On the road less traveled : the village of Qinshiyuan, Guangxi

Qinshiyuan, Guangxi

In my pursuit of off-the-beaten-path ancient and ethnic villages, like most travellers, I rely on tourist guide books in both English and Chinese language.

With the development of mass tourism in China, the construction of highways, airports and high-speed rail network, villages that used to be remote are now within a couple of hours from urban dwellers. Many historical villages I have visited are not remote anymore and are becoming tourist traps.

Fortunately, I sometimes stumble upon a hidden gem here and there. The ancient village of Qinshiyuan (秦氏园) is one of them.

In one of these Chinese tourist guides, I read about the old town of Xing’an (兴安古镇), northeast of Guilin. After a short bus ride from Guilin north bus station, I arrived in Xing’an and started asking locals about their old town. People kept telling me there was no old town and no part of their town had ancient buildings. When I asked one last taxi driver, he told me it would cost 80 RMB to get there.

Off I went, even without bargaining. After 45 minutes on a bumpy mountain road, we arrived in an ancient village. It was not the old town of Xing’an. It did not really matter.

The descendants of Qin Shubao

Qinshiyuan, Guangxi

I found the villagers busy in their daily life. Nobody paid attention to the presence of a foreigner.

“What is the name of this village?” I asked my driver. “Qinshiyuan” he said.
“How do you spell it?”, I needed to visualize the Chinese characters in my head.
“It’s the Qin of Qin Shubao [秦叔宝], the Shi of Shizu [氏族 – family clan ] and the Yuan of Jiayuan [家园 – garden, courtyard]”, he replied.
Qin Shubao, the Tang dynasty general? You mean, the ‘Door Guardian’ (门神)?”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s it! People here claim they are the descendants of Qin Shubao”.

The name of the village Qinshiyuan (秦氏园) means literally, the “Garden of the Qin family clan”. And if you are still wondering who is that Qin Shubao guy, he was a general from the Tang dynasty (618-907) who protected the door of emperor Taizong with Yuchi Jingde. They both became ‘door gods’ in Chinese folk religion. Qin Shubao is traditionally on the left.

One courtyard left

Qinshiyuan, Guangxi

There are approximately 100 houses in the village, however, only 15 to 20 of them are still intact. Only one walled courtyard in which the different houses are set in a chessboard-like layout has been preserved. The other villagers have torn down and rebuilt their houses with contemporary construction materials.

“My house is 300 to 400 years old” said a villager who was listening my conversation with the driver. “Over there, there are some houses that are even older than that”. Indeed, on one stone house, an inscription explains that the house was built during the 13th year of the reign of emperor Hongwu (洪武) of the Ming which is a Chinese way to say the year 1381.

Most of the other houses have been built between during the late Ming to the mid-Qing dynasty. It seems that at some point during the reign of emperor Kangxi  (康熙) of the Qing (1662-1722), parts of the village were destroyed because of a local war and was rebuilt with the benediction of emperor Jiaqing (嘉庆) (1796-1820).

Skywells, altars and antiques

Qinshiyuan, Guangxi

I don’t always enter into people’s house to take pictures, but villagers are aware they are living into what basically is a museum.

One enters the house through a stone gate topped by four Chinese characters in the ‘seal style’ or zhuan shu (篆书), of one the five major calligraphy style.

Beyond, there is a one-story house. The kitchen and living quarters are articulated around a sky-well. Every house has a simple altar dedicated to the family ancestors. The households’ altars used to be more elaborated, but at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution, during the “Destruction of the Old Four” campaign (破四旧运动), they were deemed superstitious and destroyed. Ironically, many households still have portraits of Mao Zedong hanging near the altar to the ancestors. Something I find ironic.

Each house is home to inestimable antiques whether it is furniture, ancient stone mills discarded by the kitchen, window cover with elaborated and rare patterns or carved beams.

Will Qinshiyuan ever be the same again?

Qinshiyuan, Guangxi

Architecturally speaking, Qinshiyuan is a gem. The villagers are aware of that. Some have had to sell a carved beam or other antiques to make quick money during tough times.

Many villagers have left the village. Life is hard in the countryside and some have decided to try their chance in the cities. The house they have left behind abandoned and closed forever are slowly turning into ruins.

I think it is a sad thing that some villagers had decide to destroy these century old houses and built a new one out of contemporary construction materials with electricity and plumbing. We can’t blame them for wanting to improve their living conditions. Improving living standards and making money is a state-sanctioned goal for every Chinese citizens.

In the eyes of the villagers, these houses, in spite of their history and historical value are just an old pile of stone and wood.

There are 15 comments

    1. Gaetan

      The best I could find was that the movie was shot in Beijing, in and around Guilin (probably Xingping and in some of the caves) and around Sanjiang. No reference to any specific villages though.

  1. Petr Vrána

    Hi Gaetan, first of all, thank you for your GREAT!!! blog. Next, we went to the 秦家大院 (that’s the touristic name of the village, the official name of the village is 水源头) last month (November 2015) and it was excellent. It’s one of the best authentic villages I’ve ever seen so far. I wrote an article about the old village: http://www.laoma.cz/blog/2015/11/30/starobyla-osada-klanu-qin/ – only in Czech, sorry, but there’re some photos and short video. We stayed in the one of the villagers’ house for the night, great experience. The taxi driver from 兴安北站 (the high-railway station) wanted 100 RMB, why not, it’s quite far from the station. Anyway, great tip and great trip, thank you!

    1. Gaetan

      Hi Petr! Yes, Qinshiyuan is a very interesting, very remote and the 100 RMB for the taxi ride is a very good price. It’s a very remote village.
      I’m glad that you’ve also been able to go there thanks to my blog 😉

    1. Gaetan

      Tara, thank you for your comment. Only one walled courtyard has survived (the one I took pictures of). In the rest of the village, there are new houses made of bricks and concrete, like in any other Chinese village. I am sure when you visited a long time ago, these new constructions were not there. Lucky you!

  2. sbandtg

    gaetan — thank you for your lovely blog; i’m very glad i came across it. i am about to leave china this saturday, sadly, after spending seven months here. it is hard to believe i felt indifferent to the country for most of my stay. i can now continue to live vicariously in this country, through your website. one of my favourite things to do in china, when i have had the time, has been to travel to older parts of the country. –tamar

    1. Gaetan

      Tamar – Thank you very much for reading my blog. I am glad you like it. Sorry to hear that you have to leave China. I am sure you will come back. China has so much to teach us and offer. Thirteen years ago, when I left China for the first time after three months of traveling, I felt sad I told myself I would come back, and now it seems I can’t leave.
      I am sure that going back to your home country feel like a ‘cultural shock’ after spending so much time in China. I wish you all the best and hope you’ll get to come back and travel more. There are so many amazing places to discover here. All the best to you.

  3. Rohan Pavgi

    Wonderful Article and Photos! the feeling of exploring such places is very unique. Marked for my future trip to China! and Thanks for this discovery. Happy travel!

  4. Zhu Rou

    This is a great blog! I came across an article about an ancient village called Banliang, near Chenzhou that may be of interest to you, should you visit Hunan Province in the future.

    1. Gaetan

      Thank you very much. I just visited the website you sent me. Are you from Chenzhou region? I was planning to visit the Rucheng old town (汝城). Have you been there?

      1. Zhu Rou

        No, part of my family is from Guangdong. The house that my family lived in is now a shopping mall. We also had a house in Penang, Malaysia whereupon a Starbuck now stands. I’ve seen some old family photos which stimulated my interest in ancient chinese villages. Keep up the good work. I know it can be quite difficult and stressful travelling through China by local transportation, but I’m sure when you look back it will be quite rewarding and worth all the troubles you had to endure.

  5. Olivier Yoan

    Hi ! We are actually right now in Longshen and very disappointed by the amount of tourists we are finding around here, we would be thrilled to go ( me, my sister and my niece ) visit this village but do you think it would be hard considering we do not speack ( or very little for my part) chinese ?
    Very insightful article, thanks a lot !

    1. Gaetan

      Olivier, I went to Longsheng 10 years ago when there was nothing yet. Two weeks ago, I was seating on a bus and we drove pass by and I saw the gate to Longsheng and I am glad I did not stop. I wonder what it looks like now. But I am not surprised, Longsheng is so close to Guilin and Yangshuo where there are many tour operators sending buses directly.
      Well, going to Qinshiyuan will be quite hard if you don’t speak Chinese. Some of the taxi drivers in Xing’an do not even know where it is.
      Since you are in Longsheng, I would advise that you guys go to Chengyang, a cluster of Dong villages. It is a tourist spot, but when I went, hardly saw anyone – there were a few buses of Chinese tourists, but they leave at the end of afternoon. And it’s still low season. Also, since it’s further up in the province and further from Guilin, you won’t have the Guilin and Yangshuo crowd. Take a bus to Sanjiang (it should be another 1.5 hours from Longsheng) and from Sanjiang (you will probably arrive in Hedong station – take a tuk tuk for 5 RMB to Hexi station) and take a mini-van to Chengyang 8 RMB. There is an entrance fee (60 RMB), but the bridge at the entrance will wow you.
      You can read the full article https://travelcathay.com/2013/11/15/travelers-guide-chengyang/
      From Sanjiang, you can go up to Guizhou. There is a bus every hour to Congjiang (where you can visit Basha, Gaozeng and Xiaohuang) or Zhaoxing.
      Hope this helps. You can write me an email through my contact page if you need more info. Don’t hesitate.

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