Western Yunnan | A walk through the ancient village of Yiluo

Yiluo, Tengchong, Yunnan

The village of Yiluo (绮罗) is slowly being swallowed up by Tengchong‘s urban sprawl and with locals upgrading their ancient courtyards into modern brick and concrete houses, the village looks as though it was just another Chinese village in the outskirts of an expanding town.

A stroll through the village shows us otherwise …

Morning market in Yiluo

Morning market in Yiluo

Yiluo has a morning market, most days, on the main street that leads to the library (绮罗图书馆). It’s a village market that is not nearly as impressive as Tengchong market which happens every 4 to 5 days. Look up the YunnanExplorer website under Baoshan to check when it’s market day in Tengchong.

From Heshun to Yiluo

Yiluo (绮罗) is the forgotten twin sister of Heshun (和顺). Both villages have a similar history, but Heshun is peaking in popularity and has become one of the main reason why people come to this region of western Yunnan.

If you speak Chinese and have the opportunity to talk with older people in the village, you’ll soon realize that Yiluo and its population stands out. Before WWII, a lot of locals were involved in trade. Young entrepreneurs and adventure-seekers from the village had been traveling on the trade routes. They had made their way into Burma, India, Tibet or even Thailand where they had established a networks and some of them had become rich.

A Communist star on Yiluo's adobe walls.

A Communist star on Yiluo’s adobe walls.

During WWII, Japanese made their way into Western Yunnan and occupied most of the region west of the Salween River. Those traders from Yiluo were sending money to fight the Japanese, they used their network and the trade routes to send much needed supply to contribute to the war effort.

After the Chinese Revolution, these Yiluo merchants either fled abroad or stay abroad. With the new Communist rule, staying in , or coming back to, China meant a certain death. It’s only after the death of Mao and the beginning of the economic reforms of the 1980s that some of them came back to their hometown and gave back to the community.

The Library

Yiluo, Tengchong, Yunnan

The entrance to Yiluo Library

Yiluo is also one of the rare village of rural China where you will find a library. Built in 1919 with the money sent by the native merchants who had followed the trade routes into Southeast Asia where they established their business, Yiluo library (绮罗图书馆) shows Han Chinese settlers in the region their commitment to give their children a formal education (let’s not forget that in the 1920, Tengchong belonged to a wild western Yunnan remote from the nearest center of Han civilization – Kunming).

Yiluo, Tengchong, Yunnan

Today, Yiluo Library houses the village’s elderly people activity center and if the main door is open, there is probably a bunch of friendly ladies who play a cricket-like game in the library courtyard. Pop in to say hello.

The Wenchang Palace

One of the greatest building of the village and perhaps one of the most impressive structure ever found in a village the size of Yiluo is the Wenchang Palace (文昌宫), the temple dedicated the god of literature and culture. It also one of my biggest disappointment because each time I went, it was closed. Although renovation work was complete recently, it seems that the local government does not want anyone inside for some time … and it’s a pity.

Build before the last years of the Ming dynasty in 1609 and expanded twice during the Qing dynasty, the Wenchang Palace was listed as an important cultural relic at the provincial level.

Different views of Yiluo's Wenchang Palace

Different views of Yiluo’s Wenchang Palace

The two characters on the main gate 孝 (xiao) and 忠 (zhong) stand for ‘filial piety’ and ‘loyalty’ or ‘devotion’ which are central to Confucianism. From the side of the building, we can catch a glimpse at the geomantic ponds in the courtyard, the stone bridge which leads the main central gate flanked with a side hall on each side and the geometry which characterizes the Chinese temples.

The Shuiying Temple

Yiluo, Tengchong, Yunnan

When facing the gate, go left and walk around the Wenchang Palace along the canal. If you keep walking, you will see a red castle-like structure which sits at the bottom of a forested hill, it’s the Shuiying Temple (水映寺), our last stop in this discovery walk of Yiluo.

The Shuiying temple is a quite and simple zen (禅) Buddhist temple with a central hall dedicated to Buddhist saints (or arhat), and side halls dedicated to Guanyin, Maitreya, the money god (财神) and also a small room where the different monks and temple caretakers are honored.

My favorite part of the temple is the pavilion dedicated to the Jade Emperor which sits on the hill atop a flight of steep stone stairs. The beautiful carved door features a dragon flying in the clouds. It feels as though it is going to leave its immobility to fly away.

Yiluo, Tengchong, Yunnan

Next step

When you want to leave Yiluo, you can walk back to the upper village, by the Yiluo Hotel on the main road and catch the bus #2 back to Tengchong (腾冲) where you take a cab to go to Heshun (和顺), head to Lianghe (梁河) – your first stop on your Dehong itinerary.

Finally, for those who speak Chinese and wonder whether I transcribe Yiluo instead of Qiluo : well, it seems that’s the way the character 绮 is pronounced locally.

Yiluo, Tengchong, Yunnan