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August 1, 2009

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Home » Feature » Art and Culture

Elegant scenery, fine buildings in over-looked Longchuan hamlet

Though the history of Longchuan Village dates back 1,600 years, the small hamlet with well-preserved historical buildings and picturesque landscape in southern Anhui Province seems a less known tourist destination than its neighboring Hongcun and Xidi villages, both UNESCO heritage sites (featured in "Quaint villages from ancient scrolls and Crouching Tiger," Shanghai Daily, July 25).

However, its beautiful scenery and elegant buildings make Longchuan another must-see when touring southern Anhui. And now the title of "President Hu Jintao's Hometown" is also helping Longchuan Village attract more visitors from around the country.

In the northeast of Jixi County, the town was built beside Longxu Mountain, with a clear creek wriggling through the boat-shaped village. Named after the creek, the village had most of its buildings constructed along both sides of the waterway and dozens of bridges assist the traffic. As soon as I walked out of a courtyard into the entrance of the village, I was shocked by the natural beauty of the quiet haven.

Standing on a brick bridge and looking into the distance, I felt it was a miracle that time hadn't left any marks on the ancient village. We visitors looked like a group of aliens landing at the watertown where hundreds of historical buildings still retain their original glamour.

According to history records, the ancestor of the Hu family moved to Longchuan from today's Henan Province in 337 AD. Following a fengshui master's advice, the ancestor planned and built the boat-shaped town. After 1,600 years, the Hu family line has carried on for 48 generations.

When strolling down the narrow street paved with blue stones along the creek, our tour guide reminds us of an interesting phenomenon: the terrain of the southern street is higher than the northern passage.

As a result, she explains, the southern street is called "Dragon Street" while the northern one is "Phoenix Street" because, in old Chinese customs, dragon representing man has a more privileged social status than phoenix symbolizing woman. Thanks to enlightenment, woman visitors like me also can wander around "Dragon Street" without worrying about any gender discrimination. A very good feeling!

Among the well-preserved historic buildings in Longchuan, the Hu Family Ancestral Hall is outstanding, its grandiose architecture and magnificent wood sculptures said by experts to be of high cultural value.

First built in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the temple houses prestigious offspring of the Hu family in different history periods including Hu Zongxian, a famous Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) general, Hu Xueyan, a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) business tycoon and Hu Shi, one of the most famous contemporary Chinese litterateurs, just to name a few.

Sitting in the north and facing south, the hall covers an area of 1,146 square meters. The main structure holds a line along a neutral axis with outer buildings equally spread on both sides and looking neat and clean. The hall was divided into three rows, all built on a brick and wooden structure. What impressed me most was the tall, arched gate on which complicated and delicate sculptures are evident everywhere on the frame. Behind it is a corridor encircled with 12 square, stone columns.

According to the tour guide, the girders and columns in the ancestral hall are all carved with sophisticated and exquisite patterns from human figures to birds, beasts, fish and flowers.

There used to be 100 kinds of flowers and vases carved on the window panels at the central hall, however 52 of them were damaged in the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976). The restored 48 panels display various artistic designs with not a single flower or vase in the same pattern.

Amazed by the folk craft techniques, I now understand why the ancestral hall is reputed as the "art palace of wooden carvings," which is a truly precious legacy to China's architecture.

In addition to the ancestral hall, a monumental gateway built in 1562 to commemorate two outstanding Hu family offspring is another highlight of Longchuan Village. The gateway funded by the central government of the Ming Dynasty was set up to honor the great contributions of Hu Fu, the financial minister in 1478, and Hu Zongxian, the national defense minister in 1538.

The 10-meter-high gateway has delicate reliefs of dragons, lions, cranes and deer as well as a hand-carving by Wen Zhengming, one of the most prestigious calligraphy masters of the Ming Dynasty. Both the cultural and artistic value of the gateway proved to be a hit among the relics in Jixi County.

While General Hu Zongxian is just one of the important figures in the great list of celebrities in Jixi County's history records, his residence actually remain a better attraction to visitors than the general's personal memorabilia.

Even before I started to plan my trip to southern Anhui, several friends, after learning of my travel intentions, reminded me not to miss the former residence of General Hu. The grand mansion is assessed to be the No. 1 family house in ancient Huizhou area surrounding the Yellow Mountain.

General Hu bravely fought against the invasion of Japanese pirates along the coastal area and the achievements won him big promotions and high praise from Ming Dynasty Emperor Jiajing. He chose to build his house at the "helmsman" position in Longchuan Village, which seems to have quite a profound meaning.

Covering more than 5,000 square meters, the house has 24 doors and over 90 paths which comprise a natural maze. According to the tour guide, house owners in ancient China and their friends should use different paths and doors from those used by servants due to strict class divisions.

With white walls and grey tiles, the mansion reflects a typical Huizhou-style family building. Entering this grand house, it seems we had arrived at a mini town where we were amazed to find an opera stage, family ancestral temple, Buddhist worship shrine, private school, pavilion and other well-designed function rooms.

I was captivated by the elegant garden where a square well surrounds a circular well to make up a beautiful pond. In addition to being a fixture, the pond was also a water source in ancient times, with the square well supplying water for washing and bathing and the round one offering drinking water.

The two wells independently connect to an outside source of water without contaminating each other. I couldn't admire more our ancestor's intelligence and skills when seeing the sophisticated design.

If you want to bring some souvenirs home, Huimo (Hui ink-stick) could be a good choice. Jixi is one of the cradles of Huimo, a kind of Chinese ink sticks originated in the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). You can easily find handmade Huimo in various shapes and of good quality. How to get there

? By Train: Take a train from Shanghai to Hangzhou, transfer to a bus from Hangzhou to Tunxi, which takes about two hours.

Then take another one-hour ride on a transit bus to Jixi County where Longchuan Village is located.

? By car: Take the Shanghai-Hangzhou Expressway toward Anhui-Hangzhou Expressway. Exit at Tunxi and drive 57 kilometers to Jixi. It takes about five hours.

? By air: Take Eastern Airlines or Shanghai Airlines to Tunxi Airport. It takes about an hour. Then take a transit bus to Jixi which takes about 1.5 hours.


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