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Hongcun and Xidi, Jiangxi

The two ancient villages of Hongcun and Xidi, both located in Yi County in central China’s Anhui Province, stand as well-preserved representations of Ming and Qing Dynasty history.

Xidi was built around 1100 AD. Encircled by green hills and with the West River and streams flowing into town and converging at Huiyuan Bridge, Xidi has 99 winding lanes paved in local stones, as well as many residences, ancestral halls, gardens and courtyards that were built during the town’s height as a trade center. Today, 124 well-preserved ancient wood residences still stand, showcasing intricate carvings and other historic details such as the iconic “horse-head walls” that were used in Hui culture architecture in the Anhui style.

Just six miles northeast is Hongcun, which is located at high altitude and is therefore often shrouded in misty clouds, making it seem almost supernatural. Scenes from the movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” were filmed in Hongcun, thanks to this mystical aura. Hongcun village is said to be shaped like an ox, with Leigang Hill making up its head, and two large trees forming its horns. There are four bridges that cross Jiyin Stream, which look like legs, and the village itself creates the body – the Jiyin Stream and many lakes in the area are even said to represent intestines and organs. Beyond the natural offerings of Hongcun is the ancient architecture, with places such as Chengzhi Hall, the former grand residence of a wealthy salt merchant and now a museum that is open to visitors.

The iconic white walls and gray stone lanes of the buildings in Hongcun and Xidi, as well as the verdant hills and waterways (ponds, lakes and streams) surrounding each, lend to the picturesque nature of these two ancient villages, and have provided inspiration for painters, poets and artists for centuries (and to this day). Hongcun and Xidi were declared as “Ancient Villages of Southern Anhui” on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000, further protecting these fascinating towns.

In addition to their own allures, Xidi and Hongcun are less than a two-hour drive from Mount Huangshan (“Yellow Mountain”), one of China’s major tourist destinations, known for its breathtaking scenery including peculiar-shaped granite peaks and bird’s-eye views. Visits to Xidi and Hongcun are often paired together or even added on when heading to Huangshan. From Huangshan Airport or the railway station, visitors can take a bus or taxi, or rent a car to visit these two ancient villages. Once in Xidi and Hongcun, walking is the way to get around.