When I arrived in Banliang 板梁古村, I realized that I passed by this old village several times. Indeed, just two hundred meters from the village, the elevated concrete bridge of the Guangzhou – Beijing high-speed line cuts through the countryside. Every 10 to 15 minutes, the sound of the bullet trains slams into Banliang for a couple of seconds. This sounds rhymes with China’s modernization, yet Banliang is an incredibly quiet village steeped in history.
A Triple Star for Banliang
Driving on the old road from Chenzhou 郴州, it’s hard to miss the brown road signs which give directions to Banliang. I feared that the village would be a major tourist attraction with an expensive entrance fees and which streets would have been transformed into a shopping mall. According to the Chinese government system of rating historical and tourist sites, Banliang received a 3-A ratings (on a maximum of 5) and is also under the protection of Hunan province.
Yet, Banliang remains out China’s tourism industry. At the entrance of the village an old man is flabbergasted by the presence of this foreigner. I tried and break the ice with a ‘ni hao’ (hello), a bright smile appears on his face. After asserting that my knowledge of Chinese goes beyond ‘ni hao’, he started explaining to me that there were three half-moon shaped ponds in the village and that they matched by three hills behind the village. He went on and quoted from the Classic of the Tao and Vertue : ‘One gives birth to two, two to three, and three to the 10’000 things’.
A 600-year old village
The man explained that Banliang was founded during the Ming dynasty and that it is 600 years old. Most houses in the village have been surveyed: a small plaque nailed on the courtyard door gives information like the name of the owner, the era during which the structure was built, and the construction materials used. Most of the houses were built during the Qing dynasty (1644 – 1911), meaning they are between 350 and 100 years old.
In a state of semi-abandonment
According to a lady I struck conversation with during my exploration of Banliang said there are roughly 300 houses and that only 2000 people in the village. While some of them are still meticulously kept by their owners, others have been abandoned a long time ago. Their owners left the hardship of farmer’s life behind to go and work to the city, either in Changsha or in Guangzhou. They also left behind historical houses which wooden structures is slowly decaying with the humidity and crumbling away.
Going inside the houses
Many houses are marked with the character ‘di’ 第, a sign that during the Ming and Qing dynasties they were the homes of candidates to the imperial examination or of local government officials. Locals will welcome you for a visit. It’s only inside that one realizes the treasures hidden in these houses articulated around a sky well. The patterns of the window covers and the wood and stone carvings that I found inside were a real treat of this rural exploration.
Fans of rural exploration (rures), Chinese history, semi-abandoned village, off-the-beaten path destinations and photography (like me) will definitely find the village very appealing. With the high-speed train being so close to the village, it’s relatively easy to organize a day trip from Changsha or Guangzhou.
How to get there
The ancient village Banliang 板梁古村 is situated in Yongxing Township 永兴镇, Gaoting county 高亭乡 just 40 km north of Chenzhou 郴州 in southern Hunan province. Chenzhou is located on the high speed rail line between Changsha (Hunan) and Shaoguan (north Guangdong)
There are frequent high speed trains that runs between Changsha and Chenzhou or between Guangzhou South – Shaoguan and Chenzhou (almost every 15 to 20 min).
From Chenzhou high speed rail station, you can either take a bus to Chenzhou bus station (郴州汽车站) where you switch to a local bus heading towards Matian Township (马田镇), 30 to 40 km north. In Matian, you will have to hire a mini-van or motorcycle to drive you the village as there is no public transportation.