Wuyuan County

Wuyuan, on the boundary of three provinces in Jiangxi's northeastern corner, has a magnificent landscape dotted with strange caves, deep secluded rocks and numerous historic sites. It has been described by some overseas photographers as the "most beautiful of Chinese villages.
Wuyuan County is home to some of the best-preserved ancient architecture in China. Each of the numerous ancient buildings has a distinctive shape and structure. They emerge from among the emerald green mountains, clear rivers, green trees and the crisscrossing paths between the fields.

Wuyuan's structures were built in 740 during the Tang Dynasty, its remoteness and inconvenient transportation protecting its villages' beauty from too many visitors. Thus the idyllic scene remained unsullied ... pure, clean brooks, seemingly delicate wooden buildings, unique bridges and, most precious of all, the tranquil lifestyle enjoyed by local people.

Virtually every village has something special to offer, often some tiny but unique feature that can stop you in your tracks and positively beg to be photographed. So was it in Wuyuan, our no-rush itinerary allowing for a visit to one village each day. We stayed over at each, and headed for the next on the list each morning.

Yancun Villagage

Yancun is a very small village, easily traversed by foot in no more than 10 minutes. Fields surround the village, as peaceful and comfortable a spot as one could find anywhere. To me, every residential building was a masterpiece of architectural wisdom and wooden sculpting. The buildings here have up to three floors with, amazingly, between 16 and 24 rooms. Old carvings are everywhere, each with an auspicious meaning. In some houses, elderly locals told us of their building's history, including how, when and why it was erected.

Why such enormous houses? Simply, they were built by powerful Jiangxi tea merchants after they had made their fortune. Each house's gate is built in the shape of the Chinese character meaning "business" while every home is encircled by high walls. Rainwater flows into the main courtyard through a hidden tunnel, in effect meaning that "water from four directions return to one home".

Sixi Village

Just 500 meters from Yancun, Sixi is a picture-postcard village, a "real" village for ordinary peasants. Except for several huge courtyards and buildings constructed by rich men long ago, most structures are simpler in design than counterparts in nearby Yancun.

Villagers enjoy a very free life. One woman is washing clothes by the river while, by the bridge, other villagers are playing card games. Yet others are simply chatting. We and they seem from different worlds. I stopped to take some pictures, and they seemed not in the least disturbed at what might have been adjudged an intrusion on their privacy.

Likeng Villages

Wuyuan has two villages named Likeng, but their names in written Chinese are different. Local people call the larger one "Big Likeng", the other "Small Likeng". The former is marked by several imposing houses built by ministers of the Qing Dynasty, which ended in 1911. This larger village was famous as a birthplace of various ministers, one example being the Yu family which had three who ended up in charge of Qing court engineering, personnel and ceremonies.

The carvings on these residences' bricks, stones and wood are the best I have ever seen. Courtyards have at least three layers, and each gate three steps--in both instances confirming the high social status of the owner.

A river with several stone bridges runs through Small Likeng, most of whose houses are along the river bank. Fish can be seen frolicking in the clear water whilst we humans can row a boat and enjoy the goings-on on land.

Yushi Ancestral Hall

This structure is so famous that people sometimes forget the village's name, Wangkou. The hall is where all local people surnamed Yu came to commemorate their ancestors. In a sense it is the big camp of Yu families. Exquisite carvings and reliefs can be found all over the buildings, including the eaves, archways, columns and windows. The carvings are so beautiful that the building was long ago deemed "the No.1 wood carving in South China". Sadly, some parts of the wooden sculptures are broken and I worry that the building might not be properly maintained by the villagers.

Xiaoqi Village

When you come to Xiaoqi Village, a must-see is the Zhendetang, a two-story wooden building crammed with stunning sculptures. Worn and cracking, the wooden floors will before long need repairing, it seemed to me. Standing on the second floor of the back area, I could see fresh green wooded mountains and a river flowing by--a scene utterly dreamlike.



Qingyuan is a cute little place, slightly off the well-beaten track of the more popular touristy villages. I loved it because there were so few people arriving to check it out. It brought me an inner tranquillity where I could hear only the voices of nature. It was sad to hear that the village plans to build a road, so it may well become more sought-after in the future.


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