Impressive Hui Culture
By staff reporter ZHAO YAYUAN
DIRECTOR James Cameron of blockbuster hit Avatar once made the public comment: “The fictional world of my film uses many Chinese elements because while creating the floating specter of Mount Hallelujah I was so inspired by the gorgeous scenery of China’s Huangshan Mountain.”
Situated in southern Anhui Province, Huangshan Mountain has been honored as a world cultural heritage, a world natural heritage and a world Geopark site, where its bizarre pine trees, exotic rock formations, majestic clouds, restorative hot springs, and enchanting winter snows all overwhelm the viewer with their beauty.
Besides appreciating the enchanting natural landscape of the mountain, a tour to the namesake city and local villages and towns will also reward visitors with an unforgettable experience. In ancient times the area was under the jurisdiction of Huizhou; locals created a splendid Hui (short for Huizhou) culture, much of which can still be seen on Tunxi Old Street and in Xidi Village.
Huizhou existed for about 800 years, from the year 1121 in the Song Dynasty to 1911 in the Qing Dynasty, and comprised six counties, including Yixian, Shexian and Xiuning in present-day Huangshan City. The Hui culture mirrors every aspect of the local life in the late feudal period – in its Hui-style architecture, Hui commercialism, the patriarchal clan system, Neo-Confucianism, Hui Opera and Hui cuisine. The best place to get a glimpse of the culture compressed, visitors should look in the Hui Culture Museum in Huangshan City, which is so far the only theme museum in China to comprehensively showcase this regional heritage.
|The gatehouse in particular served as an important banner of wealth and social status, so worthy of the most ornate designs. |
At the foot of picturesque Huangshan Mountain sprawl clusters of Hui-style grey-tiled and white-walled houses, forming the most typical scene captured in traditional Chinese landscape paintings. Hui architecture is one of the major Chinese architectural styles of ancient times, with the exquisite homes, ancestral halls and memorial archways as its most impressive embodiments.
Distinctive elements of Hui architecture are the ubiquitous white color of all the buildings, the grey-tiled roof and the Horse-head Wall, where the wall descends staircase style, following the angle of the roof. Like northern residential architecture, Hui-style dwellings also feature storied buildings, multiple courtyards, winding corridors and upturned eaves; but all are hidden behind high horse-head walls. Externally they present tall, solid walls with only a few small windows, and inside the dwellings patios of varied kinds allow the passage of sunlight.
Generally speaking, the exterior appearance of Hui-style buildings differs little while their interior can vary a lot based on the wishes of the owners. Home decor is characterized by three types of Hui carving: stone carving, wood carving and brick carving. The average homeowner would expend less effort on decorating the interior rooms than their facades. The windows and gates facing outward would normally require delicate workmanship, and the gatehouse in particular served as an important banner of wealth and social status, so worthy of the most ornate designs.
To take a look at the Hui architecture, Xidi Village in Yixian County is the best place to go. It is a site of typical Hui residences, and one of the “Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui” that have been collectively listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO. With a history of over 950 years, the village came into being in the Huangyou Period (1049-1054) of the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and had its salad days in the early part of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). Historical records suggest that in its heyday it supported a population exceeding 10,000 people and saw the construction of over 40 public buildings, mostly schools and temples, and more than 1,000 dwellings. Today over 240 well preserved residences from the Ming and Qing dynasties still house some 300 households of more than 1,100 residents. The tourist attractions in the village include Lingyun Pavilion, Cishi Archway (or known as the Memorial Archway of the Governor), Taoli Garden, East Garden and the Hall of Respect. These centuries-old structures have made the village a microcosm of traditional Chinese culture and an open-air museum of Ming- and Qing-style residences.