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China’s Fenghuang Ancient City: Remarkable example of what villages were like prior to modernization

David Goran

Situated on the western boundary of Hunan Province, Fenghuang County  is an old town built in the Qing Dynasty, praised as “the Most Beautiful Town in China”.

The town is surrounded by numerous mountains and girdled by the Tuojiang River and over half of the city’s population belong to the Miao or Tujia minorities.

laid out in a remote mountain area. Photo Ctedit

It is located in a remote mountain area. Photo Credit

 

The door to the government office built in the 1920s. The writing on top of the door reads “Fenghuang County“. Photo Ctedit

The door to the government office, built in the 1920s. The writing on top of the door reads “Fenghuang County“. Photo Credit

 

A well-preserved town, untouched by modernization. Photo Ctedit

A well-preserved town, untouched by modernization. After 1913, the name of the town changed from Zhen’gan to Fenghuang. Photo Credit

 

It was built in 1704, and has 300 years of history. Photo Ctedit

Regarded as the most beautiful town in China. It was built in 1704 and has 300 years of history. Photo Credit

 

The ancient city is a gathering place for Miao and Tujia ethnic minority. Photo Ctedit

A gathering place for Miao and Tujia ethnic minority. Photo Credit

 

Fenghuang enjoys high reputation among tourists and is considered the most charming town in China. Photo Ctedit

Fenghuang enjoys high reputation among tourists and is considered the most charming town in China. Photo Credit

It is small town renowned for its natural beauty, rich history, and culture, colorful ethnic customs, as well as many distinctive architectural remains of Ming (14th century) and Qing (17th century) styles. The town still keeps much of its original appearance even after 300 years, and it’s a wonderful example of what villages were like prior to the onset of modernization.

‘Fenghuang’ is Chinese for ‘Phoenix’, the mythical sacred firebird in Chinese mythology that reign over all other birds. According to legend, two of these mythical birds, representing good omen and longevity, flew over it and found the town.

The design keeps the buildings safe from the spring floods. Photo Ctedit

An exceptionally well-preserved ancient town with typical architectural remains of Ming and Qing styles. The design keeps the buildings safe from the spring floods. Photo Credit

 

Rowboata is one of the main means of transportation. Photo Ctedit

Rowboats are one of the main means of transportation. Photo Credit

The town has more than 20 ancient streets, dozens of ancient lanes and passages, and over 200 ancient civil residences here, including the Wengchen Pavilion, Huang Si Qiao Castle, Tian Wang Temple, Da Cheng Hall, Chao Yang Palace, and the tomb of Shen Congwen and the residence of Xiong Xiling.

Shen Congwen (1902-1988) was a versatile writer who wrote stories and essays about his hometown along the western border of Hunan Province and who contributed greatly to the development of modern Chinese literature. He is highly respected by the local people, and the one time home and the tomb of this famous writer have become tourist attractions.

 

Fenghuang City is renowned for its splendid Miao culture, especially the Miao-style stilted houses. Photo Ctedit

Fenghuang City is renowned for its splendid Miao culture, especially the Miao-style stilted houses. Photo Credit

 

Timber structured stilt houses line along the river. Photo Ctedit

Timber structured stilt houses line along the river. Photo Credit

 

The houses are constructed as two or three-story structure supported by heavy columns standing stilted on the ground. Photo Ctedit

The houses are constructed as two or three-story structure supported by heavy columns standing stilted on the ground. Photo Credit

The bridges over the water and unique houses built on stilts display a harmony that is so often portrayed in traditional Chinese paintings. The Miao people began to live there in the Qing Dynasty.

Most of the wooden buildings in the old part of the city were constructed during that time period. These wooden houses highlight the local Miao people’s knowledge of the surrounding environment and unique climate.

These houses are demonstrating the superb art of architecture of local Miao ethnic group. Photo Ctedit

These houses are demonstrating the superb art of architecture of local Miao ethnic group. Photo Credit

 

Added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on March 28, 2008. Photo Ctedit

Added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List on March 28, 2008. Photo Credit

 

From the Miao people uprising in 1795 to the Getun uprising in 1937, there happened dozens of wars, none of which affected the town. Photo Ctedit

Stone streets. Photo Credit

The riverside setting of the village, with its wooden stilt houses and narrow mysterious back alleys, makes it one of the most attractive places in the region.

Read another story from us: 30 Amazing Ancient Ruins and historical sites from all around the world

Because of its unique geographical location, Fenghuang has not suffered from the destruction of wars or natural disasters in hundreds of years. On March 28, 2008, the town was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Tentative List in the Cultural category.