In the heart of Baxin | The Huilan Pavilion

If you travel by bus between Shiping (石屏) and Jianshui (建水), the driver may drop a few passengers in the township of Baxin (坝心).

A few hundred meters passed the toll gate, the small bus station is a small waiting room where a few sleepy passengers wait on orange and blue plastic chairs. Beyond the bus station, it’s an imbroglio of uninviting concrete houses. Yet, there are a few gems to discover in Baxin (坝心) and the first stop is the Huilan Pavilion (洄澜阁).

The Huilan Pavilion in Baxin, Honghe prefecture, Yunnan

The Huilan Pavilion in Baxin, Honghe prefecture, Yunnan

Unravelling Baxin : dams, dragons and swelling waters

In China, places’ names always tell a story and looking at etymology is always an interesting exercise. 

The name of Baxin (坝心) was intriguing. The word ba means ’embankment’ or ‘dam’ and xin means ‘heart’. Baxin township is located on the eastern shore of the Yilong Lake (异龙湖) which can be translated into the ‘Extraordinary (异) Dragon (龙)’ Lake. 

In an ancient Chinese book, the Guwen Guanzhi (古文观止), we learn that when dragons breath, they create clouds (龍噓氣成雲), which in turns create lighting and rain. Not far away, the Yellow Dragon Temple (黄龙寺) remind us that a long time ago, the region was a desolate and barren land. After a yellow dragon appeared in the sky, it rained for days and the soil become fertile. The temple was built to honour the dragon. 

The Huilan Pavilion in Baxin, Honghe prefecture, Yunnan

The Huilan Pavilion in Baxin, Honghe prefecture, Yunnan

The Huilan Pavilion was originally built in 1775 during the reign of emperor Qianlong (乾隆) of the Qing dynasty and was situated on the shores of the Yilong Lake. Under the pavilion, there is arched stone structure which was used as a device to regulate and adjust the stream of water flowing into the Jianshui plains.

The name itself points to this function of water regulation. The character ‘hui’ 洄 means ‘whirling of water’ or ‘to go against the current’ (etymologically, water 氵returning 回 ) and 澜 means ‘swelling waters’. Locals calls it the ‘dam that blocks the waters [from the Yilong Lake]’ or 拦水坝.

Damaged by heavy rains during the reign of emperor Tongzhi (同治) around 1860-1870. It was rebuilt in 1902. More than a century later, the Huilan Pavilion water regulating device is cloaked and with the waters receding, it is no longer on the shores of the Yilong Lake.

Today, it is a relatively well-preserved historical building, the octagonal central pavilion of the third floor and the overall architecture reminiscent of the Double-Dragon Bridge makes it an architectural wonder of Yunnan. 

The Huilan Pavilion in Baxin, Honghe prefecture, Yunnan

The Huilan Pavilion in Baxin, Honghe prefecture, Yunnan

Abandoned and locked away near the ancient railroad that linked Shiping (石屏) to Mengzi (蒙自) via Jianshui’s countryside where we can still see an old railway station on the line near the village of Xianghui (乡会), the Huilan pavilion kept its secrets. 

Disappointed I could not enter, I was compelled to admire the structure on the outside. Facing one of the gate, the painted dougong (斗拱), this structure of wooden beams, which stretches horizontally (gong), supported by trapezoidal blocks (dou), reminded me of the courtyards I saw in Baoxiu Township (宝秀镇).

The Huilan Pavilion in Baxin, Honghe prefecture, Yunnan - detail of the dougong.

The Huilan Pavilion in Baxin, Honghe prefecture, Yunnan – detail of the dougong.

Architecturally, there are striking similarities between the Huilan Pavilion and the main pavilion of the Double-Dragon bridge (双龙桥), one of Jianshui’s most notable attraction.

But beyond architecture, the folklore and local legends telling stories of dragons and swelling waters irremediably link these places together. 

The Huilan Pavilion in Baxin, Honghe prefecture, Yunnan

The Huilan Pavilion in Baxin, Honghe prefecture, Yunnan

Venturing into Baxin and beyond | Master Wang

I owe this journey to the Huilan Pavilion and the discovery of other places in the region to Master Wang and his tuk tuk. The Huilan Pavilion was just one stop along a longer journey into the heart of Baxin, check out these other posts about the Guangyin Temple of Longgang village, the ancient courtyard houses, similar to those of Baoxiu (宝秀), that Master Wang showed me and finally, we will drive in the mountains between Baxin and Jianshui and see what gems remain hidden in the village of Luzigou.

Master Wang, day-dreaming on his tuk-tuk.

Master Wang, day-dreaming on his tuk-tuk.