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National designation will help preserve cultural heritage

Zhu Lixin
Updated: Jul 14,2021 10:47    China Daily

To local officials and residents in Yixian county, Anhui province, the really exciting thing about being designated a national famous historical and cultural city could be that the honor proves it has played an important role in the development of Chinese civilization, a county official said.

In a statement issued in June, the State Council awarded the designation to Yixian, which has existed for more than 2,200 years.

Xu Juan, deputy director of Yixian's housing and urban-rural development bureau, said the county deserves the honor.

Among its 1,684 immovable cultural relics, more than 90 percent are residential buildings. The remainder includes city walls, temples, bridges, and wells.

Yixian also has 92 cultural heritage protection units, with the largest one being the cluster of 126 ancient residential buildings in Xidi village.

Hongcun village is another such unit. Though Xidi and Hongcun are about 18 kilometers apart, they are jointly listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are colloquially referred to as "the country's most beautiful villages" thanks to their natural landscapes and ancient buildings.

In 2012, they were both designated Chinese Traditional Villages, a list for well-preserved villages established before the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Yixian has 42 other such villages, according to the county government.
In fact, the architecture in Yixian's old villages is so well-preserved that visitors may feel that they have traveled back in time when strolling through these settlements.

Many of the buildings were constructed by extremely successful merchants, known in Chinese as the huishang, who made their fortune by trading tea and salt around the country.

Huizhou prefecture, which existed for nearly eight centuries, was established in the 1120s to govern six counties, including Yixian. So far, three Huizhou counties have been listed as national famous historical and cultural cities.

The merchants achieved most of their success between the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and the early Qing Dynasty.

Becoming a merchant was a common thing in Huizhou during those times-more than 70 percent of local male residents had their own businesses-as the mountainous region had very little farmland.

Chinese people are known for their affection toward their birthplace, and the Huizhou merchants were no different. Many of them started constructing buildings in their hometowns, and these structures were seen as symbols of pride.

The merchants took great care in ensuring that the buildings were exquisitely crafted with brick carvings at the entrances, stone carvings over various windows, and wood carvings on door frames.

Yixian's designation as a historical and cultural city will play an important role in protecting Huizhou culture and preserving the heritage, according to Xu.