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Elegant scenery, fine buildings in over-looked Longchuan hamlet
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Among the well-preserved historic buildings in Longchuan Village, the Hu Family Ancestral Hall is a must see.Photograph byLi Zhe

Though the history of Longchuan Village dates back 1,600 years, the small hamlet with well-preserved historical buildings and picturesque landscape in southern Anhui Province seems a less known tourist destination than its neighboring Hongcun and Xidi villages, both UNESCO heritage sites (featured in "Quaint villages from ancient scrolls and Crouching Tiger," Shanghai Daily, July 25).

However, its beautiful scenery and elegant buildings make Longchuan another must-see when touring southern Anhui. And now the title of "President Hu Jintao's Hometown" is also helping Longchuan Village attract more visitors from around the country.

In the northeast of Jixi County, the town was built beside Longxu Mountain, with a clear creek wriggling through the boat-shaped village. Named after the creek, the village had most of its buildings constructed along both sides of the waterway and dozens of bridges assist the traffic. As soon as I walked out of a courtyard into the entrance of the village, I was shocked by the natural beauty of the quiet haven.

Standing on a brick bridge and looking into the distance, I felt it was a miracle that time hadn't left any marks on the ancient village. We visitors looked like a group of aliens landing at the watertown where hundreds of historical buildings still retain their original glamour.

According to history records, the ancestor of the Hu family moved to Longchuan from today's Henan Province in 337 AD. Following a fengshui master's advice, the ancestor planned and built the boat-shaped town. After 1,600 years, the Hu family line has carried on for 48 generations.

When strolling down the narrow street paved with blue stones along the creek, our tour guide reminds us of an interesting phenomenon: the terrain of the southern street is higher than the northern passage.

As a result, she explains, the southern street is called "Dragon Street" while the northern one is "Phoenix Street" because, in old Chinese customs, dragon representing man has a more privileged social status than phoenix symbolizing woman. Thanks to enlightenment, woman visitors like me also can wander around "Dragon Street" without worrying about any gender discrimination. A very good feeling!

Among the well-preserved historic buildings in Longchuan, the Hu Family Ancestral Hall is outstanding, its grandiose architecture and magnificent wood sculptures said by experts to be of high cultural value.

First built in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), the temple houses prestigious offspring of the Hu family in different history periods including Hu Zongxian, a famous Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) general, Hu Xueyan, a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) business tycoon and Hu Shi, one of the most famous contemporary Chinese litterateurs, just to name a few.

Sitting in the north and facing south, the hall covers an area of 1,146 square meters. The main structure holds a line along a neutral axis with outer buildings equally spread on both sides and looking neat and clean. The hall was divided into three rows, all built on a brick and wooden structure. What impressed me most was the tall, arched gate on which complicated and delicate sculptures are evident everywhere on the frame. Behind it is a corridor encircled with 12 square, stone columns.

According to the tour guide, the girders and columns in the ancestral hall are all carved with sophisticated and exquisite patterns from human figures to birds, beasts, fish and flowers.

There used to be 100 kinds of flowers and vases carved on the window panels at the central hall, however 52 of them were damaged in the "cultural revolution" (1966-1976). The restored 48 panels display various artistic designs with not a single flower or vase in the same pattern.

Amazed by the folk craft techniques, I now understand why the ancestral hall is reputed as the "art palace of wooden carvings," which is a truly precious legacy to China's architecture.

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