Welcome to the ancient village of Hongcun situated in Yi county of Huangshan city within Southern Anhui Province, China. Listed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000 it was selected because it has retained many original features of Anhui villages built between 14th and 20th centuries.
Hongcun was founded in 1131 by a Han Dynasty General, Wang Wen. Despite having over 800 years of history it had withstood development and modernity and managed to keep its character as a traditional Chinese village with commercial economies and clan-based social structures intact.
This is what one of the classrooms in the South Lake Academy looked like in the old days.
The South Lake Academy was a private school built in 1814 and comprises of 6 different buildings namely Zhidang Hall, Wenchang Pavilion, Qimeng Pavilion, Huiwen Pavilion, Wanghu Tower and Qi Garden.
The Huizhou style of architecture is typified by buildings with white-washed high walls made of bricks from local clays and black tile roofings. There are few windows and openings are usually high up to foil thefts. Sky wells are found commonly in these buildings to allow for air circulation and to provide natural light.
I passed this little shop and tried their delicious and piping hot pastry filled with sweet mung bean paste and topped with black sesame seeds. It measures about 10cm in diameter and because it was so good, I had it all by myself.
We see many students here on excursion to study and sketch their observations of Anhui’s Huizhou architecture and capture the interesting details found on the doorways and arches of these ancient buildings.
The layout of Hongcun resembles the shape of an ox and a complex network of water canals crisscross the village feeding both the central Moon Pond and Southern Lake. Southern Lake is shaped like the buffalo’s belly; Moon Pond akin to the stomach area and the channel, the intestines.
A channel was dug in the 15th century to bring fresh water from the West Stream into the village. The open watercourse runs through the entire village.
Over 130 buildings which date from the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911) are still standing today.
The Chinese have a long history in both arts and traditional handicrafts. It not only embodies the people’s pursuit of aesthetic beauty and as gifts for others but a treasure for China and the rest of the world to enjoy. Perhaps the most representative of Chinese arts and crafts are Bronze vessels, Folk toys, Embroidery, Calligraphy, Music, Opera, Painting, Cloisonné, Jade, Kites, Lacquer Ware, Paper-cuttings, Porcelain, Pottery, Seals and Silk.
Hongcun village was prosperous during two periods, 1401-1620 and 1796-1908 when the Wang family became officials and merchants and thus accumulated great wealth. They built many fine buildings during those years which are now left to posterity.
Wander off the main thoroughfare and discover for yourself, interesting little quiet corners like these.
The wealth of the villagers was evident in the ornate carvings on the door panels, structural beams and door posts in a number of the ancient houses.
The elaborate waterways in the village has been carefully planned to prevent contamination and pollution and there are designated spots for drinking water, washing and even fire extinguishing.
For those who have watched the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” directed by Ang Lee in 2000, you would probably find this picturesque bridge vaguely familiar. There are four bridges that lead into Hongcun village.
Hongcun lies at the foot of Leigang Mountain, facing south with the central point of the village flanked by mountains and rivers.
Hongcun might not be on many traveller’s itinerary but it is really worth a visit to soak in the ambience and walk down the narrow cobblestone lanes that wind around the ancient, boxy-like buildings with their pointed black tiled roofings. An authentic village where the locals go about their own business and daily living and tourists are free to wander around without being hassled by touts.