Surrounded by fields that this time of year are bright yellow from the canola flowers lies the ancient city of Hongcun, our first adventure for the Tomb Sweeping Day vacation. With Aaron, Melissa, Fernanda (Spanish teacher here at AHU), and Oasis and Isa, two Chinese friends, I experienced the most famous region in Anhui Province with Huangshan or the Yellow Mountains and two ancient villages that make up an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Hongcun may be familiar to people because it is also one of the locations where Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon was filmed. The village dates back to the Ming dynasty with some buildings still standing from that time, most of them seemed to be from the Qing dynasty though and only America-old and not China-old.
Home to extremely successful Hui businessmen, the influence of Hongcun and other ancient Anhui villages can be seen throughout the country in the architecture. The southern part of Anhui or the state of Hui as it was called before Anhui was formed was the home for a very successful business culture, that’s where it gets the second part of its name. This could be confusing though since the Muslim minority group of western China is called the Hui people.
Anyway, the ancient part of the village is designed very traditionally with a hill at the back and water at the front with a central water feature and building that everything seems to be built around. Supposedly, if you look down on the village you’ll see the shape of an ox.
We strolled through the village where the streets are more like sidewalks, only a few feet wide. Along the way we saw many artists trying to capture the essence of ancient or not-so-ancient China. There are also streams of running water meandering through the village next to the alleyways used for washing food and clothes.
At the outskirts of the village we found the swaths of yellow fields covering the valley all around.
At the back of the village we climbed the forested hill with tea terraced up the side. Up there, the bugs were singing and for a moment, in between car horns and truck noises from the highway below, you could imagine you were in the middle of nature.
We also found our way into the traditional houses from days gone by and saw the beautiful carpentry and wood carvings.
The center of the village is a half-circle pond surrounded by buildings with an ancient clan hall at the head of it. This is a beautiful scene, which I’m sure would be even better with fewer people.
The visit to Hongcun wasn’t without annoyance though with terrible traffic on the two-lane highway in and out of the little village. With the great sea of yellow flowers and also small orchards of blooming fruit trees, many people parked in the road to get out and take pictures. This left little more than one lane for all other traffic including the hordes of tour buses to go both directions and it led to weaving with cars parked on both sides along the way. On the way in and the way out we got stuck in terrible traffic.
We didn’t end up with time to visit Xidi, the other, older ancient village also part of the UNESCO site. The next day we did make it to Huangshan, but more about that in the next post.