Ancient Northern Villages of Today
Ancient towns and villages dot the Beijing-tianjinHebei region, becoming the “root” and “spirit” of many generations, and bearing memories of home.
Ancient towns and villages dotted the Beijing-tianjinHebei region. They are the “root” and “spirit” of many generations, bearing their memory of home. Without the twinkling neon lights or the uproarious streets, these unadorned old towns present their original face tranquilly. The unique charm of these old towns awakes the hidden homesickness of urban people, seducing them to feel the historical trace that can’t be forgotten by the times. Come tour the old towns in the BeijingTianjin- Hebei region, track the history, find our homesickness and maintain our warm love for home.
When visiting an ancient town, one can go back to the simplicity and feel the purity. This is what many urban people pursue. Hence, on weekends or during holidays, many people choose to leave cities for ancient towns and villages.
On the ancient land washed by Sanggan River to the west of Beijing, there is the ancient town of Nuanquan, in Yuxian County. Yuxian County was one of the “Sixteen Prefectures of Yan and Yun,” whose biggest feature was that every village has forts and every fort leads to a village. In the past few years, efforts were made to promote Nuanquan’s special molten iron fireworks. As a result, this town, known for its historical value and strong folk culture, has caught people’s attention.
Built in the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), Nuanquan used to be a frontline garrison to resist invasion in the old times. In its golden era, three forts were built successively in Nuanquan, including Fort Beiguan, Fort Xigu and Fort Zhongxiao. Among them, Fort Xigu built during Emperor Jiajing’s reign (1522–1567) in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) remains intact. It is the core of the current Nuanquan Town. Rugged stone walls encompass rows of northernstyle dwellings. Earthy villagers still live here, reminding visitors that Nuanquan is an old but lively town.
The most commonly seen snack in
Nuanquan is dried tofu with five spices of Yuxian County. You can find it in small shops as well as on the trolleys of street peddlers. These dried tofu strips are chewy and slightly salted. When you are tired of walking, you may step in a snack bar for a break and some fentuo (a local snack made from milled peas or mungs), and have a chat with the bar owner on the town’s history.
There are two clear lines of wheel ruts on the bluestone road at Beiquan Gate. They represent not only a mark in time, but also evidence of Nuanquan’s previous prosperity. Walking to Fort Xigu from here, you may hear rings of copper bells from time to time. The rings come from a wind chime hanging at the corner of the eave of a pavilion on the city wall. Along the neat bluestone street, antique houses flank both sides of the street. Red lanterns hanging at the entrance of taverns and the flying fabric marquees are also plain. From the Ksitigarbha Temple in the ancient fort, you can see far from a high spot. Walk up the stone stairs beside the opera stage and you will see the entire ancient fort and town. Immersed in an old town atmosphere, you may find a love for your own hometown.
People in Nuanquan are very proud of their intangible cultural heritage, papercutting. Paper-cutting in Nuanquan started from Emperor Daoguang’s reign (1821–1851) in the Qing Dynasty (1644–1911). Differing from general paper-cutting, Nuanquan paper-cutting is a unique folk craft of the Han nationality. It is the only paper-cutting with colours where concave shapes are major parts with ancillary convex shapes. Although the craft is called paper-cutting, the artwork is carved with a knife by artisans.
The famed molten iron fireworks are Nuanquan’s traditional festive fireworks, which have been popular among visitors in recent years. Skilled performers splash molten iron of 1,600 degrees Celsius on the ice-cold wall with a willow spoon. The splashed molten iron instantly turns into a breathtaking splatter of sparks. “Molten iron fireworks” used to be conducted on the wall of the ancient fort. Since the space is limited and the show appeals to visitors, the Molten Iron Fireworks Square was built exclusively for the show.
After night falls, a light show is launched on the newly built glass tower outside Nuanquan. The sparkling glass tower has become a modern landmark of Nuanquan, adding a new scenic view to this ancient town.
Yujia Stone Village
After passing through a driveway winding through the valleys of Taihang Mountains, you will reach Jingxing County 350 kilometres southwest of Beijing. A small stone village, Yujia ( Yu Family) Village, is hidden deep in these mountains. People call this village Yujia Stone Village according to its stone structure. Stepping in Yujia Stone Village, you seem to enter an old stone fort. All the houses in the village were built with stones in different architectural styles.
To discuss the origin of Yujia Stone Village starts with the character “Yu.” It was a big family with the surname “Yu” who built this stone village. Yujia Stone Village has some connections with Yu Qian (1398–1457), a poet from the Ming Dynasty. The village was built by Yu Qian descendants. It is said that Yu Youdao, the eldest grandson of Yu Qian, moved to this area during the Chenghua Period (1465–1488) in the Ming Dynasty. He made use of the rich stone resources in the area. He worked hard to gather stones from the mountains to build houses, walls and roads. This stone village eventually took shape.
Overlooking Yujia Stone Village from high ground, you can tell that it is higher on the north and lower on the south. The village is long and thin. Uneven rows of houses lie in the village. There is not any flat ground adjacent to the village, but reclaimed layers of terraces. Walking in the meandering stone alley, you step on the grinded stones, making rhythmic sounds in tune with the tranquil village.
The Yus’ Clan Temple in the village is a well-preserved stone quadrangle courtyard. The principal room of the courtyard is the ancestral hall. The memorial tablet of Yu Youdao is put in the centre of the ancestral hall. Mountains are not very habitable. Yet since they chose this place to live, they had to adapt. The open-minded Yu’s built a quadrangle courtyard, which previously only existed in cities, with stones in the village built from memory.
The most recognisable building in Yujia Stone Village is Qingliang Pavilion. Qingliang Pavilion has three storeys. It has no foundation, but was built directly on several stone plates. It stands at an obvious location at the entrance to the village. The bottom of Qingliang Pavilion is an east-west arched gate, used to serve as the east gate of Yujia Village. With several giant heavy stones on the wall of Qingliang Pavilion, no one knows how ancient people laid them there.
There are many places called “Ancient Town” in China. The public is familiar with places like the Ancient Town of Dali, the Ancient Town of Lijiang and the ancient town of Fenghuang. However, shopping in daytime and drinking and singing in pubs at night, the stereotypical visiting mode of ancient towns, seems like a cliché. Many ancient towns have become too commercial. Yet located
Yujia Stone Village in Shijiazhuang City, Hebei Province