Exactly one year ago in May 2014, I was visiting Lushi 鲁史, an off-the-beaten path mountain village nestled in the middle of the Wuliang mountain of Yunnan province. In the past, tea produced in the fields near the village, found its way on the ancient Tea and Horse Road (茶马古道).
The trip from Dali (大理) lasted almost forever. From Xiaguan, I took a bus to Fengqing (凤庆), a small modern town in Lincang prefecture. After a six-hour bus ride, I was stuck in Fengqing for the night : buses to Lushi leave only in the morning. The next day, I was on the first bus to Lushi 鲁史 and I arrive to my destination after crossing the Salween River and sitting another three hours on a windy mountain road.
The old village of Lushi is built on the mountain side right below the main road and the new village. There is steep path near the bus station which offers stunning view over the tiled roofs overlooking the valley nestled in the Wuliang mountain range.
Although the old village is overall well-preserved, I was amazed to see in the main street that there was a mix between centuries-old houses, crumbling structure and houses which had obviously be recently renovated with contemporary construction materials.
I had the strong feeling that Lushi was at the crossroad between its own past and contemporary China. In spite of all the cables hanging around in the village, when I was looking at the cobble-stone and slab-stone stairs, the ancient courtyard gates made of wood, rammed earth and mud-bricks, I felt like I was stepping in another era.
HARDSHIPS OF RURAL LIFE
Most of the villagers still depend on agriculture and on tea production to make a living. During the weekly market held in the main streets of the new village, women buy groceries they stack in these large woven baskets they carry with a flat belt-like cord around their forehead.
At first, all this massive amount of cables which stretch across the street from one pole to another bothered me a little bit. I felt like they was ‘spoiling’ my experience of another China, a China that still delves in the past. I just had to go with the flow, admit that people also need electricity and that I had to learn to embrace them.
MODERNITY IS CATCHING UPAlthough the village is fairly remote, the main town of Fengqing is three hours away, there was an entire area of the village, including Lushi’s centuries-old temple that had been levelled. Locals, men and women, were busy carrying bricks, earth, stone for the construction company.
Lushi has plenty of amazing and sometimes hidden courtyards. If it was wasn’t for the cables, it would really feel like I got myself lost back in time.