Lucun

Lucun 01

The scenic village of Lucun is just one kilometre (0.6 mi) north of Hongcun village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and matches it in both artistry and beauty. The village was originally established during the late Tang Dynasty (618-907), although much of its magnificent architecture dates back to the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. Of the more than 140 stunningly well-preserved buildings dotted throughout Lucun, Zhicheng Hall is considered the most spectacular.

lucunThis hall is almost entirely made out of woodcut pieces, a characteristic feature of Huizhou-style buildings. These wood carvings are so elaborate and vivid that setting foot inside this hall is sure to take your breath away. Plus you’re spoilt for choice if you ever need to knock on wood! It was constructed by the wealthy merchant turned politician Lu Bangxie during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912). By that time, Lu had amassed such a colossal fortune that he had earned the nickname Lu Baiwan, meaning “Lu the Millionaire”!

The building complex consists of seven courtyards, of which Zhicheng Hall was used by Lu as his own personal living room. The interior is so exquisite and well-preserved that it is frequently used as a set for operas and television series. After all, when your name is “Lu the Millionaire”, the only thing you can’t afford is to look cheap!

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

Tunxi Old Town

Resplendent with white-washed walls, coal black roofs, horse head eaves, and a level of ornamental decoration befitting a palace, the buildings that flank the Old Street of Tunxi Old Town are some of the finest in Anhui province. This street, one of the last remnants of a bygone area, sits at the centre of Tunxi District in Huangshan City and was originally established during the Song Dynasty (960-1279). Though a handful of buildings reflect this dynastic style, the most famous ones were built during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties.

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

At the beginning of the Ming Dynasty, in a bid to expand the town and add to his growing wealth, a local Hui merchant invested money into building 47 stores along Tunxi’s Old Street. This helped open up the town to trade with businessmen from neighbouring provinces and, by the Qing Dynasty, the town had become one of the major distribution centres for the ancient region of Huizhou. The town is truly a testament to the old saying; you have to spend money to make money!

Nowadays many of these old stores have retained their original characteristics and maintain the traditional layout of “shop in the front and living quarters in the back”. Many of these buildings are between two to three storeys high and are beautifully decorated with Hui wood carvings and red lacquered shop signs. The street itself starts in the west at Zhenhai Bridge, which was built during the Ming Dynasty, and ends at the magnificent Memorial Archway in the east. It is about 1.5 kilometres (1 mi) long and is paved by stunning rust-coloured flagstones that have been worn smooth by centuries of use.

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

The street itself is teeming with all kinds of shops, some of which have been plying their wares for over one hundred years. A variety of curios, such writing brushes, delicately carved ink stones, and locally picked tea, can all be found within this tiny slice of ancient China. A few examples include Tongderen, a Chinese medicine store, Tonghe, a steelwork store, and Chengdexin, a sauce and pickle makers, who have all operated on the street for over one hundred years and still use the same, archaic methods of production.

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

 

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

Xuan Paper

xuan paper

With more than 1,000 years of history, beginning in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), Xuancheng has always been the best place for the production of Xuan Paper. The name “Xuan”, as you can see, comes from the name Xuancheng.

The raw materials used in the production of Xuan Paper are the bark from green sandalwood, which is found in the mountainous regions of Huizhou, and the straw made from rice grown on sandy land. Following 18 different procedures, including rubbing, steaming, starching, soaking in water, pasting, drying and so on, the white, soft and durable paper is finished and ready for sale.

xuan paper produce

Xuan Paper is mothproof and mould-proof, resistant to ageing, very tensile and invariably white in colour. So it is often referred to as “the king of paper” and “the millennial longevity paper”.

Xuan Paper can be divided into two categories – Natural Xuan and Vitriol Xuan. Natural Xuan is used for the kind of freehand brushwork found in Chinese paintings and calligraphy, whilst Vitriol Xuan is more suitable for Chinese paintings with realist technique.

 

 

Get some Xuan Paper on our travel: Explore the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region

Hui Merchants

 

Like the Wall Street stockbrokers of today, the Hui merchants were once renowned as some of the savviest businessmen in China. The term “Hui merchants” typically refers to any businessmen that hailed from the six counties of She, Xiuning, Qimen, Yixian, Jixi, and Wuyuan, which belonged to an ancient region known as Huizhou. Their rise to prosperity began during the Song Dynasty (960-1279), when the imperial capital was relocated from northern Kaifeng to the southern city of Lin’an (modern-day Hangzhou) in Zhejiang province. Since Huizhou was located in a focal place between the provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang, this meant that trade via road or river to the imperial capital was suddenly far more viable for the local people. In short, it was the capital that gave them capital!

The shortage of fertile land in the region and the overabundance of manpower meant that many farmers in Huizhou simply became merchants because they needed to make ends meet. Little did they know that their legacy would echo through the ages! They were not skilled merchants and thus their success is all the more admirable, as it was primarily due to their painstaking efforts. Initially they engaged in the trade of almost any product they felt was profitable, including tea, grain, salt, silk, wood, and paint. Fortunately for them, Huizhou boasted the ideal climate for growing and producing several famous teas, including Huangshan Maofeng and Qimen Black Tea. By the end of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), over 70 per cent of the population in Huizhou was made up of merchants!

After they had amassed a substantial fortune, they were able to open teahouses, restaurants, hotels, and pawnshops. During the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), it was even rumoured that there wasn’t a single pawnbroker in China who wasn’t from Huizhou and that there was no place too far for Hui merchants to expand their business. They also began concentrating their efforts on manufacturing high quality goods, such as the “Four Treasures of the Study”. These four treasures, known as the writing brush, the Huizhou ink stick, the She ink slab, and Xuan paper, are still widely sold throughout the provinces of Anhui and Jiangxi to this day.

At the peak of their prosperity, they extended their influence east towards Jiangsu province, west to the provinces of Yunnan, Guizhou, and Gansu, north towards Liaoning province, and south to the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong. Once they had established their mercantile empire in China, they sailed forth to Japan, Thailand, and numerous Southeast Asian countries. It was said that their footsteps were left on almost half of the globe!

During this time, it was common for children of Hui merchants to begin their career as apprentices at the tender age of 13 and be doing business all over China by the age of 17. Talk about starting them young! They had achieved an almost mythical status, with the Hui Chronicle describing the average Hui merchant 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 in other places”. Unfortunately, there was one major downside to this otherwise profitable profession. According to traditional Confucian principles, merchants ranked as one of the lowest occupations in the social hierarchy.

In order to improve their social standing, many Hui merchant families invested in a good education for their children, so as to increase the possibility of them becoming scholars or government officials. Thanks to these venerable efforts, over 2,000 people from Huizhou passed the imperial examination and were able to obtain an official position during the Ming and Qing dynasties. This gave rise to a number of local sayings, such as “both father and son as ministers” or “three generations of imperial courtiers”. While these high ranking positions improved the social standing of the Hui merchant families, they also allowed these families to exert a considerable amount of political influence over the imperial government. After all, the long-term strategy of these families was to “provide funds for academic pursuits with business profits, get political positions through academic pursuits, and ensure business profits from the political positions”.

This may sound rather Machiavellian, but the Hui merchants were actually renowned for their strict moral code. They valued honesty and felt that cheating their customers would only damage profits in the long-term, as they would develop an unfavourable reputation. They ensured that their products were always of the best quality and refused to buy anything that they thought fell short of their exceptionally high standards. Once their wealth and fame had been established, many Hui merchants returned home to construct glorious mansions, ancestral temples, flourishing academies, decorative bridges, and towering archways to honour their ancestors. Yet these elegant constructions also proved to be part of their downfall.

As the Qing Dynasty collapsed and imperial rule in China came to an end, the Hui merchants lost their monopoly on the salt trade, as this had been enforced by the imperial government. Instead of investing their money in improving their other business ventures, the Hui merchants had spent it on their lavish mansions, meaning they were unable to compete with foreign factories that had adopted new technologies and become more streamlined. While China began to embrace modernity, this tragically sounded the death knell for the Hui merchants. Nowadays, all that remains of their illustrious legacy are the stunning works of architecture that they left behind.

 

Join a travel with us to discover more stories about Hui MerchantsExplore the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region and Explore Chinese Culture through the Ages

She Ink Slab

She Ink Slab

It is called the “Dragon Tail Ink Slab” because the best material for making the slab comes from Dragon Tail Mountain in Hizhou ( Hizhou is in Jiangxi Province now).

The She Ink Slab is green and sparkling in colour, it has a fine grain and it is very hard. It blends the ink with water well. The She Ink Slab is very precious for three reasons: 1. It is made of rare and beautiful stones which are only found on the bottom of streams in remote mountains. 2. It is a laborious job to try and carve this kind of hard stone.

 

Get some She Ink Slab on our travel: Explore the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region

Huizhou Ink Stick

The Huizhou Ink Stick is famed for being lustrous, black, moist, strongly fragrant, mothproof and mould-proof. The ink will be spread too much on the paper nor stick to the brush. So it is perfect for both painting and calligraphy.

Hui ink stick01Shexian, Tunxi and Jixi in the Mt. Huangshan region are the main areas of production for the Huizhou ink stick and they have been producing the Huizhou Ink Stick for more than a thousand years. Xi Chao and his son Xi Yangui founded the manufacture of the ink stick during the Southern Tang dynasty (937-975).

The Huizhou Ink Stick uses pine wood as its main raw ingredient, which is then mixed with another 20 different materials. The manufacturing procedure includes lighting the smoke, blending the materials together, pressing the ink stick, drying by airing, filling the margin and boxing. The “Super Lacquer Smoke Ink Stick” is the best quality ink stick amongst the already superior Hui ink sticks.

Get some Huizhou Ink Stick on our travel: Explore the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region

Hui Cuisine

anhui-snackes

Hui Cuisine is known for using ham and rock candy to give flavour to its dishes. Braising and stewing are the main cooking techniques used in Hui cuisine, as oppose to the more common method of stir-frying. Hui Cuisine refers to the types of dishes cooked in the culinary style specific to the Huizhou region, rather than referring to the cooking style of Anhui Province as a whole. In the past, there were many rich merchants living in the Huizhou region. The customary convention was to conduct business meetings over dinner, and the host usually tried to provide the most tantalizing delicacies and the most delicious dishes for the meeting. So during this time Hui Cuisine began to develop and focus more on improving in quality, which is why the most famous dishes in Hui cuisine use rare and expensive ingredients. Not to mention that, since the Hui merchants were doing business all over the country, Hui Cuisine was spreading with them and thus became popular across the whole of China.

The most famous dishes in Hui Cuisine:

Terrapin braised with ham Terrapin braised with ham (火腿炖甲鱼)

According to traditional Chinese medicine, terrapin is good for people who have hypertension and coronary heart disease. It is also helpful for controlling cholesterol and improving general health.

 

Marinated Mandarin fishMarinated Mandarin fish (腌鲜鳜鱼)

Ingredients: Mandarin fish, pork, garlic shoots and leaves, bamboo shoots

Mandarin fish in Huizhou has a distinct flavour, so some people call it “smelly Mandarin fish”. You can judge the flavour for yourself after you’ve given it a try.

 

 

Steamed ShijiSteamed Shiji (清蒸石鸡)

Ji (鸡) means Chicken in Chinese. But please be aware that shiji (石鸡) is not a type of chicken (鸡). It is a type of frog, similar to a bullfrog, which can be found in the area around and on Mt. Huangshan. It is said that eating this type of frog is very good for improving your general health.

.

Mao TofuMao Tofu (虎皮毛豆腐)

Mao tofu is different from ordinary tofu because it has white fungi on its surface. This is because Huizhou people ferment the tofu in order to improve its taste.

 

 

 

Try some authentic Hui cuisine on the tour: Explore Traditional Culture in Picturesque Ancient Villages

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.

woodcut

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

Huangshan Maofeng

At 700 to 800 metres above sea level, the area around and on Huangshan Mountain, is the perfect place and main area of production for the superfine Huangshan Maofeng tea leaves. Huangshan Maofeng is produced in several different places on the mountain, including Peach Blossom Peak, Purple Cloud Peak, Cloud Valley Monastery, Pine Valley Temple and Hanging Bridge Temple. In fact, Huangshan Maofeng is produced throughout the whole Huizhou District. This region boasts a temperate climate and receives plenty of rainfall. The annual average temperature is between 15 to 16°C, and the average amount of precipitation is between 1,800 to 2,000 millimetres. The soil is deeply layered and made up of the yellow earth typically found in mountainous regions. This type of soil is loose in texture and has good water permeability. It contains an abundance of organic matter and phosphorus potassium, and it has an acidity level of between ph 4.5 and 5.5 which makes it suitable for the growth of tea trees.

Huangshan Maofeng was created by the Xie Yuantai Teahouse in the Guangxu Period of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). After 1875, in order to meet the market demands, each year, during the Qingming period (a time which falls around the 5th of April and is one of the 24 solar terms according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar), pickers would climb high mountains in Tangkou, Chongchuan and some other places in the Huangshan region in order to collect fat leaves and bud points, which were then fried and baked. They named the kind of tea made from this practice Huangshan Maofeng.

Huangshan Maofeng must be picked carefully. The picking standard for top grade Maofeng is to pick one bud and one leaf just before it’s about to unfold Top grade Maofeng is picked during the Qingming period. Grades 1 to 3 are processed during the Grain Rain period (one of the 24 solar terms according to the Chinese lunisolar calendar, roughly falling around the 20th of April). After the fresh leaves are picked, they will be sorted to ensure that all of the leaves are of a high quality and that all of the buds are of a similar size. Then the fresh leaves will be separated by their differing degrees of tenderness and spread to dry out. In order to guarantee the quality and to keep the freshness of the tea, it is recommended that the tea leaves are picked in the morning and processed in the afternoon, or picked in the afternoon and processed at night. The manufacture of Huangshan Maofeng is divided into three procedures – heating, rubbing and twisting, and curing.

huangshan maofeng tea

The shape of top grade Huangshan Maofeng is like a sparrow’s tongue and has thick leaves with white fluff on them. It is yellowish green, nearing ivory white, in colour and golden pieces grow below the tea leaves. It smells fragrant and tastes mellow and luscious. When brewing Huangshan Maofeng, you will notice that the tea water is limpid in colour. Thanks to the distinctive characteristics of the “golden pieces” and the “ivory” coloured leaves found in Huangshan Maofeng, the taste of top grade Huangshan Maofeng is sharply distinguishable from the taste of other varieties of Maofeng.

Try it on the tour: Explore the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region