Off-the-beaten path in Yunnan : a trip to Zhengying village

Zhengying, Yunnan

Try and google ‘Shiping‘ (石屏) and the search engine will kindly ask you : “Did you mean shipping ?” Thank you google. I did mean Shiping. There is not much information available about this town of southern Yunnan, located just 40 minutes by bus west of Jianshui (建水).

For those who make it that far, here are a few places for travellers looking to explore off-the-beaten path places far from the crowds of tourists . West of Shiping, Baoxiu township (宝秀镇) used to be a Ming military stronghold. Around 600 years ago, soldiers were dispatched in the area. They founded twelve different villages in the plain around Chirui Lake. When the military presence faded away during the Qing dynasty, Baoxiu became a civilian township. Entrepreneurs involved in tin mining and scholars built courtyard mansions, temples and ancestral halls, most of them are still well-preserved today.

 

The Chen Clan Ancestral Hall (陈氏宗祠)

Chen Clan Ancestral Hall's middle palace.

Chen Clan Ancestral Hall’s middle palace.

Ancestor worship is an essential part of this untheologized religion that is Chinese folk religion. It takes different forms and, in areas where a certain family has lived there for generations and has become influential, an ancestral hall (祠堂 or 宗祠) is built.

There are in Zhengying village (郑营村) two main family clan : the Zheng (郑) and the Chen (陈). Nobody exactly knows when the Chen arrived in the region and from where they migrated from, but we know for sure that Chen Clan Ancestral Hall was built in 1925.

The ancestral hall is a large compound we enter through a massive stone gate. Once inside the compound, a lotus pond over which stretches a stone bridge leads to the middle hall. I was impressed by the unusual pastel green of hall which contrasted with the carmin red of the window covers and the wooden beam on which rest a delicately carved dougong (斗拱).

Behind the middle hall, an elevated stone platform and a flight of stairs guarded by two lions lead to the main ancestral hall, a two-story structure connected to pavilions on each side.

It seemed to me that the Chen ancestral hall has been secularised : the lattice gates of the halls are closed. The main hall was transformed into a museum about local culture and from one of the side pavilions, I could hear the sound of the mahjong tiles on the table.

 

The Zheng Clan Ancestral Hall 郑氏宗祠

Zhengying, Yunnan

A couple of hundred meters from the Chen family hall, the Zheng Clan ancestral hall is older. Some villagers say it was built during the Ming dynasty, but according to an inscription at the entrance of the temple, it was built much later, between the eighth and the twelfth years of emperor Guangxu’s reign (from 1882 to 1887).

The first member of the Zheng clan who ever settled in the village was the son of general from Zhejiang province (the province just south of Shanghai) who led a military expedition into Yunnan at the end of the 14th century. Stationed in Mengzi (around 200 km south-east of Shiping) is son, Zheng Yishun (郑以顺) migrated and settled in the village. The mountain behind the ancestral is also named after the Zheng family.

The day I visited the hall caretaker was nowhere to be found, but the fine carving and the gold-leaf plated carved dragons and a myriad of other auspicious animals like bats, phoenix, turtles and fish that ornate the dougong (the structure on wooden pillar on which rest the roof’s eaves) was worth the detour.

Pushing the wooden gates slightly open to take a sneak peak inside the hall, it seemed to me that, although it is classified as a protected historical building by the town of Shiping, the ancestral hall was abandoned.

 

The Chen Zhaidong Residence 陈载东民居

Zhengying, Yunnan

Between the Chen and Zheng clan ancestral hall, I was guided to the residence of a local native, Chen Zhaidong who built a massive stone and wood mansion with four courtyard and five sky-wells that act as patios.

Like the Chen family hall, it was built during the troubled time of the Republican era. The old man who brought from the ancestral hall to the Chen residence showed me were armed guards could fire at bandits (or whoever) from different locations within the house.

Empty and open for display (a young girl actually charged me 20 RMB for visiting both the Chen clan ancestral hall and the Chen Zhaidong residence), it is one of the most representative residence of the village specially since another one, the ancient residence of the Sima family (司马第), burnt recently.

The Xiushan Temple 秀山寺

Zhengying, Yunnan

Nested on a small plateau dominated by the Mount Xiu, the Xiushan temple is another wood and stone structure that was first built in the early Tang dynasty. It was then named the ‘True Awakening Temple’ (真觉寺). The name changed to Mount Xiu Temple (秀山寺) during the Ming dynasty. The temple was renovated and expanded during the eighth year of emperor Qianlong’s reign in 1743.

The main entrance on the hill side is dominated by a large statue of Maitreya (the laughing Buddha) beyond which, I discovered the classical succession of a front, middle and back pavilion accessible through several flights of stairs with, on the right and the left, side pavilions and a garden.

There is a 40 RMB entrance fee.

How to get there

Taxi from Shiping bus station
If you arrive by bus from Jianshui, you can negotiate a fare with a taxi driver directly at Shiping’s bus station. In this case, the best is to have the taxi driver wait for you while you visit.

Public transportation
The best is to have a local Shiping taxi to drive you to the corner of Huiyuan Road (汇源路) and Ciyan Street (紫砚街) where you’ll find green Baoxiu township-bound mini-van. It costs 5 RMB for the ride. Once in Baoxiu, change to a rickshaw to Zhengying village (郑营村) and ask the driver to go to the Chen clan ancestral hall (陈氏宗祠). Again ask him to wait for you because it’s hard to find rickshaws back to Baoxiu.

Note : the Xiushan temple is not located in Zhengying village, but around 5 kilometres on top of a hill. Driver will charge you extra to drive from Zhengying to the temple and back.