Progress made in ancient village protection
By Ji Jing  ·  2023-05-22  ·   Source: NO.21 MAY 25, 2023
Hu Wenliang, who runs a homestay in Longtan Village, Ningde, Fujian Province, draws a postcard with his wife and child at his homestay in October 2020 (XINHUA)

Ancient villages are receiving increasing recognition as repositories of traditional Chinese culture, and authorities are placing increasing importance on their protection and utilization. China has inscribed a total of 8,155 traditional villages to its state protection list in an effort to conserve the country's millennia-old agricultural civilization.

Under this protection initiative, China has built the world's largest agricultural heritage protection network, Dong Hongmei, an official with the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, said in late April.

Yigao, an ancient village in Huzhou, Zhejiang Province, on April 11 (XINHUA)

Tourism facilitates protection

Tuyugou is an ancient village in Shanshan County, Turpan, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, with more than 1,000 years of history. It still has many houses made of earth and has been dubbed a museum of earth architecture.

To protect the ancient village, the local government has maintained and repaired the houses, using wooden beams to reinforce walls where necessary. The houses have maintained their old appearance even as infrastructure such as roads, water supply, and waste and sewage treatment facilities have been upgraded and people's living conditions have improved.

With the improvement of infrastructure, the village has attracted many tourists as well as painters and photographers.

The ability of these ancient homes to attract tourism revenue not only adds to their value, but also brings in funds for their maintenance. In this way, the promotion of tourism can form the basis of a self-sustaining heritage protection strategy.

Weizishui Village, nestled among the mountains of Mentougou District in west Beijing, is also a traditional village and has a history dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911).

The village is home to a large number of ancient buildings, trees and bridges. However, like many other ancient villages, it once faced the risk of becoming deserted as many young people have left to work in cities, leaving only around 100 permanent residents.

Additionally, some of its residents have demolished their old houses and built new ones to improve their living conditions.

"The infrastructure of the village and the old houses must be renovated; otherwise the village might disappear in 10 to 20 years," Gao Yanhui, Secretary of the village branch of the Communist Party of China, told Xinhua News Agency.

In 2021, private investors renovated some of the old houses and turned them into homestays.

"We have developed homestays and tourism and enhanced the processing of agricultural products such as almond kernels. Realizing that the ancient look of the village can bring economic benefits, villagers have become more motivated to protect their heritage," Gao said. Now 20 households have renovated their houses while retaining the original looks to run homestays and 12 villagers have returned to the village to work.

Zhang Dayu, President of Beijing University of Civil Engineering and Architecture, told Xinhua that villages will become revitalized only when they are supported by industries and villagers return to work and live in them.

Longtan, an ancient village in Nanping County, Ningde, Fujian Province, has been revitalized through the development of cultural creative industries.

The village has more than 120 buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The old houses are not suitable for people to live in anymore, but demolishing them would destroy the village's cultural heritage and repairing them would have cost a large amount of money.

To make better use of the old houses, the village launched a project in 2017 to invite cultural and creative industry practitioners to rent the houses as studios. The new villagers are responsible for the expenses of renovating the houses and they need to pay a rent of only 3 yuan ($0.43) per square meter of floor space every year for 15 years.

Local carpenters and masons were hired to repair the old houses using traditional techniques. On the outside, the houses have retained their old looks but inside they have been transformed into bookstores, cafes and a concert hall.

Last year the village received more than 300,000 tourists and brought in tourism revenues totaling 13 million yuan ($1.9 million). The village's per-capita disposable income had increased from 7,600 yuan ($1,096.2) in 2017 to 24,800 yuan ($3,576.9) last year, up by 226.3 percent.

With the revitalization of the village, many villagers, including college graduates who had worked in cities, have returned to start businesses there.

By the end of last year, more than 400 local villagers had returned to the village, most of whom were young people, increasing the village's permanent population to more than 700.

Luo Deyin, a professor with the School of Architecture at Tsinghua University, told Xinhua that ancient villages can retain their current residents and attract new ones only when people's living conditions are improved, incomes increased and they are able to find jobs.

Preserving culture

In addition to developing industries, preserving intangible cultural heritage such as handicrafts, ethnic costumes and performance arts is another way of protecting ancient villages.

Zhoucheng Village in Dali, Yunnan Province, is known for its tie-dyeing techniques. Tie-dyeing is a traditional dyeing technique of the Bai ethnic group, which was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2006. The dyestuff is derived from indigo, and the final color of the dyed fabric is blue and white.

Zhang Hanmin grew up in Zhoucheng and then moved to Beijing for work. When she returned to the village more than 10 years ago to visit her family, she found there were fewer people practicing tie-dyeing than when she was a child. To preserve the traditional handicraft technique, she returned to the village with her husband in 2013 to establish a company producing tie-dyed fabrics.

The company employs nearly 100 skilled craftspeople aged between 20 and 80 to make tie-dyed products and has a revenue of more than 2 million yuan ($288,462.9) a year.

Duan Yinkai, an inheritor of the tie-dye intangible cultural heritage in Zhoucheng, has been teaching locals the ancient technique.

"Helping more people learn the technique is the best way to protect it. Preserving ancient villages does not only mean keeping the old architecture but also reviving villages' cultural heritage," Duan said. 

(Print Edition Title: Preserving the Past)

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

Comments to

China Focus
Special Reports
About Us
Contact Us
Advertise with Us
Partners:   |   China Today   |   China Hoy   |   China Pictorial   |   People's Daily Online   |   Women of China   |   Xinhua News Agency
China Daily   |   CGTN   |   China Tibet Online   |   China Radio International   |   Global Times   |   Qiushi Journal
Copyright Beijing Review All rights reserved 京ICP备08005356号 京公网安备110102005860