This is the fourth and last part about a one-day discovery trip around Baxin (坝心), a township between Shiping (石屏) and Jianshui (建水) in southern Yunnan’s Honghe prefecture (红河). Thanks to Master Wang, a skillful rickshaw driver the universe put on my path, I was able to see a few historical and architectural landmarks by the Yilong Lake (异龙湖) : the abandoned Huilan pavilion (洄澜阁), the secularised Guangyin temple (广胤寺) and visit some of Baxin historical courtyards.
After a lunch in Master Wang’s centuries-old courtyard house, we headed east over the fertile hills, towards the Huanglong temple (黄龙寺) to visit what remains of the villages of Xiao Gaotian (小高天) and Luzigou (芦子沟) – The Reeds Grove. Both are built on the hillside in a small valley which winds between Baxin township and Jianshui, east of the Yilong lake
Leaving the plains
Master Wang’s rickshaw raised a cloud of dust up on the dirt road, and in spite of the apparently green forested hills, an over-going drought had been tough on Yunnan’s farmers.
On our way to Luzigou (芦子沟), we stopped in the village, Xiao Gaotian (小高田). Master Wang explained that the farmers’ lifestyle was tough enough without the drought and many decided to pack their stuff and leave forever, tempting fate of a new future in nearby Shiping or Jianshui.
It was not a surprise to find a deserted and eerie-looking village. A bunch of inveterate villagers, however, had remained. A few of them have spent their life savings into the construction of new houses and are therefore reluctant to leave their property.
Protected and Decayed
We did not meet any souls while exploring this village made of stone and mud-bricks. Many of the village’s households are officially protected and listed as historical heritage by the Shiping County government.
The stone and mud houses of Xiao Gaotian are however not protected against abandonment and the decay caused by lack of money and maintenance. Some houses were abandoned only recently. There are still standing and boost superb dougong (斗拱). The dougong is a structure of wooden beams, which stretches horizontally (gong), supported by trapezoidal blocks (dou), on which rests the roof of a courtyard gate.
Other emptied out houses have been abandoned decades ago. Their mud-bricks are slowly collapsing and their inside are now just a forest of weed, rubbles and rotting wooden beams.
Western media have focused their attention on the new ghost towns of China, which are the results of the country’s wasteful construction push, but this village of Xiao Gaotian, like many other ghost villages in China, which have fallen victims to rural exodus, modernisation and urbanisation.
The courtyards of Luzigou
At the entrance of the village of Luzigou, by the gate, elderly men and women were sitting on stone benches in the shade. Master Wang sat with them while I was exploring the village under the summer sun.
Most of the buildings in Luzigou date back to the late Qing dynasty and the early years of the the Republican Era. Although the village is overall in the same state of neglect, I found that there were more people living there than in Xiao Gaotian.
The village is a true living art museum well worth the detour into this remote valley between Baxin and Jianshui. However, with the drought, the rural exodus of farmers attracted to improving their life by moving to the cities and towns, I was wondering whether, in ten years, there would be any building still standing in the village of Luzigou. Once elderly people have passed away, would the younger generation come back to these ancient courtyards?
As a foreigner who is deeply attracted by theses remote places and who enjoy venturing far away to find architectural gems like these ancient courtyards of Luzigou, I always have to face the locals to whom, these historical buildings are just old backward houses far from the amenities of contemporary China.
With the expansion of domestic tourism, there has been a growth of interest for China’s historical villages which have been renovated and upgraded to sustain tourist activities. But when historical buildings are conserved only to make a profit of them, aren’t they loosing their soul and their cultural value?
Is there a balance between preservation of historical heritage and its capitalisation? Does it make sense to renovate ancient crumbling houses just to maintain the historical legacy of a region and not just to profit from it?