An­cient North­ern Vil­lages of To­day

Beijing (English) - - CONTENTS - Trans­lated by Zhang Lu Edited by Mark Zuiderveld

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.

Nuan­quan Town

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.

Zhengding County

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

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