This village of western Guangdong province near the small town of Zhaoqing (肇庆) is known as the ‘Sky and Earth Bagua’ village. The term ‘bagua’ (八卦) refers to the eight trigrams of the Taoist philosophy. Trigrams are unique combination of three broken and/ or unbroken lines. Broken lines represent the Yin (阴) or female principle and broken lines the Yang (阳) or male principle. The trigrams represents the fundamental principles of reality and we usually see them around the Taiji symbol (太极图) also called the Yin and Yang symbol (阴阳图). In the ancient Chinese philosophical text the ‘Classic of Mutation‘ (known as Yi Jing 易经), the eight trigrams are combined into sixty-four hexagrams, but that’s another story.
The point is, the layout of Licha village (黎槎村) was designed to look like the Yin Yang symbol which reminds us that the planning of ancient Chinese towns and villages was sometimes inspired and shape by a set of complex philosophical ideas. The layout and ancient village of Huangyao (黄姚) in Guangxi and the ancient town of Shiping (石屏) are also deeply rooted in Taoism.
The village of Qian and Kun
Three unbroken lines represent the Sky (天 tian or 乾 qian) and are the quintessence of Yang (or male) energy, while three broken lines represent the Earth (地 di or 坤 kun) and are the essence of the Yin (or female) energy. At the origin, the Sky and the Earth were the fundamental principles. When the mated, the gave birth to everything in the world.
In the center of Licha, we find a Yin & Yang symbol on an elevated platform from which a carefully planned maze of narrow streets radiates. Unfortunately, you would have to fly to see the actual round shape of the village, but you get a sense of it, while walking around the village’s wall which is pierced by a dozen of gates each of them dedicated to a family clan.
A 800 year old village
Besides the octogonal layout, the architecture of the village is typical of the Lingnan region : most of the ancestral temples and a few houses have the classical wok-handle shaped roof, although I did not find the carved miniature scenes characteristics of Lingnan architecture.
According to history, the village of Licha was founded during the reign of emperor Jiading (1208-1224) of the Song Dynasty by a family named Zhou (周). During the Ming dynasty, two clans, the Su (苏) and the Cai (蔡) migrated from northeast Guangdong ‘s region of Nanxiong 南雄 and settled there. Later, other clans joined in.
When Matteo Ricci, the founder of western sinology and author of the first-ever Chinese dictionary, the Grand Ricci, was in Zhaoqing, Licha was probably a thriving village. It’s not exactly clear when people started moving out of Licha, but the village has been deserted … except for a few elderly villagers who pointed at me and called me ‘gweilo’ (傀佬), a derogatory Cantonese term which means ‘white ghosts’ and coined by ancient locals when the first saw how pale were the few foreigners who ventured in the region.
An abandoned village
While I was heading to the village, I did not expect it to be deserted. I thought that the Qian Kun Bagua village (乾坤八卦村), the “Sky and Earth Eight Trigrams village” (that’s how locals refers to Licha village) was a prosperous village. After all, its layout is a piece of Taoist cosmogony on earth. It embodies the careful balance between the Yin (female) and Yang (male) principles which in turns is supposed to foster harmony.
Licha is not exactly a ghost village. A few elderly people still live inside. Their presence is felt in the multiple ancestral halls (祠堂) where they regularly put incense sticks to burn and in the village’s gates which are all still adorned with couplets (对联) and protective talismans.
At the entrance of an ancestral hall, a stone plaque carved in 2005 tells me that most of the villagers have migrated to Australia and yet, they still send money for renovation and for the rituals to be performed regularly.
How to get there
From Guangzhou take Zhaoqing-bound (肇庆) from the city or the provincial bus station (by the old train station) or from Tianhe coach terminal.
In Zhaoqing, find your way to Qiaoxi bus station (桥西汽车站). Try and take a city bus, taxi drivers in this countryside towns are really crooks. From Qiaoxi, take bus 315 and ask the driver to let you off at Licha Bagua Cun (黎槎八卦村).
There is a 20 RMB entrance fee.