For Dipu and the neigh­bor­ingHuanxi vil­lage, fam­ily ties take pref­er­ence over all things Over 70 per­cent of Dipu’s vil­lagers share the sur­name Shentu and reg­u­larly visit their an­ces­tral hall.

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - Erik_nils­son@ chi­


Dipu vil­lage is a place where you take tea in a pigsty and cof­fee in a cat­tle en­clo­sure.

Well, ac­tu­ally, in ren­o­vated rooms that pre­vi­ously housed farm an­i­mals.

“Ma­nure stench meant peo­ple used to rush by, pinch­ing their noses,” a lo­cal guide says of Cat­tle Pen Cafe.

“Now, the aroma lures them to linger.”

Shentu Fang opened Pigsty Tea­house in 2013.

She con­verted 14 swine hutches into a hip joint to sip a cuppa. “It’s unique,” says Shentu. “We don’t want to de­stroy our his­tory and en­vi­ron­ment.”

Trees heave with fruit. Vines spill from rooftops. Pots pop with flow­ers.

A nearby shop ped­dles pe­tal pan­cakes — that is, dough disks stuffed with flo­ral fla­vors like rose.

In­deed, the live­stock quar­ters cum cafes are mi­cro­cosms of the set­tle­ment in Zhe­jiang prov­ince’s Tonglu county. It’s a place where blooms burst around lightly ren­o­vated his­tor­i­cal build­ings — in­clud­ing 40 an­cient struc­tures. Many new ed­i­fices are ren­dered ac­cord­ing to tra­di­tional de­signs.

For in­stance, new flag­stones of cof­fee have been ar­ranged along Dipu’s old cob­ble­stone streets for­wom­en­wear­ing high heels.

The wells and drainage sys­tems de­vised when the set­tle­ment was founded nine cen­turies ago are still used. Thir­teen trees older than 200 years still stand. Two took root eight cen­turies ago.

But Dipu’s um­bil­i­cal link to its past is less tan­gi­ble, yet pal­pa­ble — a rig­or­ous rev­er­ence for fa­mil­ial piety that dates to at least the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911).

A vil­lager dur­ing em­peror Kangxi’s (1654-1722) reign nursed his crit­i­cally ill fa­ther back to health with such de­vo­tion that vil­lagers re­ported his good deed to the royal court.

But word didn’t reach the throne for two gen­er­a­tions. Kangxi’s grand­son, Qian­long (1711-1799), was so moved upon hear­ing the ac­count that he or­dered the con­struc­tion of a stone arch­way to honor the “du­ti­ful son” in Dipu.

The gate still stands — as do the ideals it rep­re­sents.

Over 70 per­cent of Dipu’s vil­lagers share the sur­name Shentu and reg­u­larly visit their an­ces­tral hall.

A lo­cal man built the nearby Bao­qing The­ater in the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) to show grat­i­tude for his un­cle, who raised him.

The wooden plat­form, adorned with such or­nately carved aus­pi­cious sym­bols as li­ons, cray­fish and bats, still serves his de­scen­dants as a stage for rev­er­ence of fam­ily ties.

A stele mark­ing the tomb of the­first set­tler inthemid­dle­ofa round­about on Dipu’s main road again places filial piety front and cen­ter, in ev­ery sense.

In­deed, a visit to Dipu makes you want to visit your par­ents af­ter­ward. Orat least call­home.

Such rev­er­ence for for­bear­ers ex­tends to neigh­bor­ing Huanxi vil­lage, where 90 per­cent of the 2,000 res­i­dents take their sur­name from the first set­tler, Zhou Weis­han, who built his home in the shade of an­cient gingko trees six cen­turies ago.

The sur­viv­ing trees lin­ing Ginkgo Square are to­day over a mil­len­nia old.

But even more ven­er­ated is the 14-gen­er­a­tion branch of the Zhou fam­ily tree that ex­tends from Huanxi’s Con­fu­cian philoso­pher Zhou Dunyi, who penned the poem Ode to the Lo­tus in theNorth­ern Song Dy­nasty (960-1127).

Lo­cals learn its lines as chil­dren and can re­cite the prose by heart.

Roughly me­ters of 334,000 square lo­tuses bob atop ponds through­out the town. They’re not only cen­tral to the set­tle­ment’s his­tory and cul­ture but also to its econ­omy.

Lo­tus seeds are sold as snacks and pul­ver­ized to pro­duce tea and liquor.

And the plants give vim to the scenic splen­dor that draws tourists who oc­cupy Huanxi’s six-dozen bed-and­break­fasts.

Fam­i­lies process them in their court­yards with hand­crank grinders.

The Lo­tus Cul­tureHall takes its name­sake from Zhou Dunyi’s poem and serves as his an­ces­tral hall, an au­di­to­rium and an art gallery.

On res­i­dents’ 63rd birth­days, rel­a­tives re­lease carp into the Tianzi and Qing rivulets that en­case three sides of the set­tle­ment and join at its main gate to trans­form into dragons. The sym­bol­ism rep­re­sents longevity in lo­cal lore.

Su­per­sti­tion or not, over 300 vil­lagers are older than 60, and the old­est is 103.

That said, the wa­ter-dwelling crea­tures are tra­di­tion­ally be­lieved to have brought the floods that led to the con­struc­tion of two an­cient bridges, in­clud­ing the Crocodile Bridge — son­amed­be­cause the rep­tile is con­sid­ered the mytho­log­i­cal deities’ nat­u­ral neme­sis.

To­day, Crocodile Bridge serves as a link be­tween Tonglu’s past and present, and con­nect­sHuanxi to the out­side through tourism, in a very real sense.


From left: Chil­dren prac­tice cal­lig­ra­phy in Tonglu county.

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