Huizhou is full of green hills and clear waters, where the landscape is like an artistic picture. The Huizhou dwellings have adapted to the characters of hills and waters there, giving full play to them. The villages at Huizhou have paid a lot of attention to integrated planning, skillfully selecting locations with geomantic omens and a perfect structure. The buildings at Huizhou are mostly located in the shade, but their faces are towards the sun. Moreover, they are situated at the foot of a hill for using the water sufficiently and matching local conditions—concentrated when on plains and dispersed when off them. The model of these villages is Hongcun, a village of rivers and lakes that is a part of the world's cultural heritage.
Hongcun is located at the north of Yixian, with Leigang Hill toward its North and the Yangjian River to its South. This exact position is required for geomantic omens: "to be located in the shade but face to the sun…with hills behind and water in front". The distinguishing feature of Hongcun are its artificial water channels, distributed all over the village.
Hongcun originated in the first year of the Shaoxing period of the Southern Song Dynasty (1131), but the large scale construction of channels began in the early Ming Dynasty. At that time, the villagers introduced streamlets into the village and dug channels with a length of over 300 meters, which flowed through the yards of every household in the village and finally converged onto a pond like a crescent moon in front of the clan ancestral hall, built at the center of the village. 150 years later, the villagers opened a large pond, the South Lake, with an outward surface of over 100 mu at the south of the village. In the 400 years since then, this perfect structure of channels has been maintained by Hongcun villagers and used by them in their everyday lives.
The entrance of the channel system is situated at a relatively high level, where the villagers have built a dam with stone and installed a water gate to raise the level of the water. The water gate is the entrance of the channels as well as the starting point of the channel system.
The general channels are 60 cm wide and 1 m deep, crossing circuitously through the lanes of the village, extending in all directions from the northwest to the southeast. As a poet from the Ming Dynasty describes, "In every dooryard flows a limpid streamlet". Lastly, all channels rush down into the center of the village, the Moon Pond, which has a straight northern end and a curved southern end, like that of a new moon. Like a blood circulatory system, the channel stimulates the spiritual and material life of the village. On the one hand, the channel system plays the role of washing, protection from fire, drainage and adjustment of temperature and humidity; on the other hand, together with the flagging, gardens and yards, squares and arches over the gateway, it has become a sight with unique features and a public place for villagers to rest and interact. Walking at Hongcun, one sees loquacious waters reflecting white walls and black tiles, green hills and the blue sky. Simple and unsophisticated flaggings connect profound courtyards, pavilions, terraces and open halls. In the South Lake at the southern end of the village, one can see osier willows in spring, lotus flowers in the summer, red leaves in autumn and white snow in the winter. The channels link all the houses together, the water bringing a natural spirit to each house.
Together, the water gates and channels, the Moon Pond, the South Lake, and the small ponds at every yard compose an integrated water system and form the spirit of the village. The waters and hills, the streets, the lanes and the buildings, as well as the villagers' lives and culture form an integrated organism. What is learned here is that human beings can co-exist harmoniously with nature and utilize it. Nature is not only an object of human use but is also an indispensable part of human life.
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