Most of my time in China, in the past handful of months, has been spent predominantly in urban settings. Highly developed and modern in spirit, the city of Dalian has presented a daily lifestyle not so unfamiliar to me. The daily grind of balancing my studies and teaching practicum with my social life has proved to be as much of a challenge and a joy as it is back at home in Ohio. With that, one can imagine how, when presented with the opportunity to experience a more traditional, non-urban, “old world” side of China, I was overtaken with excitement and intrigue.
With the week-long spring vacation offered to students at the Dalian University of Foreign Languages (DUFL), I was blessed with the chance to indulge in a much-needed break from my Chinese studies and actually experience, first-hand, the remarkably preserved “old culture” of China in the Southern region of Anhui Province. Together, with my Chinese culture and history teacher Tina, we flew into Hangzhou and immediately took a bus from the city toward the ancient villages in the countryside. This area, which has earned worldwide admiration and attention, has been marked by UNESCO as a World Cultural Heritage Site. The most famous of these villages are Hongcun and Xidi.
During the bus ride, I was awestruck at the unfathomable beauty of the Anhui countryside. The mountains, the foliage, and the tea plants being harvested on the hills all mixed together with the refreshing scent of tea in the air (tea being one of the most lucrative industries in the region). These sights and smells were everything!
For the first night of our adventure, we stayed in a hotel in Hongcun (a traditional water village of Anhui Province). Upon our arrival in the village, I couldn’t help but take in the scenery. It was like I was in a movie. The atmosphere simultaneously emanated magnificence and simplicity—a contrast which proved to be aesthetically pleasant, and also quite difficult to explain with words. It’s one of those situations in which you really need to be there and experience it for yourself if you are ever to truly appreciate what it’s like.
The architectural set up of the village, the houses, walls, and other structures all connected to one another; almost as if to form one consecutive whole. The roofs of every building were designed to curve upward—particularly at the corners. This, I learned, was an architectural feature distinctive to Anhui. It is intended to reflect the “uplifting” attitude and demeanor of the local people and the local culture—a feature of the village that I was fortunate enough to experience firsthand.
According to the official description of Hongcun and Xidi by UNESCO, the overall layout, architectural design, and decorations among other features, reflect the original styles of Anhui villages from the 14th century to the early 20th century. The construction and design of the villages and buildings make extensive use of the ancient Chinese art of “feng shui”—reflecting, among other things, the central influence of traditional Chinese cultural value systems such as Confucianism and Daoist philosophy. Each village features a well-timed comprehensive flowing water system—which I was able to follow as I roamed about the village so as not to get lost in the labyrinth-like street design. One of the most interesting facts that I learned about Hongcun, in particular, is that the village is shaped like an ox from an aerial view. A nearby hill is interpreted to be the head, while two large trees are considered the horns. The legs are made up of four bridges while the buildings of the village are considered to be the body—with the internal features of the village being the ox’s internal organs.
After two days of touring up to 5 different villages, including Hongcun and Xidi, we made our way toward the world famous Yellow Mountain range—known as Huangshan. We stayed at a hotel at the foot of the mountain the first night. The next morning, we arose early in the morning to begin the climb toward the top of the mountain. It was remarkable. Despite the initial fog and rainy weather, the sights as well as the mere feeling of being up so high was indescribable. The sheer beauty of the mountain had me captivated.
Given that the mountain is so large, we had to spend the night on a hotel at the top. Due to the limited space on the mountaintop, as well as the astronomical price of a hotel (let alone anything on the mountain), I stayed in a room with 7 strangers. This, of course, was an experience in and of itself. The next morning, everyone in the room arose at the tender hour of 4:00am so as to catch the world-famous sight of the Huangshan sunrise. The sight was magnificent.
The grand light of the sun shone through a sea of clouds. It is no wonder to me why Huangshan has historically played such an important role in Chinese art and literature since as far back as the 8th century.
By the time the trip had come to an end, I couldn’t believe the sights I had seen. From the Anhui villages to the natural landscape of Huangshan, the scenery was beyond description. I am genuinely awestruck at how gorgeous a place can actually be.