More than 10,000 years ago, the land of Hunan began to be cultivated with rice. Over the span of years, living side by side in a simple and plain life, Hunan people turned the rich soil into a fertile land of fish and rice by the sweat of their own brow. With the ups and downs brought about by time, those once lively and busy villages have gone into decline or disappeared, leaving only historical memories in bits and pieces. Following the issue of A Journey to Explore the Ancient Business Towns, the current one, Approaching the Ancient Villages in Hunan will appear in the column of Hunan Geography at Hunan Provincial Government¨s English Portal Website and in Xiaoxiang Morning Herald. Just follow us to trace back the bygone flourishing times.
Starting off from the capital city of Hunan Province to Taoyuan County, Changde City and walking west along the Yuanjiang River to Longtouan Town, Chenxi County, then going to the southeast, you won¨t miss Wubaotian Village, 6 kilometers away from Yuanjiang River. With the total area of 70,000 square meters and the construction area of ancient buildings 20,000 square meters, the village boasts of 110 households and 400-odd residents, 37 lanes built from the period of the late Qing Dynasty and the Republican Period, as well as 36 well-preserved ancient houses.
The origin of the name Wubaotian is derived from a story. During the reign of Emperor Kangxi of the Qing Dynasty, a man called Xiao Zhouan, settled down with his families in a mountainous area situated at the intersection of the three counties of Chenxi, Xupu and Zhongfang. There were 5 small mounds shaped in gold ingot around the place where they live, hence the name Wubaotian (in Chinese, wu:( means) five, bao: precious, tian: field, mounds).
Duing the reign of Emperor Daoguang, the descendents of Xiao Zhou¨an employed many skilled craftsmen coming from Baoqing (nowadays called Shaoyang) to build a large number of magnificent villas and grand houses.
  • Xiao family was extremely rich and could easily afford a home in places enjoying convenient transportation, such as the Yuanjiang riverside or roadside. But it surprisingly chose Wubaotian which was surrounded by mountains as the location of its settlement. It was also beyond the expectations that a large amount of money was spent on building a large and spectacular villa with fire seal. After examining carefully about the structure of the villa, it is easy to find the clues of the purposes of defending itself from bandits, thieves and fire. Tracing back its history, it was built during the period of wars. In light of the two facts stated above, the idea of Xiao family to live a life without getting involved into wars and outside troubles was quite obvious.
  • Entering the compound of the local dwelling house, you will find that blue slate stone was used as the paving material for the laneway and the courtyard. And the doorway and the doorframe were carved out of the local produced stone marble and jade bamboo stone. According to custom, it¨s not allowed for the passers-by to walk into the court.
Across from the residential area of Wubaotian stands a unique building, called Gengdu Center (Center of Cultivation). It was once the place for the Clan of Xiao families to practice education. Though 300-plus years has passed, the cornice and rake angle over the wall, the blue bricks and gray tiles, and beam columns are still existing. Inside Gengdu Center, there are such facilities as garden, playground and so on apart from the main structure, Baofeng Building.
  • Four Chinese characters , which literally means three surpluses, and the remainder three, were written on all of the doors of the Center. Three surpluses¨ connotes that farmers should work hard in spring, summer and autumn to prepare for the demands in winter, to work hard in sunny days in case of rainy days, and to labor in daytime for the needs at night. The remainder three¨implies that of all the grain obtained in three years, an amount of grain to be consumed for another year should be kept, and in nine years, the grain for three more years kept. Why is it necessary for the farmers to set aside surplus grain? That is to take precautions in case of natural disasters and other catastrophes.
  • IIn front of the Center, a couple of children were playing with a swing made of bamboo. When seeing someone taking photos of the playing scene, Zhai Bihua at the age of 80 years old, volunteered to show the children how to play with the swing. Accompanied by other grannies and their grandsons, she stood on the swing.
    One and two minutes after a few of swings, Granny Zhai was in the air as high as at least 3 meters above the ground. On seeing this, everybody¨s heart flied into their mouths.
Today the villagers in Wubaotian still keep the traditional eating habits passed down over several hundred years ago.
  • This is the traditional snack there made of rice.
  • The self-made smoked meat has also become scenery of every household in winter time.
  • When winter comes, almost every household falls precisely together with one another to make Tofu (bean curd) and then treats it with smoke. The smoked Tofu is a local specialty for the Spring Festival.
Time went by slowly over the past 300 years, but small changes have taken place in Wubaotian. The changed and unchanged, the worldly affair and idyllic scenery coexist in a harmonious combination here. Once you approach the place, you won¨t depart without great admiration.
  • Photos taken by Ma Jinhui
  • Tanslated by Liu Pingbo
  • Chinese script edited by Zang Jie
  • Designed by Yang Lu, Miao Lin
English Edited by Qiu Xian & Pang Yuehui