Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui ¨C Xidi and Hongcun

Editor:ÖÜÙ»
Source:whc.unesco.org
Updated:2015-07-07 16:43:54

The two traditional villages of Xidi and Hongcun preserve to a remarkable extent the appearance of non-urban settlements of a type that largely disappeared or was transformed during the last century. Their street plan, their architecture and decoration, and the integration of houses with comprehensive water systems are unique surviving examples.

 

Outstanding Universal Value

Brief synthesis 

Xidi and Hongcun are two outstanding traditional villages, located in Yi County, Huangshan City in south Anhui Province, with commercial activities as their primary source of income, family and clan-based social organization, and well known for their regional culture. The overall layout, landscape, architectural form, decoration, and construction techniques all retain the original features of Anhui villages between the 14th and 20th centuries.

Deeply influenced by the traditional culture of pre-modern Anhui Province, these two villages, Xidi and Hongcun, were built by successful officials or merchants returning home from official appointments and business, and gradually developed into models of conventional Chinese village construction. Xidi is surrounded by mountains and built along and between three streams running east-west, which converge at the Huiyuan Bridge to the south. Hongcun is located at the foot of a hill next to a stream which forms two pools, the Moon Pond in the centre of the village and the other to the south. Characterised by rhythmic space variation and tranquil alleyways; and with water originating from a picturesque garden, the whole reflects the pursuit of coexistence, unity and the harmony of man and nature. The unique and exquisite style of Anhui buildings is conveyed in plain and elegant colors, their gables decorated with delicate and elegant carvings, their interiors filled with tasteful furnishings. The rigid patriarchal system together with gentle and sincere folk customs reflects the cultural ideas of scholar-bureaucrats in feudal society who paid special respect to Confucianism and Neo-Confucianism. These surviving villages bear scientific, cultural and aesthetic values with their 600-plus-year history. They are rich sources for the study of regional histories and cultures.

Criteria (iii) : The villages of Xidi and Hongcun are graphic illustrations of a type of human settlement created during a feudal period and based on a prosperous trading economy.

Criteria (iv) : In their buildings and their street patterns, the two villages of southern Anhui reflect the socio-economic structure of a long-lived settled period of Chinese history.

Criteria (v) : The traditional non-urban settlements of China, which have to a very large extent disappeared during the past century, are exceptionally well preserved in the villages of Xidi and Hongcun.

Integrity

Xidi and Hongcun preserve an abundant tangible and intangible cultural heritage. The current 730 hectare area (Xidi property area and buffer zone: 400 hectares, Hongcun property area and buffer zone: 330 hectares), contains an integrated ecological landscape and unique collection of village alleyways, buildings, waterways dating from the 14th century; the area also serves as a record of ¡°Xidi and Hongcun¡± art, cuisine, medicine, painting and other elements of intangible cultural heritage, preserving and passing on the site¡¯s spirit and culture.

Authenticity

Xidi and Hongcun experienced a thousand years of continuous transformation and development, all the while authentically preserving their character as traditional Chinese villages with commercial economies and clan-based social structures. The villages faithfully preserve elements that are typical of traditional pre-modern villages, including the surrounding environment, manmade waterways, the villages¡¯ layout, architectural style, decorative arts, construction methods and materials, traditional technology and the overall appearance of the villages; additionally, the site preserves regional art, customs, cuisine, and other forms of cultural and traditional ways of life. Xidi and Hongcun are, without a doubt, ideal sites for contemporary society to seek its history, and to research traditional village culture.

Protection and management requirements

¡°Xidi and Hongcun¡± are State Priority Protected Sites, National Famous Historic and Cultural Villages. They are protected by laws including the Law of the People¡¯s Republic of China on the Protection of Cultural Relics, the Urban and Rural Planning Law of the People¡¯s Republic of China, the Regulations on the Protection of Historic and Cultural Towns and Villages, the Regulations on the Protection of Ancient Dwellings in Southern Anhui Province, theManagement Measures of World Cultural Heritage as well as other relevant laws and regulations. Additionally, the heritage site has formulated many normative protection documents including the Management Measures for the Conservation of Xidi and Hongcun Villages, and has revised and implemented a series of special plans including theConservation Plan for Xidi and Hongcun Villages, strengthening the monitoring and management of the heritage site and its surrounding area. The site has also established a Conservation and Management Committee, which oversees and co-ordinates the World Heritage Management Office and other dedicated management and conservation bodies, as well as creating a professional conservation team. These measures have all provided legal and administrative conservation for the authenticity and integrity of Xidi and Hongcun.

Long term plans for Xidi and Hongcun are based on the understanding that by preserving the overall spatial pattern and appearance of Xidi and Hongcun; preserving the composition of the cultural heritage property, including the village area, borders, nodes, landmark, street layout, buildings, waterways, traditional gardens, mountain and river scenic spots, and its rural landscape; maintaining the continuation and vivacity of the villages¡¯ way of life, the long-term preservation of the cultural heritage site¡¯s authenticity and integrity can be achieved.

Further undertakings should be conducted, including uncovering the historic and cultural resources of the site, systematically preserving the site¡¯s non-material setting; improving infrastructure and capabilities for communication and presentation; strengthening safety and ecological support systems; improving the quality of the environment, and promoting the harmonious and friendly development of the site¡¯s economy, society, population, resources, and development.

The management body will strictly enforce the property¡¯s regulations for conservation and management; effectively control the capacity of the site and development activities; curb and mitigate the negative effects of development on the property; plan and coordinate the requirements of various stakeholders; construct new residences for village inhabitants outside the heritage areas and buffer zones; as well as rationally and effectively maintain the balance between measures for conservation and tourism and urban development.

Long Description

The traditional non-urban settlements of China, which have to a very large extent disappeared during the twentieth century, are exceptionally well preserved in the villages of Xidi and Hongcun. The two villages are graphic illustrations of a type of human settlement created during a feudal period and based on a prosperous trading economy. In their buildings and their street patterns, they reflect the socio-economic structure of a long-lived settled period of Chinese history.

Xidi was originally called Xichuan (West River), because of the streams that pass through it. It owes its growth to the Hu family from Wuyuan (Xinan), who adopted a son of the Tang Emperor Zhaozong (888-904) after the Emperor was forced from his throne in 904, naming him Hu Changyi. One of his descendants moved his family from Wuyuan to Xidi in 1047. The construction of a number of important private and public buildings began at around that time. From the mid-17th century until around 1850, the Hu family was influential in both commerce and politics. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, members of the family became imperial officials, while many also became graduates of the Imperial College.

Xidi is located in an area surrounded by mountains. Streams enter from the north and east respectively, converging at the Huiyuan Bridge in the south of the village. The streets are all paved with granite from Yi County. Narrow alleys join the streets and there are small open spaces in front of the main public buildings, such as the Hall of Respect, the Hall of Reminiscence and the Memorial Archway of the Governor. The buildings, which are widely spaced, are timber-framed with brick walls and elegantly carved decoration. Most of them are built alongside the three streams, the Front Stream, the Back Stream and the Golden Stream, which give a special character to the village.

The more grandiose residential buildings, dignified with the title of 'hall', have complex ground plans, but they are all variants of the basic pattern and conform to the characteristic use of materials and decoration. The outer walls have very small windows, for reasons of security, carved out of granite and decorated with floral and geometric motifs. Many have small private gardens, usually in the front courtyard, where ingenious use is made of limited space.

Hongcun was founded in 1131 by Wang Wen, a Han dynasty general, and his kinsman Wang Yanji, who brought their families from Qisu village to the upper part of the stream near Leigang Mountain and built 13 houses there. The village knew two periods of great prosperity, 1401-1620 and 1796-1908. The Wang family became officials and merchants and accumulated enormous wealth, which they used to endow their home village with many fine buildings. Around 1405, on the advice of geomancers, a channel was dug to bring fresh water to the village from the West Stream. Some 200 years later, the water supply system of the village was completed with the creation of the South Lake. The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the construction of a number of imposing public buildings, such as the South Lake Academy (1814), the Hall of Meritorious Deeds (1888), the Hall of Virtuousness (1890) and the Hall of Aspiration (1855, rebuilt 1911). Somewhat later than Xidi, Hongcun fell into decline with the birth of the Republic, but it still retains many of its fine buildings and its exceptional water system.

Hongcun lies at the foot of Leigang Mountain. The village faces south, with its central part lying at a point central to the flanking mountains and rivers. The open watercourse runs through all the houses in the entire village and forms two ponds, one in the centre (Moon Pond) and the other to the south of the village (South Lake). The chequerboard pattern of streets and lanes follow the watercourse, giving the village a unique overall appearance.

Source: UNESCO/CLT/WHC

Historical Description

- Xidi

Xidi was originally called Xichuan (West River), because of the streams that pass through it, but its present name, which means "West Post," comes from the ancient caravan posting station some 1.5km to the west of the village.

It owes its growth to the Hu family from Wuyuan (Xinan), who adopted a son of the Tang Emperor Zhaozong (888- 904) after the Emperor was forced from his throne in 904, naming him Hu Changyi. One of his descendants, Hu Shiliang, moved his family from Wuyuan to Xidi in 1047. From that time onwards the family lived and prospered at Xidi.

The population began to rise sharply from 1465, when the Hu family began to act as merchants. The construction of a number of important private and public buildings, and in particular the Huiyuan and Gulai bridges, began at around that time. From the mid 17th century until around 1850 the Hu family was influential in both commerce and politics. During the Ming and Qing Dynasties members of the family became Imperial officials, whilst many also became graduates of the Imperial College. At its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries the village had more than six hundred residences. However, with the decline of the Anhui merchant community and the disintegration of the feudal clan system during the later Qing Dynasty and the Republic, Xidi ceased to expand.

- Hongcun

Hongcun was founded in 1131 by Wang Wen, a Han Dynasty General, and his kinsman Wang Yanji, who brought their families from Qisu village to the upper part of the stream near Leigang mountain and built 13 houses there. The village knew two periods of great prosperity, 1401- 1620 and 1796-1908. Like the Hu family in Xidi, the Wang family became officials and merchants and accumulated enormous wealth, which they used to endow their home village with many fine buildings. Around 1405, on the advice of geomancers, a channel was dug to bring fresh water to the village from the West Stream. Two hundred years later the water supply system of the village was completed with the creation of the South Lake. The 19th and early 20th centuries saw the construction of a number of imposing public buildings, such as the South Lake Academy (1814), the Hall of Meritorious Deeds (1888), the Hall of Virtuousness (1890), and the Hall of Aspiration (1855, rebuilt 1911).

Somewhat later than Xidi, Hongcun fell into a decline with the birth of the Republic, but it still retains many of its fine buildings and its exceptional water system.

Source: Advisory Body Evaluation