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Anhui Communities of Meaning With Photos

Anhui Communities of Meaning With Photos

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Published by inomanalo
A travel essay by Ino Manalo discussing the many meanings of place as seen in a small Chinese village. With photos by the author.
A travel essay by Ino Manalo discussing the many meanings of place as seen in a small Chinese village. With photos by the author.

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Categories:Topics, Art & Design
Published by: inomanalo on Jul 27, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/25/2012

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Anhui: Communities of Meaning
Photos and Text by Ino ManaloWatching the movie
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
I was entranced by a scene where a number of combatants leap across a pond, their feet barely grazing the surface. I vividly recall that the pond wassurrounded by ancient houses whose dignified facades were reflected in the water. Later, when I saw anexhibition about the domestic architecture of Anhui and learned that the unforgettable movie sequencewas shot in a small community in this province, my resolve to visit the place grew.The opportunity finally came during a trip to Huangzhou with Liwayway/Oishi Corporation. Our hostsvery graciously agreed to arrange a side expedition to the ancient hamlets of nearby Anhui. Finally I wasgoing to see my pond. As it turned out , there was much more to discover than just this body of water.Two of the Anhui villages, Xidi and Hongcun have preserved their traditional structures so beautifullythat they were placed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. Now, being on the list actually has itspluses and minuses. On one hand, it brings glamour and recognition. On the other hand, the manyvisitors that show up may tax the carrying capacity of a site. Sometimes, there are even protests thattourists are displacing local residents.I wondered what the situation was like in Xidi and Hongcun. Did the houses still retain their originalstewards?
 
Walking around the time-polished lanes, I couldnt help thinking: what was it like to live here in the 19
th
 and early 20th centuries when these two villages were among the most prosperous in the land? Whatwas it like to go in and out of these homes, visit ones neighbors, buy a bucket from an itinerantsalesman?Though I was now a tourist examining what was essentially a heritage showcase, there was still so muchto discover and discern. Round a corner and one spies a broom propped against a wall, push open a gateand there is a courtyard with a canopy formed by delicate vines from which fruit are impossiblysuspended. Glancing through a doorway, I saw a violin lesson in progress. What amazed me was that themother was actually holding up the music piece for her young protégé. I felt like I was sharing in acherished album, or witnessing the unscrolling of a fragile painting.
 
 Little by little, fleeting moments of insight were thrown in my path, perhaps in jest, perhaps as anearnest invitation to explore further.I began to understand that the way traditional dwellings were designed and even the manner that theywere distributed on the terrain could be read as virtual guides or maps. These helped instruct residentson the gentle art of living. As one writer has pointed out: the Chinese residence is structured to shapefamily organization and to weave the web of social and ethical norms that linked the household to theworld beyond. Likewise, these jumbles of alleys and walkways that I was negotiating followed patterns that werehonored and repeated all across the realm. Hongcun and Xidi were both sited so that they wereembraced by water and buttressed by solid mountains. This is a feng shui specification that one will seeeven at the Forbidden City in Beijing, countless leagues to the north. As above, so below  such it hasbeen and always will be for the Celestial Empire.The lay-out of Hongcun itself is said to resemble a cow. Forming the head is the hill at one end with itstwo tall trees representing horns. The four bridges are the legs while the canals that circulatethroughout the town are likened to intestines and veins. At the very center is the Moon Pond of 
Crouching Tiger 
fame. This is considered the cows stomach.

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