China // The Yangzi basin //

Yixian and around

YIXIAN (黟县, yīxiàn), 60km due west of Tunxi, should really only be seen as a stepping stone to the surrounding picturesque villages, two of which have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites. One of those, Xidi (西递, xīdì), is the pick of the bunch and hence the most visited; a particularly attractive place comprising some 120 eighteenth-century houses set along a riverbank. There are endless examples of carved gilded wooden screens and panels inside the houses, as well as thin line paintings on front walls showing pairs of animals or “double happiness” characters. Mirrors placed above the three-tiered door lintels reflect bad luck or reveal a person’s true character – a useful tool for judging the nature of strangers. The other, Hongcun (宏村, hóngcūn), is also a fine spot, whose street plan resembles (with some imagination) the body of a buffalo, complete with horns, body and legs, while nearby Nanping (南屏村, nánpíng cūn), another preserved village of similar vintage, was used as a set in Zhang Yimou’s disturbing film Judou.