An­cient Vil­lage

An age-old tem­ple in An­hui prov­ince be­comes a tran­quil hos­tel

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By ZHU LIXIN in Huang­shan, An­hui prov­ince zhulixin@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Zhang Zhengyan sits in a del­i­cately dec­o­rated room at his hos­tel, sur­rounded by a group of re­porters who are here just for a short break af­ter look­ing around Ping­shan vil­lage on Septem­ber 20.

Zhang, in his 60s, is an ex­pe­ri­enced film pro­ducer, who has pro­duced 12 of the most fa­mous films di­rected by Zhang Yi­mou, one of the most cel­e­brated direc­tors.

Although some guests were en­joy­ing their drinks in the front hall, Zhang said the seven rooms in the hos­tel were all va­cant on the day.

“It is likely be­cause of the high prices, apart from the fact it is a work day to­day”, said Zhang, whose hos­tel is an an­cient house of some 1,800 square me­ters. Zhang said a room in the hos­tel that is named the Im­pe­rial Body­guard, costs nearly 1,000 yuan ($150) for a sin­gle day. He re­fuses to of­fer any dis­count even when there are no guests.

Ping­shan of Yix­ian county is an an­cient ru­ral vil­lage in Huang­shan city, which is known for the Huang­shan Moun­tain, or the Yel­low Moun­tain, in East China’s An­hui prov­ince.

Although it was an an­cient Huizhou-style build­ing, the hos­tel, opened ear­lier this year, was not the orig­i­nal build­ing on the site, but was re­assem­bled with the com­po­nents of sim­i­lar an­cient res­i­dences bought from the Huang­shan re­gion by Zhang in the last nine years.

Zhang said he runs the hos­tel not for money, “but mostly for fun, and the guests who share the same tastes with me are the most wel­come”.

On the site was orig­i­nally a tem­ple owned by the fam­ily of a high­level of­fi­cial sur­named Shu of the Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911). “In dis­re­pair, the tem­ple van­ished about three decades ago”, said Zhang.

The Shu fam­ily es­tab­lished the vil­lage in the Tang Dy­nasty (618907). Dur­ing the peak of the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) and the Qing Dy­nasty, there were more than 400 houses and 18 fam­ily tem­ples, while there are only about 200 houses and seven tem­ples left.

Three years ago, Zhang ac­quired the land at a cost of 800,000 yuan, while re­assem­bling the cur­rent house cost him al­most 10 mil­lion yuan. The hos­tel build­ing is just a frac­tion of what Zhang has bought and re­built in the last years.

In 2006, Zhang ac­quired some 66,700 square me­ters of land in the nearby Xi­uli vil­lage of Yix­ian County, at a cost of 5 mil­lion yuan, to build a film base on the site. Build­ing the base cost him tens of mil­lions of yuan more, as he had bought more than 60 an­cient build­ings from the an­cient Huizhou re­gion and moved them to the place for re­assem­bly and restora­tion.

In an­cient times, the Huang­shan re­gion was called Huizhou pre­fec­ture, which gov­erned an ur­ban area and six ru­ral coun­ties, in­clud­ing Yix­ian county.

“Huang­shan city now has more than 8,000 an­cient Huizhou-style houses, while only around 2,000 of the bet­ter-pre­served ones have been listed as his­toric cul­tural relics. The re­main­der are avail­able for pur­chase, since the govern­ment is not able to pro­tect so many an­cient houses”, said Wang Ze­feng, top leader of Huang­shan city.

Wang said it is be­cause Huang­shan is a moun­tain­ous re­gion and was sel­dom dis­turbed by wars that the lo­cal an­cient houses could be pre­served much bet­ter than other ar­eas of the coun­try.

“This is re­flected in the fact that the city en­joys a forestry cov­er­age rate of more than 90 per­cent”, added Wang.

Although some ty­coons like Zhang choose to move the houses they buy to spe­cific sites, most of the buy­ers are not able to af­ford the mov­ing and re­assem­bly process. So, they pre­fer to keep the build­ing on their orig­i­nal sites and run their busi­nesses af­ter some restora­tion.

“The in­side of most of the an­cient houses is not suit­able for liv­ing any more, so restora­tion and dec­o­ra­tion in­side the houses would be nec­es­sary”, said Wang. He added that in this way the an­cient houses could be re­vived.

“The an­cient build­ings are only for sight­see­ing, but more im­por­tantly they should serve peo­ple’s lives”, said Wang.

Many of the buy­ers choose to run hos­tels, although only a frac­tion of them could match the del­i­cacy of Zhang’s.

“Take the Yix­ian county as an ex­am­ple, there are now ap­prox­i­mately 10,000 hos­tels in the ru­ral ar­eas of the county, which has been a very pop­u­lar tourism des­ti­na­tion in the last fewyears”, said Zhang.

Huang­shan city at­tracts tens of mil­lions of tourists ev­ery year, and lo­cal au­thor­i­ties es­ti­mate that more than 2 mil­lion of them will come from over­seas this year.

Zhang sold the Xi­uli film base to a cap­i­tal fund com­pany two years ago, as the value had ap­pre­ci­ated to sev­eral times higher than his in­vest­ment.

Now Zhang also owns seven an­cient houses in the nearby Tachuan vil­lage, all op­er­at­ing as hos­tels, while it is the Im­pe­rial Body­guard that he loves most.

“Maybe in the fu­ture I will close the hos­tel and take it as my fam­ily dwelling, since liv­ing in such a pic­turesque place with scat­tered an­cient vil­lages ev­ery­where is pretty cool”, said Zhang.

The an­cient build­ings are only for sight­see­ing, but more im­por­tantly they should serve peo­ple’s lives.” Wang Ze­feng, top leader of Huang­shan city

FENG MUBO / FOR CHINA DAILY

Au­tumn falls on Hong­cun vil­lage in An­hui prov­ince.

ZHANG RONGFU / FOR CHINA DAILY

1 1: Farm­ers in Huang­shan city dry crops and fruits in the sun in their yards, which is com­monly seen in moun­tain­ous ar­eas.

2 2: Zhang Zhengyan, owner of a hos­tel in Ping­shan vil­lage, an an­cient ru­ral vil­lage in Huang­shan city.

PHO­TOS BY ZHU LIXIN / CHINA DAILY

3: A pav­il­ion in Ping­shan vil­lage. 3

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