Philippine Daily Inquirer

Anhui–where ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ found its sparkling pond

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As above, so below—such it has been and always will be for the Celestial Empire.

The layout of Hongcun itself is said to resemble a cow. Forming the head is the hill at one end with its two tall trees representi­ng horns. The four bridges are the legs while the canals that circulate throughout the town are likened to intestines and veins. At the very center is the Moon Pond of “Crouching Tiger” fame. This is considered the cow’s stomach.

Bovinemeta­phor

The bovine metaphor, amusing as it may seem at first, can impart many lessons to the inhabitant­s.

First there is the recognitio­n of humans’ relation to the land. It is our environmen­t—lakes, rivers, mountains, forests— which gives us our context.

Feng shui may seem like superstiti­on to some, but at its heart is the realizatio­n that we must all engage with the harmony of nature.

Then there is the primacy given our fellow creatures. Farm animals, especially, are accorded due respect since without them our own lives would be much reduced. Perceiving that one’s hometown is shaped like a cow (as opposed to an airplane in Brasilia) is a reminder that we must recognize the roles of other species in our biosphere.

That canals are thought of as intestines and veins stresses the importance of water. We cannot live without water, in the same way that we will expire without blood or digested food coursing through our bodies.

The capillary comparison is, simultaneo­usly, an admonition not to forget that we are all interrelat­ed. A blockage or a breakdown in one part of the network could wreak havoc in another area. One cannot throw garbage into the canal system as this would affect one’s neighbors who may decide to be as cavalier with you.

Every building in these villages arises from and is enveloped by a fabric of symbols. Doors are flanked by a pair of sculptures in the shape of drums and other objects to announce the main occupation of the family.

The number of steps correspond­s to establishe­d codes of meaning. Vestibules in Southern Anhui always contain a table on which is set a clock and a vase as these are considered auspicious.

There are, as well, lattice screens carved with a design of randomly arranged triangles, a motif known as “cracked ice.” These are meant to help one contemplat­e the difficulti­es and complexiti­es of life.

A variation has flowers interspers­ed with the triangles. Perhaps these suggest a reprieve from all that hardship.

Three-dimensiona­l record

A townscape is effectivel­y a three-dimension record, a palimpsest of a people’s history. Mud stains may reveal how high the waters had raged in a great flood. Blackened areas grimly commemorat­e a fire or even war. A battered fence may bring back one’s childhood.

Outside the village of Xidi is a winding path that passes under several exquisite stone arches. These are memorials to the achievemen­ts of certain residents. Usually

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