Anhui

FIND the ancient China in Anhui

A visit to any of the mega-cities of China like Shanghai and Guangzhou will quickly convince you that here is a nation of futuristic architecture, soaring skyscrapers and creative modern uses of mirrors and steel.

But that’s not the China I’m looking for, and on a visit there not long ago (pre-Covid), I found exactly what I had always imagined was the China of the ancient emperors. 

There are two small communities in Anhui where time seems to have stopped perhaps a thousand years ago. They are both easy to visit and fun to explore and you should put them on your itinerary if you decide a Chinese holiday is for you. 

We’ll begin at Xidi.  The cultural and historical treasures of this ancient village (1047AD) have been the reason for its national and international recognition; not only is it a Chinese Historical and Cultural Village, it has also been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2000. Here, heritage protection is more than a wish – it’s the law.

Xidi

Xidi is known for its unique and elegant wooden houses: the decorated walls, the black tiles, the decorative door tower  Most of the houses in the village were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties. 124 of them are well preserved and vivid examples of the architectural style of Anhui province.

Several elements of the Huizhou style are preserved in the intangible cultural heritage of Xidi, such as Huizhou Carving Craft, Huizhou Couple Plate, Laba Tofu Making Skills, and others.

Xidi Village, located 40 km from Huangshan Mountain, is also rich in nature, including beautiful trees such as podocarpus. There are also hundreds of ancient trees such as pine, and prized animals such as the giant salamander.

This village with more than 700 years of history began to develop tourism in the late 1980s, attracting a large number of visitors for its elegant southern Anhui architecture and idyllic scenery.

Xidi

The other choice is Hong Cun, not far away and included on most tours.  It had started to rain when we arrived here and the streets were filled with soggy tour groups led by folks with megaphones.  But with some deft thinking we managed to separate ourselves from the throng and began wandering the back streets and alleyways of this well-preserved village. Hong Cun is still a rural farming community, despite all the tourist shops, so it was not long before we found ourselves following a flock of geese to a nicely-maintained field of cabbages and lettuce. 

Geese in Hong Cun

It was in Hong Cun that we sheltered from the rain in the workshop of a local craftsman. Taking pity on three bedraggled Aussies, he fetched us cups of hot tea and we watched him at work. No words were exchanged – neither spoke the other’s language. Just smiles of friendliness and welcome.