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

Chengkan

With its labyrinthine streets and elegant architecture, the ancient village of Chengkan is endowed with an air of mystery. Surrounded by eight mountains and halved by the S-shaped Longxi River, the village’s location is no accident. Its layout and placement were designed to replicate a traditional Chinese pattern known as Bagua or the Eight Diagrams, which is derived from a classical text known as the I-Ching or Book of Changes and contains the famous Yin-Yang symbol. The Yin part of the village is represented by the fields, while the Yang part is made up of residential buildings, with the river separating the two. According to traditional feng shui[1] principles, its unique design is particularly auspicious and is thought to bring the villagers good fortune. In a place as picturesque as Chengkan, most people would think you were lucky just to live there!

The village was built over 1,800 years ago and was originally known as Longxi, but its name was changed towards the end of the Tang Dynasty (618-907) when it was occupied by the Luo family. The Luo brothers were great believers in feng shui theory and, after they recognised the importance of the village’s location, they decided to settle there in a bid to improve their family’s fortunes. In fact, Chengkan is widely believed to be one of the best examples of feng shui theory in practice! Unlike the villages of Hongcun and Xidi, Chengkan has yet to become a popular tourist attraction, in spite of the fact that it is located just 40 kilometres (25 mi) from Mount Huang.

The village itself is a veritable maze, with three main streets and ninety lanes crisscrossing one another in a hectic mesh. In its heyday, it originally consisted of ninety-nine lanes, making it even more complex to navigate! While the village may have been established in ancient times, its oldest remaining buildings actually date back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). With their white-washed walls, black tile roofs, artistic woodcut panels, and elaborate stone carvings, the mansions and temples of Chengkan are said to exemplify the intricate beauty of Hui-style architecture. There are over 150 ancient residences in Chengkan and 21 major historic sites, which are currently under state protection.

The entrance to the village is marked by the Shuikou or “Water Gap”, where a pond full of blossoming lotus flowers entices people in. From there, its most iconic attraction is Baolun Hall, which is part of Luo Dongshu’s Ancestral Temple. Luo Dongshu was an accomplished scholar, as well as a hermit, who lived during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and who greatly contributed to the fine reputation of the Luo family in Chengkan. The temple was constructed by his descendants so that they may honour his memory and worship him. So remember, next time you have to help your parents with something, at least they’re not asking you to build them a temple!

Once you’ve passed through the first three entrances of the temple, you’ll arrive at the magnificent Baolun Hall. It was originally built in 1542, during the Ming Dynasty, and is famed for its stunning murals, which have barely faded in spite of the fact that they are over 500 years old! Vivid sculptures of lions, clouds, and lotuses grace the façades of bluestone parapets, wooden eaves, and crossbeams. Ascending the wooden staircase to the attic, you’ll be treated with a breath-taking panoramic view of the village below and the lofty Mount Huang in the distance.

While Baolun Hall is one of the most impressive features in Chengkan, it is by no means the most important. Since the village is split by a river, it should come as no surprise that the oldest and arguably most significant structure is Huanxiu Bridge, which dates all the way back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). You could almost say it bridges the gap between the past and the present! Another major attraction in the village is Luo Chunfu’s Residence, which was constructed in 1730. From the granite slabs and black bricks that make up its gate to the elegant reliefs on its eaves, its unusual décor makes it stand out from other mansions in the village. After all, the Luo family were nothing if not extravagant!

Alongside Luo Dongshu’s Ancestral Temple, Changchun Temple is the other main house of worship in Chengkan. In ancient times, this was the place where the Luo family and neighbouring villagers would worship the God of Earth. In spring, they would pray for favourable weather so that their crops would grow, while in autumn they would thank the gods for a bumper harvest. The beauty and prosperity of Chengkan itself is evidence enough that the gods were clearly listening to the Luo family’s prayers!

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

Chengkan is one of the many wonderful stops on our tour: Explore the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region

Hongcun Village

Hongcun Village

 

With its startling whitewashed walls and ornate black roofs, the village of Hongcun looks like a backdrop torn straight from a martial arts epic. If you feel like you recognise the place, then you probably do! Several scenes from Ang Lee’s Kung-Fu masterpiece Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon were filmed on location in this very village, sky-rocketing it from isolated rural paradise to local superstar. Alongside the nearby village of Xidi, its unparalleled beauty and historical importance meant it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

The village itself is located in Yi County of southern Anhui province, in an ancient region once known as Huizhou. In accordance with feng shui[1] theory, it was founded at the foot of a hill next to a stream. A network of canals throughout the village channels water from the stream, culminating in the Moon Pond at its centre and the South Lake at its southern edge. The emphasis on harmony between man and nature is palpable throughout Hongcun, from the tranquil alleyways lined with potted plants to the picturesque gardens and soft rippling of water as it trickles through the many tiny canals.

01Among the ancient villages of Anhui province, its most unique feature is its unusual layout. The village was arranged to resemble the shape of an ox, with nearby Leigang Hill as its head and the two trees standing on it as its horns. The four bridges that span the Jiyin stream at its front and rear can be interpreted as its legs, while the houses form its torso. The canals are its intestines, the Moon Pond is its stomach, and the larger South Lake represents its abdomen. So, if you decide to visit Hongcun, you could say you’re walking into the belly of the beast!

The village was originally established by the Wang clan during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), although most of its buildings date back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. It was during these latter two dynasties that it flourished as a centre for trade, meaning its locals were able to construct the exquisite houses that you see today. However, there was a slight catch!

According to Confucian principles, merchants were considered one of the lowest social classes and therefore it was deemed improper for them to build the kind of grand mansions associated with scholars or the aristocracy. Although they were staunch followers of Confucianism, many of the locals in Hongcun were also merchants and were keen to show off the fortune that they had amassed through trade. Being the savvy businessmen that they were, they soon found a loophole! They decorated their humble homes with the finest woodcuttings, brick sculptures, and stone engravings that money could buy. From the outside, they may look like simple cottages but, on the inside, they are furnished like palaces!

While many of the houses in Hongcun are still privately owned, some of them have been opened to the public. Roughly 150 buildings are scattered throughout the village, the largest and most spectacular of which is Chengzhi Hall. This grand mansion, known locally as the “Folk Imperial Palace”, consists of over 60 rooms and was originally constructed by a wealthy salt merchant to accommodate his two wives. Judging by the sheer size of the place, they obviously didn’t get along!

Nowadays the hall has been converted into a small museum, where visitors can marvel at its intricate woodcuttings depicting scenes from nature, Chinese mythology, or daily life in the Qing Dynasty. According to local records, over five kilograms (11 lbs.) of gold was used to gild these wood-carvings! If you look closely, you may still see a few faded yellow slogans on the walls that read “Long Live Mao”. These were left behind by soldiers from the Red Army, who used the hall as a temporary base during the Long March[2].

06On the north bank of South Lake, you’ll find another one of the village’s historic gems: the South Lake Academy. It was constructed in 1814 as the result of combining six existing “family schools”. These “family schools” were built by individual clans to educate their descendants in the hopes that they would succeed in the imperial examinations and achieve a high-ranking government office. The South Lake Academy is beautifully preserved, and is archetypal of the family academies that became popular throughout the Huizhou region during the Qing Dynasty.

Yet arguably Hongcun’s most outstanding feature is its preservation of not only its historical buildings, but also its ancient customs and way of life. Stylish boutique hotels with heated brick beds, stores tucked away in small alleys selling traditional ink-brush paintings, and restaurants offering sumptuous regional specialities are all sure to give you the feeling of having been transported back in time.

 

 

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

[2] The Long March (1934-1935): The famous path that the Red Army of the Communist Party took to evade the pursuit of the Kuomintang (Chinese Nationalist Party). Mao Zedong led the retreat and his participation was instrumental in his subsequent rise to power.

 

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

Hui Architecture

Hui Architecture

Picturesque villages dot the verdant countryside of Anhui province and Jiangxi province, resplendent with the snowy white-washed walls and obsidian roofs of traditional Hui-style architecture. They represent one of the lasting remnants of Huizhou; an ancient region in southeast China that once boasted its own unique culture and history. The birth of Hui culture took place towards the end of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when the imperial court relocated their capital to the southern city of Lin’an (modern-day Hangzhou) in Zhejiang province. Suddenly the merchants in Huizhou found themselves exceptionally close to the imperial capital and were able to transport their wares easily to Lin’an, either by road or by river.

By trading in high quality tea, ink, and paper, they were able to amass substantial fortunes and, at one point, it was rumoured that boys of twelve or thirteen years of age in Huizhou had already begun to do business for their families! These merchants reached the height of their prosperity during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties, during which time they built many of their spectacular mansions. Over time, they had gradually become acquainted with the exquisite architecture that was typical of imperial residences in southern China, and this in turn inspired them to design their own homes in a similarly majestic fashion. However, there was one major element holding them back: their low social status!

According to Confucian principles, merchants were considered one of the lowliest occupations in the social hierarchy, so it would be considered a serious affront to decorum if a merchant were to build a home larger or more grandiose than their resident government official. Keen to show off their newly accumulated fortunes, the cunning Hui merchants found a loophole. From the outside, a typical Hui residence looks rather modest. They are usually only two-storeys in height and consist of a single compound centred on an inner courtyard, with several satellite buildings around its four sides.

The outer wall of the compound is known as a “horse-head wall”, because it was said to resemble a horse’s head in shape. These high, crenelated walls were designed to separate Hui residences from each other, in order to prevent the spread of fire, to block out cold drafts, and to deter thieves. The roofs of all the buildings are constructed so that they incline towards the inner courtyard. Since the Hui merchants believed that water was a symbol of wealth, having all rainwater trickle into the inner courtyard symbolised the flow of wealth into the family. The rainwater would then collect in a large jar at the centre of the courtyard, which could be used in the event of a fire. Like true businessmen, the Hui merchant families never missed a trick!

hui building inner

Like the water flooding into the courtyard, much of the family’s wealth is on display within the interior. In order to simultaneously show off their immense fortune without committing a social faux pas, the wily Hui merchants decked the inside of their homes with the finest brick sculptures, woodcuttings, and stone carvings that money could buy. From the roof-beams and the pillars to the windows and the doors, every element of the interior is blanketed in artistic splendour. To put that into perspective, historically the cost of a single high quality carving from a skilled artisan would be approximately equal to the price of an acre of land!

These carvings are brimming with vivid images of animals, people, and flowers; each one ripe with deep symbolism. In particular, you’ll find that fluttering bats bedeck the halls of many Hui mansions, as the word for “bat” in Chinese is a homonym for “happiness”. Nowadays, the best places to visit beautifully preserved traditional Hui mansions is in Hongcun or Xidi. Located in Anhui province, these ancient villages were collectively made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

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Try the traditional Hui style mansion hotels on the tour: Explore the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region

 

Jixi

As a part of Huizhou, Jixi also has a long history of making ink. In the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), the “Appraisal of Antiques House” and the “Hu Kaiwen Ink House” were very successful in the ink business. Buildings in Jixi are also famous for the three styles of Hui carving – brick carving, woodcarving and stone carving.

Hui Cuisine is one of the eight types of Chinese cuisine Hui cuisine originated from Jixi. In the beginning, Hui Cuisine was a kind of indigenous cuisine with strong regional characteristics. It was not until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty, when the Hui merchants were economically thriving, that Hui Cuisine began to incorporate the advantages of other types of cuisine and developed into a more wholesome style via the process of exchanging qualities with other local cuisines.

Jixi has both fragile old buildings and beautiful landscapes. The Cooling Peak area is one of the national reserves, with an abundance of fauna and flora. In Shangzhuang Village, you can find the former residence of Hu Shi (a famous scholar from the early 20th century), which was built in 1897. The Hu’s Ancestral Hall, located in Yingzhou Town, was built for Hu Fu and Hu Zongxian, high-ranking officials from the Ming Dynasty. In 2007, Jixi was awarded status as a national historic and cultural city.

Xidi

Xidi Village was built during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127). At that time, 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 (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, among which there are 124 residential houses and three Ancestral Halls1 that 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. The presence of elaborate brick-sculpture, woodcut and stone carvings on these ancient residences make them typical examples of the Hui style of architecture.

Walking into any of these houses, you will find art everywhere. Stone carvings of flowers, birds and beasts are usually on the doorframe. Brick carvings and woodcuts decorate the windows.

As a famous village in Huizhou, Xidi was once occupied by many rich Hui merchants. They wanted to build luxury houses to show off their wealth. But the strict hierarchy of society had restrictions on construction which specifically affected people of a lower social class. So the merchants were only able to choose the best materials and utilize the most sophisticated workmanship when building their place of residence. The memorial archway—built in 1578 by Hu Wenguang, who was a high-ranking official during the Ming Dynasty—is a good representation of the Hui-style of stone carving. The best example of Hui brick sculpture is in the house of another Ming official, which is in a place called the West Garden.

Xidi is considered to be at its most beautiful in the spring. The fields outside the village are covered in yellow canola flowers and there are hundreds of peach trees in the village, which all blossom together in April.

Note:
Ancestral Hall: It is a kind of temple where families can worship their ancestors.

Shexian

huizhou

With the lofty Mount Huang and the Xin’an River running through it, the unmatched beauty of Shexian made it a fitting capital for the ancient state of Huizhou, a region marked by its picturesque scenery. The county of Shexian was founded during the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) and it is widely considered to be the birthplace of Hui culture. Over 100 structures in Shexian date back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and thousands date back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), making it a veritable treasure trove of traditional Hui-style architecture. The most acclaimed are typically referred to by experts as the Three Wonders of Ancient Huizhou Architecture: the residential houses, the ancestral temples, and the stone archways. When it comes to these elaborate constructions, three truly is the magic number!

The Hui-style residential houses are characterised not by their size, but by their white-washed walls, black tile roofs, elegant woodcut panels, and intricately carved stone reliefs. They may not be as large as the average mansion, but the Hui merchants more than made up for it by hiring the finest artisans to decorate both their exterior and interior. After all, as the old saying goes, you should always choose quality over quantity! The ancestral temples are similar to these houses in their grandeur, but they originally served an entirely different purpose.

Each ancestral temple belonged to a specific clan or family and represented a holy place where they could pray to their ancestors. It was believed that the living could communicate spiritually with their deceased ancestors in these temples, and would frequently make sacrificial offerings to them. The deeply personal nature of these temples meant they were also used for family meetings, weddings, funerals, and any other significant ceremony related to the family. Nowadays these temples provide an invaluable insight into the history and development of specific families in the Huizhou area. They are delicate works of art, imbued with all of the love and respect that the clan members once had for their venerated ancestors.

Located in the centre of Bei’an Village, the Wu Family Ancestral Temple is regarded as one of the county’s finest and most emblematic ancestral temples. This temple was originally founded by Wu Shidu in 1826, during the Qing Dynasty, and supposedly cost approximately 12,000 kilograms of silver to build. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly the weight of 24 grand pianos! From sophisticated tile engravings to ornate stone carvings, the temple is bedecked with all the finery money could buy. It is renowned for two wood carvings in particular: one of West Lake in Hangzhou; and the other of one hundred deer, all in different poses, grazing in the woods. The cost of all those deer must have been quite dear indeed!

Memorial Archways

tangyue

While the residential houses and ancestral temples of Shexian are undeniably magnificent, many people consider the stone archways to be the county’s crowning jewel. There are over 250 of these archways scattered throughout the county, the most famous of which are the Xuguo Stone Arch and the Tangyue Memorial Archways. In ancient times, the building of a special archway or “paifang” had to be formally approved by the Emperor himself! This was because these archways signified that the individual or group being honoured had made great contributions to or were viewed as positive role models by the imperial court.

They could be built from tile, wood, or stone, and were typically placed at the entrance to a village, street, or tomb. The number of pillars and the patterns engraved on the archways were also imbued with a deep significance and usually denoted the status of the person or group being honoured. For example, patterns incorporating the dragon or the phoenix signified that the person was either a member of or close to the royal family, since these mythical creatures were the symbols of the Emperor and the Empress respectively.

According to local legend, the Xuguo Stone Arch was the great exception to this rule! Xuguo was a renowned scholar during the Ming Dynasty who originated from Shexian and served as a teacher to three princes. When he discovered he was to be graced with an archway of his own, he took advantage of the Emperor’s vague instructions and constructed an archway of eight pillars, in spite of the fact that such an honour was reserved only for royal family members. Talk about pushing your luck!

If that seemed excessive, the Tangyue Memorial Archways consist of not one, but seven separate arches! They were designed to praise the local Bao family for their virtues, in particular their loyalty, filial piety, benevolence, and charity. Among these seven, there are three archways dedicated to filial affection, two venerating chaste wives, one devoted to charity, and one to honor an honest and upright official. These archways are prime examples of Hui culture, which prized familial love and respect above anything else. So if you thought your family had high expectations of you, imagine what it must have been like to be born a Bao! (Read more about the Huizhou Culture)

Nowadays, traveling through the county of Shexian is the ideal way to engage with ancient Hui culture. Along Doushan Street in the old city of Shexian, there are a plethora of time-honoured shops dealing in ancient wares, such as locally grown Huangshan Maofeng tea and Xin’an paintings. The Hui-style ink sticks and famed She ink slabs that are sold in Shexian are widely considered to be the best in the Huizhou region. Some stores even sell Chengxintang paper, which was considered to be the finest quality paper during the Qing Dynasty. So if you’re in need of some school supplies, Shexian is the place to be!

 

 

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

Culture of Huizhou

huizhou hongcun

In the south of Anhui province in China there is a beautiful place located along the Xin’an River and around Mount Huangshan which boasts well-preserved villages, a rich culture and a long history. In Ancient China this place was referred to as Huizhou. However, as Huizhou is no longer officially an administrative division now, not many people know the regions precise range.

Generally speaking, there are seven counties that were considered part of Huizhou prefecture: Tunxi (Huangshan City), Shexian, Xiuning, Qimen, Yixian, Jixi and Wuyuan (in Jiangxi Province). Shenxian was the capital of Huizhou.

Huizhou has a documented history that is nearly 2,000 years long. Hui culture, which originates from Huizhou, integrates Confucianism, clan culture, and mercantilism. The best expression of these Hui values is in Hui architecture, which is still visible in every existing Hui village. Due to the fact that the Hui culture grew and thrived predominantly during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, most of the old villages and towns still exist and nearly all of the residential houses are still in use.

  1. Xin’an Li theory (Confucian Moral School)

Xin’an Li theory, the study of inheriting and explaining Confucian theory, was at the core of Huizhou culture.

Confucian theory has always been the main essential principle in China. Chinese people follow it as their standard of conduct. Although many of the Confucian schools were damaged or destroyed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), the influence of Confucian principles still exists everywhere in modern Chinese culture.

As the Huizhou region was a particularly rich area during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), the Huizhou people could afford to focus more on education. There was a famous scholar named Zhuxi (1130-1200), whose ancestral home was in the Huizhou region, and his studies were founded in Xin’an Li theory. During the Ming Dynasty, there were 52 colleges and 462 old-style private schools in Huizhou. A large number of Huizhou people, all of them male, received official government positions by passing imperial examinations and thus the foothold that Huizhou gained in the imperial court through these government officials increased its power as a region.

The Xin’an Li theory derives its name from two sources: Xin’an was the name of the river which ran through the Huizhou area, and Li in Chinese roughly translates to mean ‘principle’. More precisely the term Li refers to the principles taken from Confucian theory, for example the concept of filial piety. Xin’an Li theory argued that human beings should follow the heavenly principles and eradicate human desires.

Thanks to the Xin’an Li theory, Huizhou was an area famous for loyally honoring two traditional Chinese virtues: filial piety and feminine chastity.

Filial Piety:

tangyueIn China, because of the influence of Confucianism, filial piety has always been regarded as an absolute necessity for any human being. In traditional Chinese opinion, the family is far more important than the individual. So in Confucian theory people must always consider the whole family first, especially the parents, rather than indulging their own feelings or needs.

Traveling in Huizhou presents you with the opportunity to listen to many stories that focus on and praise filial piety. When traveling in Huizhou you can also visit some large memorial archways with architecture that is themed after the concept of filial piety.

 Feminine Chastity:

In ancient times, chastity was considered the most important virtue for a woman to uphold and we believe that there are still many people who hold this opinion in modern China today. The appearance of Xin’an Li theory in the Huizhou region meant that women in this area suffered more under the rules of chastity.

Most of the men in the Huizhou region travelled out of the village to do business, and thus left their wives at home to serve their parents and raise the children. They might only come back once a year, or sometimes even less frequently. It was without question that, no matter what, the wife must remain chaste whilst the husband was away. Once her honor was threatened, she had to die rather than be violated to express her loyalty to remaining chaste. If a woman’s husband died young, the only way for her to properly remain a morally upright and chaste woman was to become a widow for the rest of her life.

You will find many archways that use and praise the theme of feminine chastity in their architecture, and many stories use this theme as well. For example, there are 94 memorial archways in Shexian, among which 34 of them honour the concept of feminine chastity.

     2. The Clannish concept

When you visit the Huizhou region, you will find the most important buildings there are the Ancestral Halls. There are usually several Ancestral Halls in one village, each one connected to a different family. Some villages just have one Ancestral Hall, and thus almost all of the people in the village will have the same family name.

ancestor hallThe Ancestral Hall is a kind of memorial temple for a clan to worship their ancestors. In Huizhou, many big families were made up of immigrants. They had different reasons to leave their hometowns and to finally settle down in the Huizhou region, the most common reason being the war. There were also a group of immigrants who were originally officials allocated to the Huizhou region but who didn’t leave after their tenure expired.

So why did they choose Huizhou as their final destination? And why did they prefer to stay there rather than go back to their hometown? We don’t think they had decided on Huizhou as their final destination when they first immigrated. But on their journey, after seeing so many different places, the Huizhou region undoubtedly seemed the most appealing and thus won prize place as their new and final home. If you look at a map of China, you can see that the most famous mountain in China, Mt. Huangshan, is located in the middle of the Huizhou region. In this region, mountain stands beside mountain and river crosses river. Thus it is considered a good place to settle down according to Chinese Feng Shui theory (an old philosophical and somewhat superstitious system that aims to create a better life by managing the surrounding environment), and what’s more, there were plenty of fields and a fruitful climate for farming.

According to the records kept of big families in Huizhou in the late Ming Dynasty, the most populous clans were Wang, Cheng, Wu, Hu, Bao, Li, Fang, Xu, Jiang and so on. Each family started with one ancestor and expanded over centuries to create hundreds or perhaps even thousands of new families.

huizhou villageThere are two main principles denoted in the clannish concept in Huizhou:

  • All of the people in the clan should take care of each other. Since the clan was basically one big family, all of the members of the clan were relatives. If someone in the clan got into trouble, the whole family should help them.
  • The clan was responsible for handling all of the important affairs and resolving all of the disputes among its members. Usually each clan had an elder (an older man) as their leader, who would make the final decisions for the whole clan. If members had disputes, no matter what they were about, they could ask the leader to give the final judgment.

     3. Mercantilism

There is no doubt that the success of the Huizhou merchants provided the foundation for the booming growth of Hui culture. The Huizhou merchants have more than 600 years of history behind them. In the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), the imperial capital moved to Lin’an (now Hangzhou in Zhejiang Province), which was not far from Huizhou and easy to transport merchandise to both by road and by river. According to some historical records, Hui merchants were engaged in trade practically everywhere by the beginning of the Southern Song Dynasty. They traded in tea, ink, paper and all manner of goods. In ancient Huizhou, it is said that, on average, a boy in his twelfth or thirteenth year had already begun doing business as an apprentice of his relatives in the same clan. Huizhou merchants usually focused on small scale trades, but tried to make the best quality products. The Huizhou Chronicle describes Huizhou merchants as “properly dressed, well-spoken, fully aware of price, knowing when is the good time to buy and sell, and getting extra profits from selling local goods at other places.” ( These records were taken during Jiajings reign (1796 – 1821) in the Qing Dynasty.)

Huizhou boasts the perfect climate for producing several famous teas, including Huangshan Maofeng and Qimen Black Tea. So tea has always been one of the most important goods exported for sale from Huizhou. .

However, Huizhou people apparently were not only capable of trading in natural produce, but also manufactured good quality products by using superior technology in order to occupy and dominate the Chinese market. The writing brush, ink stick, paper and ink stone, referred to as“the four treasures of the study”, were star products in the Huizhou region. Even now, they still produce the best ink and paper you can find in China.

The booming period of economic growth caused by the Hui merchants took place during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties, and that is the reason why most Hui villages are composed of houses built in these two dynasties. In ancient China, no matter how rich you were, businessman as an occupation was still not considered as good a title as official or scholar. To enhance the social standing of their family, some Hui merchants used their wealth to purchase official positions, and almost all Hui merchants chose to provide their predecessors with a good education. Their wish was to hopefully promote more of their family members into positions as officials and scholars, and this practice produced many Hui officials and scholars during the Qing Dynasty.

     4. Hui Architecture

When talking about Hui culture, it is inevitable that one should make mention of the fantastic Hui architecture. Not to mention that the Hui architecture is the most extant and well preserved type of Hui art that we can see nowadays.

In ancient times, the standard of residence permitted was officially stratified according to the house owners’ social position. Any houses constructed beyond these restrictions were considered an offense and the owners would be punished accordingly. Thus, according to these laws, merchants could not build large or luxurious houses for their families. However, the cunning Hui merchants found another way to show their wealth.

Brick-sculpture, woodcut and stone carvings are considered the three essential artistic components of Hui architecture. In a wealthy family’s mansion, you can find beautifully carved decorations everywhere – on beams, windows, pillars, doors and even walls. You will find vivid animals, people, flowers; you may even find that some of the carvings depict stories.

The richer the family was, the more elaborate and delicate the carvings were that decorated their mansion. The price of a piece of very good brick-caving product by a skilled craftsman might be equal to the price of an acre of field.

A typical Hui residence was a compound comprised of four two-story buildings on four sides of an inner courtyard or patio. The roofs of all of the buildings were on an incline towards the inner courtyard in order to drain any water towards the patio. Hui people believed in water as a symbol of or metaphor for wealth. So they wanted all of the rainwater to flow into their inner yard, in order to symbolize and hopefully foreshadow wealth coming into the family.

The traditional Hui dwelling is a closed compound, with solid and high walls to guard against theft. There are only small windows on the walls for aeration. The outer walls are called ‘horse-head walls’ and they are painted white with black roofs. These high walls function to prevent the spread of fire.

Discover more about the Culture of Huizhou on our travel: Explore the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region

Discover Huizhou Culture in perfectly preserved ancient villages

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Experience a romantic journey in a beautiful mountainous region.

Customer’s expectations about the tour:

Say, for example, a young lady is very interested in ancient Huizhou culture. She wants to visit the beautiful villages in Huizhou that have maintained their old buildings very well, and she also wants to learn about Huizhou culture and history. Not to mention she also, understandably, wants to behold the most beautiful mountain in China – Mount Huangshan.

Highlights of the trip:

  • Visiting buildings and courtyards built in the Huizhou style;
  • Seeing first-hand the Huizhou style of woodcutting, brick cutting and stone cutting art in Huizhou architecture;
  • Discovering the history of the Huizhou merchants;
  • Witnessing the special layout of Hongcun village;
  • Taking in the most amazing scenery at Huangshan Mountain;
  • Sampling authentic Hui cuisine;
  • Experiencing first-hand the ink making technique indigenous to Huizhou.

Notes:

  1. Please read more about the Huizhou region by following the link, there you will find lots of useful information about Huizhou culture, architecture, historical attractions and other interesting facts about the Huizhou region.
  2. The example we have posted above is just there to give you a rough idea of how we can help you customize your travel in China. We will customize each tour for every customer on request.

Itinerary:

Day 1: Arriving in Shanghai

Your English-speaking guide will be waiting for you outside the “Arrival Gate” in Shanghai international airport. From there, you will be driven to the hotel. After you’ve checked in and had a short break, there will be a welcome dinner for you.

Day 2: From Shanghai to Shexian

We will take the fast train to Hefei City, the capital of Anhui province. It will take approximately three and a half hours to get there.. After a quick lunch, we will transfer to another train from Hefei to Shexian. Shexian was once the capital of Huizhou in ancient times. On arrival we will have authentic Hui cuisine for dinner and we will stay at a traditional Huizhou style hotel.

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Day 3: Tour in Shexian

Your guide will treat you to several interesting stories about this ancient town and point out to you the various, distinctive features of Hui architecture. We will then take you to visit the famous Tangyue Memorial Archways and Xuguo’s Stone Archway. You may feel somewhat moved by the stories about the Tangyue Memorial Archways, which are predominantly about the miserable lives led by women in ancient times. You may also be interested in visiting the small ink workshops which sit along the Xin’an River.

If you prefer, we will leave you alone to wander the town for a while.

JixiDay 4: From Shexian to Jixi, Tour in Jixi

We will leave Shexian in the morning, and arrive at Jixi after traveling for about 30 mins.

Authentic Hui cuisine originated from Jixi, so you know we will have a good dinner there. However, before this delicious dinner, we will have a whole day to visit the town. We will also go to visit Hushi’s1 former residence in a village nearby.

黄山Day 5: A Trip to Mount Huangshan

We will go to Mount Huangshan in the morning. It will be a tough day full of climbing, but we are sure you will see why Mount Huangshan is the most famous mountain in China.

There is an amazing old high street in Tunxi (now called Huangshan city). We will spend our evening there and also have dinner there.

 

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Day 6: From Huangshan to Hongcun, Tour in Hongcun

Considering you will probably need more rest after all of the previous day’s climbing, we will depart a bit later the next morning. But don’t expect to leave too late, unless you have no desire to visit the most spectacular village in the Huizhou region – Hongcun.

It will take us less than two hours to travel to Hongcun. Please don’t forget to look out and enjoy the landscape outside your window as we travel to our destination. You may just regret you weren’t able to hike there instead.

We will introduce you to the specially designed water usage and water storage system unique to Hongcun. You will be amazed to find that in Hongcun flowing water is used like an air conditioner to cool down each house in the summer.

西递Day 7: Tour in Shexian and Xidi

The first half of the next day will be left for you to enjoy this fantastic village alone. You can go up a nearby hill to take a picture of the whole village, and you can also take a look at their tea fields on the way.

We will leave Shexian before lunchtime. Then we will have a simple lunch in Yixian, which is a bigger town and thus an easier place to find better food. After that we will go to Xidi. It will only take us about 20 minutes to travel from Yixian to Xidi.

Xidi is bigger than Hongcun and there you will be provided with a professional guide similar to the ones you have had at other points of the tour.

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Day 8: Tour in Xidi, Back to Huangshan city

Once again you will be allowed to enjoy the beautiful village of Xidi by yourself for roughly 2 to 3 hours (as per your request). Then we will leave Xidi and go back to Huangshan city.

In the afternoon, we will spend a few happy hours shopping on Tunxi’s old high street, which is the place where we had dinner two days ago.  If you want to buy some special souvenirs related to Hui culture, we can give you useful advice on what to buy and help you make your purchases.

The last dinner we will have together in Huizhou will be very special and unforgettable. Initially we didn’t order the most delicious signature dishes available in Hui cuisine on our first visit to the old high street because you would have needed normal food to recover your energy after climbing Mount Huangshan. But today, on our last night in Huizhou, we will help you discover the essence of Hui cuisine.

 Day 9: From Huangshan to Shanghai

We will take the train and transfer again at Hefei city. Then, on arrival in Shanghai, we will have a farewell dinner.

 

For more information about Huizhou culture, please read the article entitled “Culture of Huizhou“.