there is also a large mansion there, which belonged to Chen Sanxi’s family.  The Chen’s Courtyard is different from that of a typical Shanxi Compound; it is a compound comprised of Yaodongs built in ascending steps along the sides of the hills in Xiwan.

Lijiashan

Lijiashan Village

More than 400 Yaodongs have been built in rows on the hills of Lijiashan village, which creates an amazing and unique architectural landscape. There are both loess cave houses and loess caves in Lijiashan, which have been strengthened by stones and bricks. During the Qing Dynasty, two rich families from the Li clan built large mansions in the village, and these mansions demonstrate beautifully the local art of brick-sculpture, stone carving and woodcutting.

The Yellow River

The Yellow River is the second longest river in China, and it is also the most important river in Northern China. Billions of different species of animal live in the river. The Yellow River is not yellow at its source; it is the yellow sandy soil which has eroded from the Loess Plateau that gives it its colour. Thus, thanks to the Loess Plateau in Shanxi, the Yellow River graduates from being completely clear at its source to being a deep yellow colour further down the line.

Qikou01

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Location of Shanxi in China:

shanxi location

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hotel

Accommodation: In Qixian Ancient town and Pingyao Ancient town we will stay in a traditional Shanxi Courtyard (4 nights). In Qikou we will stay in the featured loess cave house that has been equipped with modern amenities (2 nights), and in Datong city (2 nights) and Taiyuan city (1 night) we will stay in 4-Star hotels.

Please Note: In the Shanxi Courtyard hotel and the loess cave house we will be sleeping on traditional Chinese heated brick beds.

Food: Breakfast will be provided every day and we will also provide 5 dinners consisting of authentic Shanxi cuisine.

Transportation: The cost of the high-speed trains, normal trains, coaches and the hired car we will use are all included.

Duration: 11 days and 10 nights

Date: 10th of May to the 20th of May, 2017

Final Deadline for Subscription: 10th of March, 2017

shanxi foodCost pp£1180 (including: 9 nights of accommodation; all entrance fees to the attractions; 5 dinners; 9 breakfasts; all transportation fees during the designated tour times; an English speaking guide; a pdf file with useful facts about Shanxi province;
Single supp:+£350

Please Note: the cost is based on the subscription of at least 4 participants; the maximum is 10 participants.

 

 

 

 

Itinerary:

Day 1 Beijing – Datong

Meeting Point: Beijing Railway Station

Meeting Time: 9:30 AM

It will take us six and a half hours by train to get to Datong. During our journey, we will have plenty of opportunities to see the prairie and the edge of the Loess Plateau.

Accommodation: 4-Star hotel

Dinner: We will sample traditional Shanxi cuisine together.

Day 2 Hanging Temple and Yungang Grottoes

In the morning, we will go by car to Mount Heng, which is where the Hanging Temple is located.

We will return to Datong city around about 1pm to have lunch, and then we will go to visit the Yungang Grottoes in the afternoon.

Accommodation: 4-Star hotel

Dinner: Dinner not included on this evening

Day 3 Datong – Qixian

We will leave for Qixian by train in the early morning (about 7:30am). Our train journey will cut straight through the Loess Plateau. We will arrive at about 3:00pm and spend the afternoon exploring the old town.

Accommodation: Traditional Shanxi Courtyard

Dinner: We will sample traditional Shanxi cuisine together

Day 4 Qiao’s Family Compound and Qu’s Family Compound

We will visit the Qiao’s Family Compound in the morning and the Qu’s Family Compound in the afternoon, as well as a few other historical sites in the old part of the town.

Accommodation: Traditional Shanxi Courtyard

Dinner: Dinner not included on this evening

Day 5 Pingyao Old Town

We will go to Pingyao in the morning and spend the whole day there exploring the old town. Our tour will start with the most famous attractions: the site of the first bank in China, several sites of other ancient banks, the ancient security organisation, and the city wall.

You’ll also have a few hours alone to spend exploring the old business street. There are various shops there that sell local art and traditional handcrafts.

Accommodation: Traditional Shanxi Courtyard

Dinner: We will sample authentic Shanxi cuisine together.

Day 6 Pingyao Old Town

One day simply wouldn’t be enough to uncover all of the hidden gems this ancient town has to offer, so the next day will be spent continuing our exploration! Our guided tour will include the three main temples, the old town hall, several large mansions, and a few other attractions covered by the admission ticket. If the tour stays on schedule, you should have a few hours left to spend wandering the town on your own.

Accommodation: Traditional Shanxi Courtyard

Dinner: Dinner not included on this evening

Day 7 Shuanglin Temple and the Wang’s Family Compound

We will visit Shuanglin Temple in the morning for roughly 2 hours, and then we will go to visit the biggest Shanxi Grand Compound – the Wang’s Family Compound.

Accommodation: Traditional Shanxi Courtyard

Dinner: Dinner not included on this evening

Day 8 Pingyao – Taiyuan – Qikou

We will go to Taiyuan, the capital city of Shanxi Province, by train. From there, we will catch a coach to Qikou. This coach journey will not only provide ample opportunity to enjoy the spectacular landscape, but give you an unforgettable experience of traveling through the barren Loess Plateau.

Accommodation: Loess cave house

Dinner: We will enjoy a meal together made up of various local dishes

Day 9 Lijiawan Village and Xiwan Village

We will hike to these two villages, which will give us the chance to appreciate the spectacular scenery throughout the Loess Plateau and along the Yellow River.

Qikou – Xiwan: Approximately a 1km hike

Qikou – Lijiawan: Approximately a 3km hike

Accommodation: Loess cave house

Dinner: We will enjoy a meal together made up of various local dishes

Day 10 Qikou – Taiyuan

We will spend one last beautiful morning in Qikou and then we have to return, by coach, to Taiyuan.

Accommodation: 4-Star hotel

Dinner: We will enjoy a meal together made up of various local dishes

Day 11 Taiyuan – Beijing

We will return to Beijing by high-speed train, which will take just 3 hours.

 

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Please Note: You can choose to stick to this tour entirely, or you can just incorporate it as part of 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 10 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.

 

We hope that you will have a wonderful time traveling with us!

For more information, please contact us at info@asiaculturaltravel.co.uk.

Explore the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region

huizhou village05

When you think about China, what do you think of as its national symbol of beauty? Of course you can’t only be thinking of the Great Wall. Indeed, the Great Wall is a remarkable Chinese landmark. However, there are also a multitude of architectural styles and buildings that express a uniquely Chinese beauty. The ancient villages in the Yangtze Plain serve as good examples. And among these villages, the group of villages in the Huizhou area is the most distinctly fascinating.

hongcun specialty

Huizhou as a region has an interesting history. There were not only many successful merchants that came out of Huizhou, but also many famous politicians and scholars. Of course it was the rich merchants who made the biggest contribution to the improvement and success of Hui architecture. And in the background of this fascinating history, women in Hui culture had their own story. They were regarded as making the chastest wives.

woodcut

Elaborate brick-sculptures, woodcuts and stone carvings are the three essential artistic components of Hui architecture. Stone carvings of flowers, birds and beasts are usually on the doorframe; woodcuts decorate the windows and brick carvings can appear in any place, even someplace unexpected. The wall of a Hui style residence is called a horse-head wall. It is so-named because the top shape of the wall looks like a horse’s head. When visiting a Hui village, you will see that the white horse-head walls match the black roofs (consisting of tiles) very well. It looks very romantic, especially on a rainy day.

In ancient times, Chinese people used “the four treasures of the study” for writing and painting. These “four treasures” were the writing brush, the ink stick, paper and the ink stone. Huizhou was famous for manufacturing the best “four treasures”. Nowadays, people don’t use ink and a writing brush in their daily life anymore. But craftspeople in Huizhou insist on maintaining the ancient apparatus and they continue making these good quality products to this day.

Furthermore, Huizhou is the hometown of several popular kinds of tea, the most famous ones being Huangshan Maofeng, Keemun and Taiping Houhui.

Hui cuisine

With regards to the food in this region, it is difficult to tell whether you will like it or not. Hui cuisine is a very special kind of Chinese cuisine. But don’t worry, you can also find more familiar Chinese food in this region. If you like Hui cuisine, you may end up being crazy about it; but you may feel disappointed when you leave, as it is not easy to find real Hui cuisine outside of this region.

Huizhou is a beautiful and mysterious area with an interesting history. So, if you want to witness a special but also a somewhat typical kind of Chinese beauty, if you want to experience the feeling of being in a Chinese Kung-fu film (all villages look like the backdrop of a Kung-fu epic ), or if you are interested in Hui Art, please follow us and embark on a journey of discovery.

huizhou village 04

During this tour, we will

  • experience life in an ancient Chinese village, to feel the thrill of being on the set of a Kung-Fu movie;
  • discover the stunning artistry of Hui architecture, particularly the woodcutting, brick cutting and stone cutting styles of art;
  • listen to and study the unique history of the Huizhou region, with particular reference to the Huizhou merchants;
  • sample the delectable Hui cuisine;
  • enjoy the famous types of tea in the Mt. Huangshan area.

We offer:

  • Tours in 5 (+1 optional choice) villages and 2 old towns in the Huizhou region;
  • An English speaking guide with a vast knowledge of Hui Art and History;
  • Small group sizes (no more than 10 people);
  • Featured accommodation in ancient houses built in the traditional Chinese style;
  • Enough time to enjoy your tour alone;
  • A pdf file with important information about Huizhou.

 

02

the Location of Huizhou in China

huizhou location

An Introduction to the stops on our journey:

Chengkan

chengkan

The layout of the village is in the special Chinese “Bagua” style (the Eight Trigrams). The Yin part is represented by the fields whilst the Yang part is represented by the residential buildings. A river divides these two parts.

In ancient times Longxi was the name of this village. At the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Luo brothers moved there with their big family and changed the village’s name to Chengkan. The Luo brothers believed in Feng Shui theory (an old philosophical and somewhat superstitious system which follows the belief that you can create a better life for your family by managing the surrounding environment). They found that Longxi’s location was particularly auspicious and it promised their family potential prosperity, according to Feng Shui theory. During the establishment of the entire village they continued to follow this theory. So this village is considered one of the best, if not the best, examples of Feng Shui theory in practice.

There used to be ninety-nine lanes that once made the village seem like a maze. Of these ninety-nine lanes, there are still ninety lanes left today. Most of the buildings in the village were established in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), among them there are fourteen mansions which all exemplify the Hui style of architecture beautifully.

chengkan bagua

Tunxi Old Town

Tunxi old street

Tunxi is the central district of Huangshan City. Tunxi Old Street is the most famous tourist attraction in Tunxi. It is 832 meters long and features buildings that follow the Song (960-1279), Ming and Qing (1644-1911) style of architecture. The Cheng family was the biggest family that lived in Tunxi. Nowadays you can still see the three big mansions that once belonged to them.

There were also many famous people that came from Tunxi, such as the philosophers Cheng Hao and Zhuxi, and other famous scholars who focused on different academic disciplines.

Shexian

Shexian, the capital of the ancient Hui State that existed during the Tang dynasty, sits at the southern foot of Mt. Huangshan and on the upper portion of the Xin’an River.

huizhou

Shexian was founded during the Qin Dynasty. Many cultural relics still exist there. More than 100 buildings in Shexian date back to the Ming Dynasty, and thousands of them date back to the Qing Dynasty. Of these buildings, the Three Wonders of Ancient Huizhou Architecture are the most acclaimed by experts and they include: the ancient residential houses, the ancestral temples1 and the stone archways built in the Ming and Qing dynasties. The most famous of these archways are Xuguo’s Stone Archway and Tangyue’s Memorial Archway.

Since Hui culture originated from Shexian, it is also the birthplace of Xin’an Painting, Xin’an medicine, Hui-style Architecture, and the Hui-style of carving bamboo, wood, brick and stone. There are still many Hui ink stick and Shexian ink slab workshops. What’s more, you can also still buy Chengxintang Paper, which was considered the best quality paper during the Qing Dynasty.

Tangyue Memorial Archways

tangyue

This is the most popular attraction in Shexian and many people still come to Shexian just to see this group of archways. Tangyue Memorial Archways are located in Tangyue village, 9 kilometers from the Shexian old town in the west. There are seven archways there, which were built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties by the Bao clan.

Among them, the three most famous ones are: the archway to honor the filial son, the archway to honor filial affection and the archway to honor the chaste wife Bao Wenling.

Xidi

西递

Xidi Village was built during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). In those times, people lived together based on clanship and consanguinity. Xidi was occupied by the Hu clan. There are more than 300 buildings in Xidi, which were mainly built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, among which 124 residential houses and three ancestral temples have been preserved in their original state. The layout of Xidi is well designed. It looks like a sailing boat. Most of the houses are composed of three rooms and a square yard.

As a famous village in Huizhou, Xidi thus housed many rich Hui merchants. These merchants wished to build their luxury houses in order to show off their wealth. But the strict hierarchy of society had restrictions which directly affected construction. So the merchants could only choose the best materials and utilize the most sophisticated workmanship for their place of residence. The memorial archway—built in 1578 by Hu Wenguang, who was a high official during the Ming Dynasty—is a good example of the Hui-style of stone carving. The best example of Hui-style brick sculpture is in the house of another Ming official, in a place called the West Garden.

It was listed as culture heritage by UNESCO in 2000.

Hongcun

hongcun

The village was built during the Northern Song Dynasty for the Wang clan. There are more than 140 well-preserved ancient houses in Hongchun that were built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Among them there is a place called Chengzhi Hall, which was built by a salt merchant during the Qing Dynasty and is now regarded as the “countryside palace museum”.

The most fascinating thing about this village is its “buffalo shape” design. An artificial water system was designed following the shape of a buffalo in order to supply water to every building for people’s routine life and also for their fields.

 It was listed as culture heritage by UNESCO in 2000.

Nanping

nanping

Due to the fact that there are so many big and beautiful ancient villages in the Huangshan region and because Chinese people have limited holiday time, Nanping is not a very popular tourist destination in the Huangshan region. But those tourists who skip going there don’t know what they’re missing.

This typical Hui village consists of more than 300 buildings and 72 lanes. In ancient times, the 8 Ancestral Temples in Nanping represented the power and influence of eight local families. The village has served as a backdrop for many famous movies, such as “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and “Judou”, which both featured the Chinese actress Gongli.

If you want to enjoy a truly beautiful and peaceful Hui village rather than simply a tourist attraction, Nanping is your best choice.

Ancestral temples: This was a kind of temple used by a family or a clan to worship their ancestors.

 

 

Accommodation: 4 nights in the featured old style hotels, which are all equipped with modern amenities, and 2 nights in 3-star hotels. You will have a single room in 2 of the featured old style hotels, and then you will be moved to shared rooms in the other 4 hotels.

Food: Two dinners consisting of authentic Hui cuisine. We will help make dinner arrangements for you on other days of the tour, but these meals are not included in the tour price.

Transportation: public transportation (train and coach) and taxis when necessary.

Hotel in Hui style

Duration: 7 Days and 6 Nights

Date:1st of Dec to the 7th of Dec, 2017

Cost: £780 per person (including: 6 nights of accommodation; entrance fees to all of the villages; 1 dinner; tea every day; the cost of all transportation during the designated tour times; English guide services; a pdf file with important information about Huizhou; information for your tour of Mt. Huangshan if needed; further help for your following travel in China).

£890 per person for 6 nights of single room accommodation.

Please Note: the price is based on at least 4 participants; the maximum number of participants is 10.

Itinerary:

Day 1 Meeting in Tunxi (Huangshan City)

If you need us to help you to buy the domestic train or air tickets, please let us know in advance and give us all of the details for your journey. People who plan on coming from Beijing have the opportunity to take the train with our tour guide if they would like to.

Accommodation: featured hotel in old, ancient-style house, shared room (2 people per room).

Dinner:  Not included. We will explore the local food market together and sample some tasty dishes.

Day 2 Chengkan

We will visit Chengkan, which is the first Hui village on our tour. It is a very typical example of a Hui village and it will give you a sense of what to expect from a Huizhou village.

Accommodation: featured hotel in old, ancient-style house in Chengkan village, shared room (2 people per room).

Welcome dinner: Hui cuisine.

Day 3 Huizhou Old Town (Shexian)

In ancient times Shexian was the central town in Huizhou. We will have a tour of the old town, then we will go to visit the Tangyue Memorial Archways and be treated to some historical stories about them, which reveal details about the strict moral rules surrounding filial piety and chastity in ancient times. We will then walk along the Xin’an River and visit the ink craft shops.

Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Shexian, shared room (2 people per room).

Dinner:  Not included. We can either have local food together or you can choose to explore the local restaurants on your own.

Day 4 Xidi

In the morning we will catch the train back to Tunxi and from there go to Yixian (where Xidi, Nanping and Hongcun are located) by coach.

We will then go to visit Xidi, the most famous village in the Huizhou region. However, we have chosen a better place than Xidi for our accommodation – Nanping, where it is much quieter. Nanping is in its original condition so it will undoubtedly give us the sensation of living on the set of an epic movie.

Accommodation: featured hotel in old, ancient-style house, in Nanping village, single rooms for everyone.

Dinner:  Not included. We can either have local food together or you can choose to explore the local restaurants on your own.

Day 5 Nanping and Hongcun

Although by this time we will have enjoyed the evening and the night in Nanping village, we will also spend some time the next morning taking in its beauty.

After that, in the afternoon we will head for Hongcun. It is a very short journey from Nanping to Hongcun so we can spend almost the entire afternoon visiting its various sites of interest.

Accommodation: featured hotel in old, ancient style house in Hongcun village, single rooms for everyone.

Dinner:  Not included. We can either have local food together or you can choose to explore the local restaurants on your own.

Day 6 Hongcun or Lucun

lucun

This is an option for everyone: you can either stay in Hongcun and enjoy the peaceful, picturesque countryside or go hiking in the neighboring village of Lucun, which is an authentic Hui village that doesn’t attract too many tourists.

Please Note: the entrance fee for Lucun is not included in the tour price and is around 50 RMB; the most famous attraction in Lucun is a wholly woodcut building and the entrance fee is 30 RMB.

Tips for staying in Hongcun: take time to venture out of the village in order to have a look at the tea fields on the mountains.

On the afternoon of the sixth day we will return to Tunxi.

Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Tunxi, shared room (2 people per room).

Dinner: Chinese cuisine in both Hui style and other styles.

Day 7 Tunxi

Participants are either free to start their return journey or continue their travels in China

We recommend Mukeng Bamboo Forest and the Mount Huangshan.

Note: if you want to visit Mukeng Bamboo Forest, or Mount Huang and need our help, please do not hesitate to tell us in advance.

 

Please Note: You can choose to stick to this tour entirely, or you can just incorporate it as part of 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 this 7 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.

hizhou village03We hope that you will have a wonderful time traveling with us!

For more information, please contact us at: info@asiaculturaltravel.co.uk.

Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)

hongkeng tuloucover02

An amazing opportunity to experience the distinctive South Min culture in China

Fujian Province, which is sometimes shortened to “Min”, is located in southeast China and it takes up a large part of the southeast coast. Nearly 90% of Fujian’s land is mountainous, making it very suitable for growing tea and subtropical fruits.

South Min region refers, as its name implies, to an area in the south of Fujian province. It is the homeland of the Hoklo and Hakka people1. Both of these ethnic minorities speak their own dialects. We usually prefer to call them languages, rather than dialects, as they are so different from Mandarin that they are barely intelligible to the average Han Chinese person. Aside from their unique dialects, many of them also live in an unusual type of dwelling – a Tulou (meaning “Earthen Structure” in Chinese).

Tulou in Fujian

These peculiar structures are hidden up in the mountainous regions of Fujian, and entering one is like entering a different world, a peaceful and magical world.

Xiamen is the central city of South Min, and historically it was known as Amoy. It is an island city just about 1 kilometre away from Jinmen Island, which belongs to Taiwan. Xiamen was one of the first economic zones that were specially opened up to foreign investment in 1981. Nowadays, it is the most economically successful city in Fujian.

This fantastic journey will show you both the traditional and the modern sides of China.

xiamen

During this tour, we will

  1. explore Tulou life in Southern Fujian;
  2. enjoy the extremely beautiful scenery in the mountainous areas of Southern Fujian;
  3. taste a variety of local teas as part of a traditional Fujian tea ceremony.
  4. visit a colonial-style island (optional);
  5. visit modern Xiamen City (optional);
  6. learn about the history of the Hakka and Hoklo people;
  7. try various kinds of local food and subtropical fruits.

We offer a 5-day tour exploring Tulou in the mountainous regions of Southern Fujian, plus an optional 2-day tour of Xiamen city as a potential add-on.

Taxia village

The highlights of this tour:

I. Marvel the Unique Local Architecture

  1. Qilou

骑楼-漳州

Qilou, or Tong lau, appeared during the late 19th century, and are commonly found in the south of China in places such as Guangdong, Fujian, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.

This style of building originated from Guangzhou, which was the most important commercial port for foreign trade during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It is easy to see that the Qilou’s architectural style has been influenced by western architecture. The earliest Qilou were built by wealthy men to be stores in the business districts.

You will find various types of Qilou in Xiamen’s old business sector. It is a common sight in Southeast Asia. Most of the Qilou in Zhangzhou city were built in the traditional Chinese style, and did not adopt too many western features. This is because Zhangzhou is not as big a port as Xiamen so it was not subjected to as much western influence.

 

  1. Tulou (Earthen Structure)

Fujian Tulou04

A Tulou is a large enclosed construction that is usually circular or rectangular in shape and is used to house multiple families. There are more than 3,700 Tulou in the mountainous regions of South Min, which were all built by Hakka or Hoklo people. These large clay buildings are usually two- to five-storeys high and were built in such a way for defensive purposes. One Tulou is usually for one clan and the people of said clan would often conduct all of their social interactions inside of this “castle”. (Read more about Fujian Tulou)

Twelve Tulou have been selected by us to visit on this tour. All of them are listed by UNESCO as World Heritage Sites. We will also be given the opportunity to visit other Tulou in the nearby villages either together or separately.

 

  1. Traditional Chinese (Han-style) buildings

传统建筑-云水谣

Hoklo and Hakka people were both originally Han people. They still maintain some aspects of traditional Han culture, including Han architecture. So in the Hakka villages you will not only find Tulou but also traditional Han-style buildings.

 

 

  1. Colonial-style buildings in Gulangyu Island

Gulangyu Island

Gulangyu is a small island that is just a few minutes’ drive away from the main island of Xiamen. It is the most famous tourist attraction in the Xiamen area because of its peaceful atmosphere and seemingly colonial style. From 1850 through to 1900, after the Opium War, many western traders settled on Gulangyu and built western style houses there. You may feel as though this small island is more like a western city rather than an Asian island.

 

  1. Modern skyscrapers in Xiamen City

厦门night

As one of the most economically successful cities in China, Xiamen has many new and modern buildings. It serves as a typical example of the rapid development happening in certain Asian cities, but it is much more beautiful than many of these other Asian cities.

 

 

II. See the Amazing Land Views

Fujian is one of the most prominent tea growing provinces in China. There are tea fields on almost every mountain in Fujian. What’s more, since Fujian is a mountainous region, terraces must be carved into the hills and mountains in order to grow rice there.

Fujian Terrace

 

III. Try the Subtropical Fruits

You will find many fruits in Fujian that you will have only previously seen in books. Feel free to try them, so long as you have a strong stomach.

fruits

 

IV. Try the Local Food

The food in South Min is very similar to the food in Taiwan. The Hoklo people are also notoriously good at cooking seafood.

On top of that, if you love Chinese tea, Fujian is the province for you, since a wide array of top quality Chinese teas are grown there.

厦门小吃

V. Taste the Various Local Teas

Hakka and Hoklo people are famous for producing high-quality teas. In the Tulou area, they make tea not only from tea leaves, but also from fruits and wild flowers. These types of tea have a light fragrance but a strong and sumptuous flavour that will linger in your mouth. Each type of tea has different medicinal properties according to its ingredients.

Tulou Tea

 

VI. Stay in Tulou Hotel

No one can gain a real insight into any culture by just visiting local attractions and villages. In order to give you an up-close and personal look at Hoklo and Hakka culture that you will never forget, we have chosen a real Tulou as our accommodation for the tour. Let’s explore real life in a Tulou together.

tulou hotel

 

The Location of Fujian in China:

fujian

Accommodation: We will stay in Tulou hotel in the mountainous regions of Fujian for 2 nights of the tour, and a 3-Star hotel in Zhangzhou for 1 night, a 4-Star hotel in Xiamen for 1 night of the tour (plus an extra 2 nights in a 4-star hotel should you decide to expand your tour of Xiamen).

Note: : There are no en-suite bathrooms in the Tulou hotels because of their design. All rooms will have a shared toilet and bathroom.

Food: We will provide 3 meals per day, consisting of local Chinese food, when staying in the mountainous region of Fujian. Breakfast and dinner will be provided in Xiamen city. Our guide will be on hand to help you order lunch in Xiamen.

Transportation: mini coach

Duration: 5 days and 5 nights (plus an extra, optional 2 day tour in Xiamen as specified above)

Dates of the tour:

10th of Dec to the 14th of Dec, 2017 (or the 16th of Dec, 2017 should you choose to add the extra 2 day tour of Xiamen to your trip)

Cost pp:

£680 (including: 5 nights of accommodation; all entrance fees to the attractions; all meals during the 3 days spent in the mountainous region of Fujian and 2 breakfast and 2 dinner in Xiamen; all transportation costs during designated tour times; the services of an English speaking guide; a pdf file with information about Tulou; help with any further travel in China following the tour).

£880 (all of the above plus: an extra 2 day tour in Xiamen, including the services of an English speaking guide and transportation costs during designated tour times; two extra night of accommodation in Xiamen; one extra dinner in Xiamen)

Single supp:£280

Please Note: the cost is based on the subscription of no less than 4 participants; the maximum number of participants being 10.

Itinerary:

Day 1 Meeting up in Xiamen

We will meet you at the hotel in Xiamen. If you are planning on flying into Xiamen, the hotel is within the airport area and can be easily found. If you are planning on coming to Xiamen by train, you can either make your own way to the hotel or we will happily pick you up from the railway station and take you to the hotel. You need to book this service in advance.

Accommodation: 4-star hotel near Xiamen airport

Day 2 Tianluokeng Group of Tulou

In the morning we will head out towards the most famous group of Tulou – Tianluokeng, or “Four Dishes and one Soup” Tulou.

Tianluokeng consists of three circular Tulou and one square-shaped Tulou, which, from above, resembles the common layout for a family dinner. Its unique appearance earned it the name “four dishes and one soup”.

First we will enjoy the panoramic view from up the mountain, and then we will travel down the mountain to visit the village. Although Tianloukeng village is the most famous Tulou village, most of its visitors tend to just view it from a distance, up on the mountain, and do not enter the village itself. Unlike them, we will get to experience a real Tulou village by going there directly. Read more about Tianluokeng Village.

tianluokeng

We will sample the local tea in a Fujian-style tea ceremony. Before you get the wrong idea, this isn’t a luxury experience! You’ll get to enjoy drinking tea in the same traditional way that the locals do, looking out at the lofty mountains while listening to the folk tales of the Hakka people.

Accommodation: Tulou Hotel in Tianluokeng

Day 3 Yuchang Lou, Taxia Village and Hongkeng village

On the way to Hongkeng village, we will come across another very famous Tulou, Yuchang Lou, which is particularly amazing because all of its pillars are made out of plum wood. It is also the tallest Tulou in existence. Yuchang Lou is in a small, tranquil and traditional village without tourists.

Fujian Tulou, Yuchang lou

Then we will go to explore the village of Taxia, which is famous for the seamless way in which the Tulou blend in with their natural surroundings. Read more about Taxia Village.

Accommodation: Tulou Hotel in Taxia Village

Day 4 Yunshuiyao Village, Zhangzhou

We will spend the whole morning in Yunshuiyao village soaking in the peace and beauty of the mountainous countryside.

Yunshuiyao is village with hundreds of years of history behind it, particularly with reference to the Jian clan. It is reminiscent of the legendary “Shangri-la” in appearance and atmosphere. Most of the buildings in the village are clay houses which were built during the Qing Dynasty, including a big Ancestral Hall2 for the Jian family. There are several banyan trees on the riverside that are hundreds of years old. One of them is the biggest banyan tree in Fujian Province and this banyan tree has some branches that are more than 30 meters long. Read more about Yunshuiyao Village.

云水谣

We will visit two Tulou, which are near to Yunshuiyao village.

Huaiyuan Lou is considered a perfect example of the round-style of Tulou, while Heguilou is the best example of the rectangular-style of Tulou (more details about these two types of Tulou can be found in the article entitled “Fujian Tulou”). Another distinguishing feature of Hegui Lou is that the whole compound has been built on marshland. Isn’t that amazing?

In the late afternoon, we will head for Zhangzhou.

Accommodation: 3-star hotel in Zhangzhou

Day 5 Xiamen

We will visit the Ming-Qing Streets in Zhangzhou (streets which were built during the Ming and Qing Dynasties).

We will return to Xiamen in the late afternoon.

Accommodation: 4-star hotel in Xiamen

Add-ons:

beachDay 6 Xiamen City – Qilou, Zengcuo An and the Seaside

Siming district is the business centre of Xiamen Island and there you will find many typical South Min-style buildings, known as Qilou.

Zengcuo An is a small village on the seaside. All of the villagers used to be fishermen. Nowadays it serves as a typical example of a coastal village in Xiamen. All of the houses have been changed so that their architectural style incorporates more western features. However, you will still find some of their original, local features are intact. You will also find all of the traditional South Min style dishes and local subtropical fruits in Zengcuo An. They are all worth trying so don’t forget to sample some local delicacies whilst you’re there.

At the seaside, there is a long plank road that runs alongside the beach, which you can take a walk along if you like. Or you may prefer to just sunbathe on the soft, white sand.

Read more about Xiamen.

Accommodation: 4-star hotel in Xiamen

Gulangyu IslandDay 7 Gulangyu Island 

We will go to Gulangyu Island by ferry. After we have visited the buildings of major interest on the island, you will be given the opportunity to explore the island and enjoy some of the local attractions by yourself. Read more about Gulang Island.

Accommodation: 4-star hotel in Xiamen

 

 

Notes:

  1. Hoklo people and Hakka People:

From the West Jin Dynasty (307-12 BCE), there were several great immigrations from central China to Fujian, among them the one took place in the late Tang Dynasty (7th-8th century) was on a particular large scale. Those who settled down in southeast of Fujian Province became the Hoklo people. During the Song Dynasty, because of the conquest by the Jin ethnic group in northern China, many people fled from central China again, bringing with them the culture and language, and finally settled down in Fujian, Guangdong and Jiangxi. These people formed the Hakka group.

  1. Ancestral Hall:

It is a kind of temple for a family or a clan to worship their ancestors.

 

饮茶

Please Note: You can choose to stick to this tour entirely, or you can just incorporate it as part of 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 5 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.

We hope that you will have a wonderful time traveling with us! 

For more information, please contact us at: info@asiaculturaltravel.co.uk.

Fenghuang Ancient Town

 

Fenghuang Village

The rural county of Fenghuang can be roughly split into two districts: New Town and Old Town. While the new town is simply a residential area, the old town is something altogether more enchanting. Fenghuang Ancient Town was officially established during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), but its history can be traced back as far as the Spring and Autumn Period (c. 771-476 B.C.). Rising at the base of misty mountains and facing the rippling Tuo River, its location is known for its excellent feng shui 1.

The name “Fenghuang” literally translates to mean “Phoenix”, which in Chinese tradition is associated with good fortune and longevity. According to local legend, the town is so-named because, one day, two phoenixes were flying overhead when they paused to admire the town’s beauty and were reluctant to leave. If it’s enough to catch the attention of a mythical creature, it must be one magical place! For over 300 years, the ancient streets, alleyways, and houses of Fenghuang have been exquisitely preserved.

diaojiaolou fenghuangIts most unique feature is undoubtedly its wooden diaojiaolou 2, which perch delicately over the river. The incorporation of the river into the town’s layout demonstrates how important it is to the villagers to live in harmony with nature. It is not uncommon to see women washing clothes or men casting their fishing nets into its expanse, much like they have done for centuries. Boatmen wait by the banks, offering visitors the chance to enjoy a scenic cruise up and down the river.

The diaojiaolou are also the first hint towards the town’s multi-ethnicity. Unlike other cities and towns in China, which are predominantly populated by the Han Chinese ethnic group, the vast majority of Fenghuang’s population is made up of Miao and Tujia people. Miao traditions, architecture, and culture dominate the town, from their elegant traditional dress to their intricate handicrafts. Shimmering silver jewellery, vibrant batik 3 cloth, homemade tie-dye clothes, and numerous other local specialities are sold in Fenghuang’s local shops.

Yet the Miao weren’t always the peaceful villagers that you see today! Fenghuang was once the centre of numerous Miao rebellions, which were so fierce that it prompted the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to build the Southern Great Wall. This wall still stands on the outskirts of the town, and is now a popular tourist attraction. Other local attractions of note include: Huang Si Qiao Castle, one of the most well-preserved castles from the Tang Dynasty (618-907); Longevity Palace; Chao Yang Palace; and the Heavenly King Temple.

Diaojiaolou 03The former residence and tomb of the renowned Chinese writer Shen Congwen is arguably the most popular site in the town. In fact, his novel The Border Town, a romance written in 1934 and set in Fenghuang County, is believed to be what catapulted Fenghuang Ancient Town to national fame. It appears that Fenghuang’s residents were truly blessed with good fortune, as it was also the hometown of Xiong Xiling, who was once the premier (1913-1914) of the Republic of China (1912-1949) , and Huang Yongyu, a celebrated painter in the traditional Chinese style.

The playful bubbling of the river; the feel of flagstone steps worn smooth by thousands of feet; the sweet smell of freshly cooked food, dotted with locally grown chillies as red as rubies; these are the simple pleasures that this picturesque town has to offer. Surrounded by primeval forests and flanked by shadowy mountains, it is a place lost in time and resplendent in its timelessness.

 

1. Feng Shui: This theory is based on the premise that the specific placement of certain buildings or objects will bring good luck.

2. Diaojiaolou: These are two-storey wooden dwellings that are suspended on stilts, with the ground floor being used for storage and the upper floors being used as living spaces.

3. Batik: A cloth-dying process whereby a knife that has been dipped in hot wax is used to draw a pattern onto the cloth. The cloth is then boiled in dye, which melts the wax. Once the wax has melted off, the cloth is removed from the boiling dye. The rest of the cloth will be coloured by the dye but the pattern under the wax will have remained the original colour of the cloth.

 

Baihaba Village

Baihaba in xinjiang 01

With titles like “Number One Village of Northwest China” and the “First Village in the Northwest”, there are no prizes for guessing where Baihaba Village might be! It rests on the natural border between China and Kazakhstan, at the very northwesternmost corner of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Since it is only 3 kilometres (2 mi) from this border, tourists must get permission before travelling to the village. Its location just 31 kilometres (19 mi) west of Kanas Lake makes it a popular stop on any tour of the Kanas region, but this bucolic paradise is more than just a glorified rest-stop! Flanked by the misty Altai Mountains and split by the shimmering Baihaba River, it’s a veritable utopia for nature lovers.

The nearby forests are full of pines, white birches, and poplar trees, meaning the landscape is awash with luscious greens, pearl whites, and deep chestnut browns. Temperatures in this virtually Siberian region regularly plummet to below 0 °C (32 °F) in autumn, yet photographers annually brave the cold to enjoy this most picturesque of seasons. When the leaves turn, the forests are flecked with reds, golds, and yellows that perfectly complement the dark green pines. The village’s characteristic log cabins blend seamlessly into their natural surroundings, with only the faint wisp of smoke from their chimneys indicating that they are still inhabited. No matter what the season, the scenery in Baihaba looks like it has just leapt out of a pastoral oil painting!

baihaba in xinjiang 02Water trickling down from the melted ice-caps of the mountains runs through the village’s centre and forms the Baihaba River, separating the community of Tuvan people on one bank from the Kazakh people on the other. Although they come from distinctly different cultures, these two ethnic groups have shared this fertile land and enjoyed a peaceful rural life for decades. The Tuvans are a Siberian people who have Mongolian, Turkic, and Samoyedic roots, while the Kazakhs are a Turkic people who mainly live throughout Central Asia.

The Tuvan people believe that they are descended from the legendary soldiers who served under Genghis Khan, so many Tuvan homes boast a portrait of the great Mongolian warlord above their fireplace. Similarly, the Kazakh’s trace their ancestry back to several medieval Mongolian tribes, including the Argyns and the Huns, as well as ancient Iranian nomads such as the Sarmatians and the Scythians. Although both groups speak their own language, the Tuvan’s Turkic language has been heavily influenced by and bears great similarity to the Kazakh language. So it seems these two diverse ethnicities have more in common than meets the eye. And they both certainly have impeccable taste when it comes to their choice of location!

Thanks to their relative isolation and remoteness, the villagers have managed to preserve their unique traditions and customs. Their homes are lavishly decorated with hand-embroidered tapestries, which add a smattering of colour to their modest furnishings. They cook their meals over quaint woodstoves and sleep on heated brick beds, living a life of humble simplicity. Although tourism now plays an important part in supplementing their income, many families still rely on hunting and raising animals for their livelihood. Every day, farmers graze their sheep and cattle on the verdant pastures, while women wash vegetables in the river and youths ride their horses deep into the mountain valley.

baihaba in xinjiang 03Some of the locals run horse rental businesses, offering guided tours of the countryside for those visitors adventurous enough to take the reins! A handful of Tuvan families have even opened small hotels or restaurants, where tourists can indulge in a brief taste of their rich culture. And the good news is most Tuvan people greet their guests by giving them snacks! Normally they will receive guests with an array of delicious home-made dairy products, such as yogurt, milk wine, milk tea, and freshly baked cakes. Generally speaking, it is not considered impolite to refuse the food, but some B&Bs will welcome visitors with a Tuvan tradition involving two compulsory bowls of milk tea. The host will pour the first bowl and offer the drinker butter, which they can add to taste. As soon as the first bowl is finished, the host will fill it again. According to local belief, it is this second bowl that will grant the drinker good luck. That is, unless you’re lactose intolerant!

 

 

Hemu Village

Hemu xinjiang 01

Nestled within the Altay Mountains of northern Burqin County lies the small and tranquil village of Hemu. It is heralded as one of the six most beautiful villages in China and, once you catch a glimpse of it, you’ll soon see why. As the sun rises over the grasslands and illuminates the bright white birch forests nearby, smoke curls up from the chimneys of the village’s quaint log cabins, marking the beginning of a new day. The hundred or so families who live here will while away these daylight hours by grazing their sheep and cattle on the jade green pastures, washing their vegetables in the shimmering Hemu River, or simply taking a long horse-ride through the misty mountains. In summer, the place is awash with the lushest greens, while in autumn accents of gold, red, and purple fleck the landscape.

This rustic paradise, also known as Horm Village, has been home to the native Tuvan people for over a thousand years. Along with Baihaba Village, it is one of the largest Tuvan villages in China, although it also boasts small communities of Mongolian and Kazakh people. The Tuvans are a Siberian people who have Mongolian, Turkic, and Samoyedic roots. Although tourism has now become an important part of their annual income, many of them continue to make a living by hunting and raising animals. In fact, they farm anything from sheep and cows to yaks and even reindeer! They build their log cabins by hand using wood harvested from the nearby forests, which means the village seamlessly blends in with its natural surroundings. Many of the homes have a portrait of Genghis Khan hanging over their fireplace, as the Tuvans believe that they are descended from the soldiers of his ancient and mighty army. So it goes without saying that you shouldn’t get on their bad side!

Hemu in xinjiang02That being said, the villagers are well-known for their incredible hospitality and will happily welcome visitors into their humble homes. And what better way to greet guests than with snacks! Normally they will receive guests with an array of delicious home-made dairy products, such as yogurt, milk wine, milk tea, and freshly baked cakes. Generally speaking, it is not considered impolite to refuse the food, but some B&Bs will welcome visitors with a Tuvan tradition involving two compulsory bowls of milk tea. The host will pour the first bowl and offer the drinker butter, which they can add to taste. As soon as the first bowl is finished, the host will fill it again. According to local belief, it is this second bowl that will grant the drinker good luck. That is, unless you’re lactose intolerant!

In terms of spiritual belief, the Tuvan are firm followers of both Tibetan Buddhism and a folk religion known as Tengrism. This Central Asian faith borrows features from shamanism[1], animism[2], and ancestor worship, and was once the prevailing religion of the Turks, Mongolians, and Hungarians. The rich tapestry of customs and beliefs that the Tuvan subscribe to can be felt most palpably in their lively religious festivals, so plan your visit carefully if you want to experience one.

hemu in xinjiangThe village itself is only 70 kilometres (43 mi) away from Kanas Lake, so it’s a popular stop for tourists on their way to the Kanas Lake Nature Reserve. If you’re a fan of hiking, then there is a short hike that leads to a nearby observation platform, which yields stunning panoramic views of the village and the surrounding countryside. For the more adventurous hikers, we recommend venturing out onto the Hemu Grassland, although we strongly advise that you take a local guide with you as the routes are quite treacherous and the local wild boar can be dangerous if encountered. If you’re lucky, you may even come across a cluster of pearl white yurts. Some of these belong to the local Tuvan people, but others are the temporary homes of the Kazakh ethnic minority. Like the Tuvans, the Kazakhs are exceptionally friendly and will happily welcome visitors into their yurt. Just be sure to ask for permission first!

 

 

[1] Shamanism: The practice of attempting to reach altered states of consciousness in order to communicate with the spirit world and channel energy from it into the real world. This can only be done by specialist practitioners known as shaman.

[2] Animism: The belief that all non-human entities, including animals, plants, and even inanimate objects, possess a spiritual essence or soul.

Diaojiaolou

Diaojiaolou 01

According to legend, when the first ancient pioneers set out from northern and central China in the hopes of discovering and populating southern China, they came upon a number of difficulties. In the mountainous forests of south China, they met with fierce beasts, venomous snakes, and a myriad of unpleasant insects. In spite of this adversity, they managed to settle a colony in the south and set fires around the colony in order to deter wild beasts. However, the people continued to be plagued by vicious snakes and deadly scorpions, until one of the tribal leaders, an old, wise and well-respected man, came upon an idea for a building suspended on wooden stilts. The colony built these tall dwellings and soon they were safe from the dangers of the creatures below.

These were the first diaojiaolou, a dwelling popular among several of the ethnic minority communities throughout southern China. The word “diaojiao” (吊脚) in Chinese means “hanging feet” and “lou” (楼) means “building”, so diaojiaolou literally means “hanging feet building”. They are so named because of their unusual appearance. The history of the diaojiaolou stretches back over 500 years and they are widespread throughout Yunnan, Guangxi, Hunan, Guizhou, Hubei, and Sichuan province but differ in appearance depending on the ethnic group who built them.

Diaojiaolou 02Diaojiaolou are rectangular or square wooden buildings built in the ganlanstyle. A ganlan-style building is any building that is supported by stilts or wood columns. Diaojiaolou are typically two to three storeys high. The upper floors are held up by thick wooden stilts, which give the building an unsteady appearance. These stilts are further reinforced by stone blocks at their base, meaning diaojiaolou are in fact very stable. Even if one column is destroyed or one stone block is removed, the building will still stand firm. These buildings are a masterpiece of ingenious carpentry, as oftentimes they are made using no nails or rivets. The structure and stability of the building depends on groove joints, which hold the wooden beams and columns together perfectly.

The ground floor is made up primarily of the supporting columns and often does not have any walls. This floor tends to be used as a kind of stable for livestock or as a storage space for firewood and farming equipment. The second and third floors will be used as living spaces, although occasionally the top floor will be used as an extra storage space. The top two floors will have verandas or balconies, which are used to dry clothes. Some diaojiaolou built by wealthier families will have attics or annexes to provide more space.

Diaojiaolou 03Although the original legend behind the diaojiaolou may seem farfetched, it touches upon one of its main benefits. The key to its popularity is that, in ancient times, these stilted buildings would provide protection from wild animals, and nowadays they continue to provide protection from venomous snakes and insects that are still prolific throughout China. The cool breeze blowing through the windows of the upper levels acts like a kind of natural air conditioner, meaning these buildings also help prevent humidity-related diseases common in southern China. In the south of China, the level of humidity on the ground during summer is almost unbearable and potentially dangerous, so elevated living spaces are particularly important. These stilted houses are also designed to survive most natural disasters, such as floods and earthquakes.

On top of these safety benefits, diaojiaolou also offer some unique benefits that help improve the quality of life for their inhabitants. Their stilted design means they can be built on mountainsides or across bodies of water, so they were often used to colonise previously uninhabitable areas of China. Since the upper floors are particularly high up, they receive more natural light than the ground floor. In the past, this allowed inhabitants to easily work on their craftwork inside and nowadays, because they are naturally well-lit, many diaojiaolou do not have electrical lighting on their upper floors. These upper floors also act as a vantage point, so farmers have a broad view from which to survey their land.

The Miao, Dong, Zhuang, Yao, Tujia, Bouyei, and Shui ethnic minorities have all incorporated diaojiaolou into their architecture and villages. Although the basic style of each diaojiaolou is the same, there are variations between those of different ethnic minorities.

  1. Miao Diaojiaolou

miao diaojiaolouThe Miao people have a reputation for living in mountainous areas and thus diaojiaolou make the perfect dwellings. Miao diaojiaolou spread up the sides of mountains and are built on very steep gradients. They are usually built by the villagers using local fir wood. The front of this type of diaojiaolou is held up by pillars but the rear of the house is suspended on wooden poles, making it level with the mountainside. This gives the Miao diaojiaolou their distinctive “hanging” appearance. The Miao villages of Basha, Xijiang and Langdeshang in Guizhou province have particularly stunning diaojiaolou. Xijiang is the largest Miao village in the world and has the widest showcase of Miao diaojiaolou.

  1. Dong Diaojiaolou

Dong diaojiaolouMost Dong villages are at the foot of a mountain or hill and all Dong settlements will be near to a stream or river, so stilted diaojiaolou are useful for building up the mountainside or building over the water. Since the Dong diaojiaolou are not built on a steep gradient, the “hanging” aspect of the upper floors is not as pronounced as it is in Miao diaojiaolou. Dong diaojiaolou are aesthetically magnificent, as the Dong people are skilful carpenters and love to adorn their buildings with intricate carvings of flowers, wild animals and mythical creatures. If you want to see the Dong style of diaojiaolou, we recommend visiting the villages of Zhaoxing and Xiaohuang in Guizhou province. Zhaoxing’s architecture is particularly spectacular, as it contains five Drum Towers of differing styles.

  1. Zhuang Diaojiaolou

zhuang diaojiaolouThe exterior of the Zhuang diaojiaolou does not look dissimilar to that of the Dong diaojiaolou. However, the key difference is the interior, as they have a shrine at their centre which is used for ancestor worship. They also usually incorporate separate bedrooms for the husband and wife, which is an archaic Zhuang custom. The Zhuang villages of Ping’an and Guzhuang have wonderful diaojiaolou. Guzhuang village has the largest number of Zhuang diaojiaolou in China and some of these buildings date back over 100 years, making them some of the oldest diaojiaolou in the country.

  1. Yao Diaojiaolou

yao diaojiaolouThe Yao ethnic minority tend to live on flat land so Yao diaojiaolou are usually short and have wooden stilts of even heights. In some cases, the ground floor of a Yao diaojiaolou may have walls. The cluster of Yao villages near the Jinkeng Rice Terraces in Guangxi province is the perfect place to admire this style of diaojiaolou. One of these villages, known as Dazhai, even has some diaojiaolou that now function as hotels!

  1. Tujia Diaojiaolou

Tujia DiaojiaolouIn contrast to the Miao people, the Tujia people prefer to live near mountains but close to or sometimes even over rivers or streams. Thus you’ll find that many Tujia diaojiaolou are either placed directly on the waterfront or hang over the water. The Tujia believe that these stilted houses embody the coexistence of God and man, so the designs of their diaojiaolou often reflect this. Tujia diaojiaolou are hard to come by, since the Tujia people are slowly abandoning their old settlements and assimilating into modern Chinese culture. The Tujia Folk Customs Park in Zhangjiajie, Hunan, is a large scale replica of a traditional Tujia village and features Tujia style Diaojiaolou. However, if you want a more authentic experience, we recommend visiting the Tujia village of Shuitianba in the Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture of Hubei Province.

  1. Bouyei Diaojiaolou

bouyei diaojiaolouThe Bouyei people are renowned more for their unique stone houses than for their diaojiaolou. Their diaojiaolou, though no less magnificent, are relatively typical and have few distinguishing features. The fame of the Bouyei stone buildings has tragically overshadowed their diaojiaolou and thus Bouyei diaojiaolou are difficult to find. Located about 21 kilometres away from the city of Guiyang, Zhenshan village in Guizhou province has a mixed community of Bouyei and Miao people, with Bouyei making up about 75% of its population. Though most of the buildings in Zhenshan are made of stone, a few are made of both wood and stone in the diaojiaolou style. Alternatively, some of the Bouyei villages near the Nanpan River in Yunnan province contain several diaojiaolou.

  1. Shui Diaojiaolou

shui diaojiaolouThe Shui dwellings are not typical diaojiaolou and so are often referred to as “woodpile dwellings”. This is because the stilts on the ground level are very short and the ground level will usually have walls, meaning the house looks kind of like a woodpile. Shui diaojiaolou will only ever have an odd number of rooms, since there is a taboo on even numbers in Shui culture. There are some small Shui villages in Guizhou province is the perfect place to admire these quaint little “woodpiles”.

 

 

Join a tour with us to explore more about Diaojiaolou: Explore the Culture of Ethnic Minorities in Guizhou

Xiabanliao

xiabanliao village

The sleepy village of Xiabanliao, located just southwest of Tianluokeng village and Shuyang Town, has been the home of the Liu clan for twenty-five generations. And, when you take in the lush greenery of the surrounding mountains and listen to the soft bubbling of nearby brooks, you’ll understand why they’ve stayed for so long! Yet Xiabanliao isn’t just your ordinary Chinese village; it houses one of the most magnificent architectural wonders the country has to offer.

Fujian Tulou, Yuchang louThe Tulou of Fujian are huge earthen fortresses that were designed to protect inhabitants from bandits. They have enjoyed great fame in recent years due to their unique appearance and unmatched fortitude. Xiabanliao’s Yuchang Lou, which was built by the Liu clan in 1308 during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), is one of the oldest and most resilient of them all. At the grand old age of 700, this tulou is still home to 23 families and about 120 people from the Liu clan. It may not have all the modern conveniences of a new home, but at least the Liu family never have to worry about a mortgage! It towers in at five-storeys in height and 36 metres in diameter, making it is the tallest tulou in China.

In spite of its age, the 25 kitchens on its ground floor are all equipped with their own private well, making it the only tulou in existence with such a convenient water supply. With 250 rooms, 25 kitchens, and a spacious courtyard in the centre, Yuchang Lou is so roomy that it could almost be called a village itself!

In recent years, it has earned the alternate name “the zigzag building” because the wooden post structure within the tulou, which is meant to be vertical, appears to zigzag left and right on the 3rd and 4th floors. This bizarre phenomenon was not intentional but was in fact due to an error made in measuring the building materials. Don’t let the unsteady appearance fool you; this tulou has survived more natural disasters, wars, and sieges than you can count!

 

Xiabanliao is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)

 

Taxia

Taxia village

The ancient Hakka village of Taxia, tucked away in the lush green mountains of Fujian, is one of the oldest and most spectacular villages China has to offer. It is located in a valley just west of Shuyang Town and is split by a clear river, which flows through the heart of the village and is lined by over 20 traditional Tulou. These gigantic, fortress-like buildings are made of packed earth and resemble fortified villages. They come in a number of styles, from those of a square or rectangular shape to round and oval ones. They were initially built to protect inhabitants from bandits and wild animals but have seemingly failed to shield them from the curiosity of tourists!

That being said, Taxia is a sleepy village that sees very little traffic and the locals, who have long become accustomed to rural life, while away the hours fishing, farming, and drinking tea. Sometimes it really is the simple things that make life worth living! The village was established in 1426 by the Zhang family but most of the remaining buildings were constructed during the 18th century, with the oldest, Fuxing Lou, having been built in 1631. Diaojiaolou or stilted wooden houses are also littered along the riverbanks of Taxia and only add to the idyllic pastoral scenery. The large tulou made of rich earth and the rustic wooden Diaojiaolou appear to be at one with both the manmade and natural surroundings.

Taxia Village square TulouThe village’s main attraction is the Zhang Family’s Ancestral Hall, which is located near a pond and flanked by 20 stone flagpoles that rise up like a petrified forest. This shrine to the Zhang’s ancestors was built over 400 years ago and is one of the most well-preserved of its kind in the country. The gateway is engraved with a vivid image of two dragons playing with a pearl, inlaid beautifully with coloured ceramic chips, and the whole compound is embossed with lively decorations of Chinese deities, legendary figures, mythical creatures, wild animals, and charming flowers. At the back of the hall, a dense forest creeps its way up the mountains.

Bizarrely, an almost exact replica of this ancestral hall can be found in Taiwan’s Tainan County and was built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) by members of the Zhang family who had moved there. Evidently the Zhangs were a wealthy bunch, but not very creative!

On hot summer nights, the village comes to life as countless fireflies wind their way through the streets and create a sort of fairy tale atmosphere. Imagine spending a balmy evening watching these ethereal lights dance their way through the long grass or skitter above the surface of the river. I can’t think of anything more romantic!

 

Taxia is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)

 

Tianluokeng

Tianluokeng

Tianluokeng is perhaps one of the most famous villages in Fujian but, with a name that literally means “River Snail Pit”, you’re probably wondering why. Is it full of river snails? Do they “pit” the snails against each other? Of course not! Tianluokeng achieved its fame because it is one of the many stunning villages in rural Fujian that boast magnificent earthen buildings known as Tulou.

The village’s name may originate from a Fujian folktale known as “The Snail Girl”, in which a poor young farmer named Xie Duan is helped by and eventually falls in love with a snail fairy called a tianluo. Some local legends even suggest that the founder of Tianluokeng, Wong Baisanlang, was helped by a fairy named Miss Tianluo. This may explain why the local farmers move at a snail’s pace!

The village rests just outside of Shuyang Town and is home to a cluster of five tulou. These gigantic, fortress-like buildings are made of packed earth and resemble fortified villages. If you look closely at their upper levels, you can still see the small gun holes that were used to shoot at bandits. Snails may hide in their shells in times of danger, but the locals of Tianluokeng preferred a more aggressive approach!

The cluster is made up of one square-shaped tulou in the centre with three round tulou and one oval-shaped tulou surrounding it. Its unusual appearance has earned it the name “four dishes and one soup”, as it resembles the layout for an average family dinner in China. Just don’t try to eat out of these dishes, or you’ll end up the size of a building yourself!

tianluokeng 01The square tulou in the centre is known as “Buyun Lou” or “Reaching for the Clouds Building” and is the oldest of the set, having been built in 1796. Unfortunately its three-storey high exterior was not enough to discourage ne’er-do-wells, as it was burnt down by bandits in 1936 and had to be rebuilt in 1953. Its four sets of stairs were designed to express the founder’s wish that his descendants achieve greatness “step-by-step”. At least he provided them with plenty of fire exits!

Hechang Lou was built not long thereafter and, in 1930, the circular Zhenyang Lou followed. In 1936 Ruiyun Lou was constructed and the last of the bunch, Wenchang Lou, was completed in 1966. The sheer size of these tulou is a miracle in itself, as each one may have taken upwards of two years to build. This means the entire complex would have taken at least ten years to finish!

According to the Chinese philosophy of Feng Shui[1], the placement of the five tulou is particularly auspicious. It is believed that bad luck is more likely to hit the corners of buildings, so many of the tulou are circular in the hopes that misfortune will slide off of their round roofs. Since the square-shaped Buyun Lou is the only one that has corners and is coincidentally the only one to have been burnt down, there may be something to this theory! Nowadays the corners of Buyun Lou are bedecked with lucky symbols in the hopes of warding off evil. Let’s just hope they fireproofed it too!

 

[1] Feng Shui: This theory is based on the premise that the specific placement of certain places or objects will bring good luck.

 

Tianluokeng is one of the many wonderful stops on our travel: Explore the distinctive Tulou(Earthen Structure)