Nestled in the bamboo forests south of Wuyi in Zhejiang Province is the ancient village of Yuyuan. This small village truly seems to have fallen off the rapid-fire modernization road that the rest of the country is on. Crumbling Ming-era buildings are clustered together and the only mode of transport is your feet. There are no souvenir shops, no touristy restaurants and no hawkers trying to get you to buy the latest junk. You might, however, bump into a farmer on the way to his field.
Yuyuan Village is officially called Yuyuan Taijixingxiangcun (俞源太极星象村) or “Source of the Yu Family Tai Ji (Tai Chi) Astrological Village”. I'll explain more about the peculiar name below. It is about thirty minutes by car southwest of Wuyi. Wuyi is about a 4-hour drive from Shanghai. Yuyuan Village is truly in the middle of nowhere.
The history of Yuyuan is one of the most interesting aspects of the place. While I haven't found English-language documentation of the story, what I have been told is that an adviser of the first Ming emperor named Liu Bowen came to Yuyuan Village in the 14th century. After examining its layout and relationship to the surrounding area, he deemed it would behoove the residents of Yuyuan to change the course of its river in order to make it into an "S" shape and therefore create a more proper feng shui setup.
What this translates into is a giant taiji or yin-yang symbol being created in the fields beyond the village. Supposedly this reshaping of the river granted more prosperity to the village and the villagers began adopting the taiji sign into much of their local architecture and decoration. Therefore today, you can find the taiji symbol in much of the modern signage as well as the ancient architecture. This is why the village is officially called the Tai Ji Astrological Village. (And as for the "source of the Yu", as in much of this part of China, villagers mostly come from the same clan, in this case, the Yu Family.)
The village itself is clustered tightly in the foothills of the local mountains. A good way to get a good lay of the land is to climb up to the local viewing platform. You'll see the layout - the Taiji symbol on one side and the snaking river intersecting the land to form a place for the village buildings on the other.
Many of the buildings are under protection as they were built over 600 years ago. This is evident in the crumbling walls and holes in their shingled roofs. But they aren't just old buildings - many are still inhabited and the whole village becomes a living museum when you're walking through it. During our visit, a few residents welcomed us inside their homes and one woman showed us a Qing-era wooden bed that her family still uses.
Compared with other historic "charming" villages such as the heavily touristed water towns in the Yangtze Delta or old cities farther afield like Lijiang or Dali, Yuyuan is characteristic for its complete dearth of tourist-related rubbish. Cars can't fit in the narrow alleys so everyone ambles about doing their business. You truly get the feel you have stepped back in time. A highlight was seeing an old farmer heading off wearing his rain-gear made of thatch - something I'd only seen in a museum.
Be sure to visit the following:
- Thatched Cottage of Liu Bowen - this is like a little mausoleum rather than a real cottage. It has an open hall where supposedly Liu sat and met with his peers, composed poetry and sipped tea. It has a lovely garden and occasionally is home to a local fortune teller.
- Yu Family Hall - deeper into the village is the glorious Ancestral Hall of the Yu Family, a beautiful example of the local architecture. Built in 1374, it served as the family hall for centuries until the 1950s when it housed an army corps and then became a grain distribution center in 1951. It was restored in 1999 and today hosts local plays and performances.
- Liufeng Hall - an enormous former family home that was built in 1663 and now is open to visitors.
- Liuji Dwellings - these Qing-era dwellings are still inhabited though now divided into small family rooms with multiple generations living together in the same quarters, sharing the courtyard, kitchen and other main living spaces.
- It is also a simple pleasure just to walk around the village through the rice fields and hike up into the mountains. Walking through the village is also very pleasant as you cross many streams and enjoy the slow village life.
Where to Stay
There's a small, very comfortable Chinese inn in Yuyuan called Yang Chun Shan Ju. There's no website but you can contact them at +86 (0579) 8769 3333.
I visited the area with a tour agency called Platinum Private Journeys. They offer private tours to the Yuyuan Village and the surrounding area.
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