Ancient Villages

Nicholas Quirke was immersed in Chinese village history on 12 June 2021 as he absorbed the beautiful sights of two exceptionably well preserved rural villages that were established in feudal China. The first location and perhaps the most atmospheric, Hongcun had a life stretching back to 1131 when Wang Wen, a general during the Han Dynasty settled there and became a prosperous merchant and the town grew in size. The architecture and carvings of the residences date back to the Ming dynasty and are believed to be among the best of their kind in China. The first haunting image is of the village walls reflected in a tranquil lake and immediately he was transported back in time. Such is the beauty of this pastoral setting that poets and painters from the ancient times to the present have written and drawn poems and paintings here This was still a functioning village and it was clear that all in these buildings people still lived and worked. The narrow streets with its mostly low buildings were home to a number of museums and a myriad little shops selling food and tea and various tourist trinkets. It smelt old and it wasn’t just the damp but the ancient wood and brick stained with lichen and moss that gave it a unique aroma that added to the sense of being inside history. A 400-year-old waterway which, could be followed upstream to get into the village and downstream to get out, connected each residential household to the central Moon Fen pond which gave the town its most iconic image. Notable too as it was used as a location in the film, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’. All of the streets were built alongside the waterway and small fish living in the waters could be watched fighting against the tide. The museum residences of the town, homes to the wealthier citizens showed that most properties had a central courtyard open to the elements and surrounded by symmetrical bays of rooms. They had much fun exploring the village and buildings, enjoyed a relaxing tea when the rain became to persistent, watched the local bakers making a delicious biscuit by chorusing as they beat the dough made from Kudzu and were particularly amused when he suggested filming Peng emerging from a cupboard and a visitor who invaded the scene was embarrassed and surprised when the doors opened and was invited to join Peng inside.. The second village they visited and equally well preserved was Xidi with a even longer history of over 1000 years. It was first established in the Northern Song Dynasty 960 and its rise was closely tied to the fortunes of the Hu Family, the offspring of the Emperor Li Ye in the Tang Dynasty. By 1465, during the Ming Dynasty, the Hu family had made great fortune in business as merchants, and they began to build many houses, ancestral halls, pathways, and bridges there. Again it was a place full of primitive simplicity and elegance and typical of Huizhou culture with exquisite three carvings architecture and pastoral scenery. It most impressive feature was Hu Wenguang’s Memorial Archway, erected at the entrance of the village and made of gray stone. It was a meritorious honour bestowed on Huwen Guang by the court to have the arch built and this folly was completed in 1578. Though the village echoed elements of Hongcun it was less commercialised. They relaxed with an afternoon tea before walking to a high pavilion to get a view of the town from above. As they traversed the streets and alleys his spirit communed with the generations that had toiled and lived in the very streets he now trod. They returned to Huangshan city and the hotel they had originally stayed at and even though it was still raining they went out in the evening to explore the Old Street area which, had none of the charm of the villages a bad was crassly commercial as many of the old areas of the cities he had visited in china, but it was still fascinating to see the old buildings and the predominant Hui architecture that was unique to the Anhui province. They didn’t eat out but returned to the hotel, had another takeaway and talked over the days sights and car journey. He tried to write and publish his blog but the internet was not willing. Though the day had been less strenuous than the mountain hikes he had been on he still felt wearied by the walking and once again as his head hit the pillow sleep overwhelmed him.


  1. What a beautiful place. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is one of my favourite films 😊 x

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