This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel with a group from Nanjing University’s Architecture Dept. The destination was a place called Jixi in Anhui Province and I was really impressed. In the last 10 years, I have traveled all over China and one of the things I have noticed is that most places slowly become tourist traps instead of retaining their history. While there certainly was a little bit of the “souvenir stall” mentality over all I was really taken back by the whole area.
First, we visited the Jixi Museum (pictured above)which is a new construction and the architects involved wanted to hold on to that traditional style while designing a modern structure. The end result wasn’t bad and it’s made it into several design magazines, catching the attention of a lot of people, including the professor who put this trip together. The museum itself is wrapped around a ‘garden’ area much like traditional buildings in the area. However, this has been done on a much larger scale. The buildings them self are all very angular, with pitched roofs and heavy lines that echo the mountains around the city of Jixi. We spent a whole day there taking photos and working on a video documentation of the space, more to come on that later.
After that we also visited a few other places around the area of Long Chuan (龙川), including a Hui minority village that was completely disassembled, moved and rebuilt in its current location. China is not known for protecting historical or cultural relics but in this case they did an amazing job. The whole area was put together seamlessly. It was like walking through a ancient Chinese village, seeing old spaces from a vantage point that most people never get to see.
I was more than just impressed, I was astounded at the care they took to ensure the protection of these buildings. It was mind boggling to walk through a 200 year old village that was located in a different area until 10 years ago. I have no idea the amount of work that went into this project but it couldn’t have been easy. All together 12 or so structures were moved, including foundation stones, brick work and wood beams.
We also visited a local heritage site that is an ‘old town’ yet still has residents and is pretty much a working, living history museum. I was once again blown away at the amount of woodwork and the scale of some of the structures was inspiring (that’s too mild of a word)… astonishing.
I took panoramic pictures to better capture the space but still it doesn’t do it justice. To really walk through these spaces was other worldly. The two chairs in the above picture give you and idea of the scale of some of these rooms and buildings. What was even cooler was that most of these structures were hidden within other structures. You would never know they were there unless you went down the right alleyway and into the right door.
I cannot recommend this place enough… it is a must see location on any travelers stop in China. No matter if you are interested in architecture, culture, history, or just seeing a side of China that hasn’t been covered up by tourism, Jixi and Long Chuan are places you MUST SEE. Give yourself a few days in the area as there are several different places you can visit and all of them are wonderful.
I really hope to get back there some time soon. I feel like I missed out of some of the more hidden parts of some of these towns and would love to be able to wonder more without the restrictions of being with a group. Still, it was wonderful and all together a great trip!