The abandoned railway tracks which linked the capital of Yunnan province, Kunming, to Vietnam have laid for more than a century and half on a stretch of red soil by the Lujiang River (泸江河) across the old bridge near ancient village of Tuanshan (团山村).
Built on a small plateau up on a hill and surrounded by rounded-top mountain, the landscape gave its name gave to the village : Tuan 团 means ’round’, ‘circular’ and Shan 山 means ‘mountain’.
The cobblestone streets of this ancient village located just 20 kilometres outside Jianshui (建水) are lined with ancient family mansions and gardens, lineage temples and historical courtyards opened to the public.
A listed historical village
Tuanshan is a recent add-on to the list of historical villages to visit in Yunnan and China. When I visited, I had to pay a 20 RMB entrance fee, but according to readers feedback, the fee is now 40 RMB.
Thanks to its fairly remote location, Tuanshan has been spared by the commercialisation that comes with the development of tourist sites in China. A few locals were selling handicrafts and other trinkets in the streets and in their stores. Who knows how the influx of tourists will change this charming little village in the future.
When I visited, there were several tour groups who followed a guide armed with a megaphone which, I have the admit, spoiled a little bit the silence and the quietness that reigned in the streets of the centuries-old village.
Ethnic cross-road and trade route
The region of Jianshui, where Tuanshan is situated, used to be the communication centre of southeast Yunnan on the ancient Tea and Horse trade route network. Rich in medicinal herbs, timber, copper and tin, the region had always been populated by different ethnic groups : the Yi (彝族), Hui (回族), Hani (哈尼族) as well as the Dai (傣族) and the Miao (苗族).
At the beginning of the Ming dynasty, between 1392 and 1398, 300’000 Han-Chinese migrants moved from the eastern provinces and settled in different parts of Yunnan. At that time, Tuanshan was already a village populated by members of the Yi ethnic group (彝族).
The ethnic composition of Tuanshan changed when a man surnamed Zhang stumbled upon the village during the reign of Emperor Hongwu 洪武 (1390 – 1406) of the Ming dynasty.
Zhang was part of a wave a Han ethnic Chinese migrants who had ventured to the ethnic southwest. He moved from the landlocked province of Jiangxi to Jianshui. Impressed by the beauty of Tuanshan scenery and its fertile soils, Zhang decided to settle in the village.
An economic success story in rural Yunnan
Zhang was the first Han ethnic Chinese to settle in a village exclusively populated by members of the Yi ethnic group. Over the centuries, his family expanded and other Han – Chinese families settled in Tuanshan.
They became successful in the mining and the trading of tin and copper, especially from the end of the 19th century, when the Sino-French treaty of 1887 allowed for the development of business ties with the nearby French colonies in Indochina.
Today, the gardens and courtyard mansions built by the Han Chinese family clans represent the social and ethnic change brought by the Ming dynasty migration.
Territorial integration ethnic harmony
The well-preserved Ming and Qing architecture of the village represents to successful integration of this region once considered uncivilized barbarian land into the realm of the Middle Kingdom which contributed to the economical transformation of the region.
Since Yi ethnic minority families still live in the village, Tuanshan is also, from a Chinese point of view, the embodiment of harmonious cohabitation between the Han Chinese and ethnic minorities.
How to get there
Tuanshan is located 20 kilometres outside Jianshui. There are no direct public transportation to the village. Your best option is either to hire a taxi in Jianshui or to negotiate a deal with the drivers for the yellow mini-van on the square behind the KFC. (All these yellow mini-van drive from Jianshui to the Yellow Dragon Temple 黄龙寺 via the Shuanglong Bridge 双龙桥.
Tuanshan is definitely worth a visit while in Jianshui and you can include it into a tour of the countryside. Check out this off-the-beaten path itinerary in the Jianshui countryside.