Qiantong Ancient Town
Qiantong Ancient Town is a special ancient town in the south of the Yangtze River. A half hour's drive from Ninghai County in east China's Zhejiang province, Qiantong Ancient Town is wedged between two mountains. About 10 km from Ninghai City, transportation to Qiantong Ancient Town is convenient because Yong-Tai-Wen Expressway has an exit nearby.
Recorded in the opening pages of a journal by Xu Xiake, the great Chinese travel writer and geographer in the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), Qiantong Ancient Town has become a popular destination for tourists today.
For more than 780 years, the Tong’s offspring have lived in this place. The village grew from a family clan surnamed Tong, whose ancestors moved there in 1228 AD. During Southern Song Shaoding period, the first immigrant Tong Huang, whose position is Di Gonglong (vice 9th Government officer level in ancient China), accidently found this “precious location on geomancy” with the feature of “being embraced by mountains and water while being unobstructed with good geomantic omen” during a journey, so his family immigrated from Huangyan, Taizhou to this place.
Among the 2000 households, 80% of them have “Tong” as the surname. As it is located in front of Baixi River, it is so named Qiantong (“Qian” means “Before”). The water from the Baixi River enters into the village along the channel and winds its course door to door. All households connect with the flowing water in this small village along small zigzag gravel paths.
The general layout of the township is in accordance with the Chinese concepts of Yin and Yang. The houses and ancestral halls are enclosed with layers of roads. Residential buildings, colleges, and ancestral halls respectively have their own grace. The Old Street Pavilion and the Church Pavilion add radiance and beauty to each other.
Qiantong Ancient Town is a special original appearance of folk houses of Ming and Qing dynasties in South China, which was built in the end of Song Dynasty and became popular in Ming and Qing dynasties. In the ancient town, there are 157 courtyards with dark bluish tiles and pink and white walls with residential houses a unique eastern Zhejiang style. Many of the old houses maintain their original architectural appearances as in the Ming and Qing dynasties with brick, wood carving and stone carvings which shows the unique characteristic of “five artisans’ village”.
What a tourist sees in Qiantong Ancient Town today is the winding pebble-paved paths, old courtyards, carved beams and painted rafters. The weathered stone mortar, carved handrails and a 600 year old well that makes you think of the historical vicissitudes and rich cultural buildup of this place. The tall and stout court columns, the unique seahorse grand girders, multiple retained genealogy, birthday scrolls, the emperor edict, inscribed boards, couplets, ancestors statues, ancient books and more.
What's unique about Qiantong Ancient Town is the combination of Chinese philosophy and science imbued in its architecture. For instance, the narrow lanes interlacing the township are all paved with cobbles, which are smooth and shiny thanks to relentless polishing by local residents and tourists. This is because in ancient times, shoes were made from cloth. To prevent their shoes from getting wet and dirty, the builders of Qiantong town chose cobbles as the material for their roads.
Despite being a small place, navigating Qiantong Ancient Town can prove difficult. There is an easy method for tourists to find their way however, which is to follow the watercourse. The water is drawn from a nearby creek and channeled into artificial canals which encircle the town. The slim canals not only grant the town an idyllic ambience, but also serve as a place for housewives to wash clothes, and a playground for children.
The Tong family clan is known for their respect for, and pursuit of, academic success. One of the major sights in Qiantong Ancient Town is a large house which used to be an academy for local residents. Prestigious scholars were often invited to the academy to give lectures. As a result, the Tong family created a proud list of government officials and teachers.
Unfortunately, the night before I visited Qiantong Ancient Town, this building burned to the ground. All that was left was the exterior courtyard walls and smoldering ambers of charred wooden beams. Details of the Tong family history are exhibited at a folk art museum in the ancient township. Visitors can learn about and begin to understand the traditions and lifestyles of locals, through the exhibitions of furniture and family heirlooms on show at the museum.
Sadly the most ancient buildings left are from the Ming and Qing. The walls of these buildings consist of grey stone washed with lime, and are paneled inside with wood. Families line their small yards not with grass but the small multifarious pebbles you might find by the sea.
In this ancient town, some buildings are still dedicated to family shrines, many designed by famed architect Fang Xiaoru. Early in the Ming Dynasty, the top Tong in town retained the services of Fang, famed for his Confucian erudition as much as his design theory. He lectured extensively in Qiantong Ancient Town, inspiring generations to a higher standard of civilized behavior, and three generations of Tong children to study and practice classic Chinese architecture.
Fang Xiaoru’s Qiantong shrine was impressive enough to bring about his ruin. He employed some grandiose roof corner effects that could pass for those found on the emperor’s palaces in the Forbidden City. Not just entry after nightfall but any affectation of imperial grandeur, either in style of home or clothing, was expressly forbidden, giving the emperor’s home its name. Upon discovery, Fang and his extended family were put to death for his architectural audacity. His Tong disciples were relegated to China’s borders as exile soldiers; neither they nor anyone else named Tong would be allowed promotion to officer status for the next two hundred years.
Today these shrines are among the few empty buildings to be found in Qiantong Ancient Town. The majority of occupied ones still have their doors thrown open during the day; all and sundry are welcome to visit for a chat: neighbor and tourist alike. The houses are usually crowded, stuffy, and rather ramshackle, but few are without a large antique bed, rendered by Tong family craftsmen. They are known as qiangongchuang “thousand-work-beds”, because the Tong craftsmen would only work on them for one hour a day, at the height of their concentrative powers, typically taking three years to finish one bed. Thus the Qiantong people have their antiques, hand-made tofu, and traditionally cordial ways as legacies of the past, as well as the TVs and AC that make life so comfortable today. Such a happy medium is essence of Chinese living.
Similar to many ancient townships in east China's Zhejiang and Jiangsu provinces, Qiantong Ancient Town presents an out-of-the-way atmosphere with its small population, remote location, time-honored large family residences and widespread family legends.
Scenery of Small Bridges over Streams--Self-reflection Mansion--House of Scholars--Old Street--House of Public Spirit--Tong's Ancestral Hall--Five-Happiness House--Bright Open Houses.
I have many more pictures of Qiantong Ancient Town. If you are interested in seeing them, please visit my Pinterest page.