May 03, 2014



In his 70s, Fan Weili lives in a very old housing complex in a traditional village in north China's Shanxi Province, but the complex has precious few other residents.

More than 30 years ago, around 50 families lived here, now only me and my wife remain, Fan said.

The whole of Xiangyu Village faces similar bleak scenario. It used to have 500 households, but now has just over 30 families. Residents have moved out due to the poor condition of houses and general inconvenience.

Traditional villages are culturally very important and their continuing decline is worrisome. Xiangyu was founded in 1634. Houses were finely decorated with well-proportioned streets and allies. It stands out as a Chinese architectural masterpiece.

Like Xiangyu, Huangcheng Village in Jincheng City in the same province, has a similar story. It was the residence of Chen Tingjing, a high-ranking civil officer about 400 years ago. Since 1998, the local government has spent around 300 million U.S. dollars turning the village into a tourist attraction and the 700 residents there were forced to move out.

Life is good in the new community, said Ni Fushun, an 85-year-old man from the village. But we are far away from the way we used to live.

These villages are left with only their shell, without a soul, said Huo Yaozhong, an urban construction professor at Shanxi University.

Shanxi has more than 2,000 traditional villages like Xiangyu and Huangcheng, but half of the old buildings in these villages are on the verge of collapse. Urbanization and excessive tourism development are major factors in the situation.

A national survey in 2012 showed the vast majority of traditional villages disappearing into China's urbanization vortex, which has taken tens of millions of farmers to the cities.

The traditional values of historical villages clash with the modern needs of people, said Huo. The simplicity and culture there is breaking down.

I hear the ancient villages cry, I worry if there is anyone to save them, and I call on the society to protect them, said Feng Jicai, a writer and chairman of the Chinese Folk Literature and Art Society.

Traditional villages are not just tangible or intangible cultural heritage, they are a combination of both, he said.

Feng is calling for legislation regarding to protect these villages, and there is hope of improved protection.

China's Finance Ministry said Wednesday it will invest more than 10 billion yuan to protect traditional villages in the next three years. Protection work will start for 650 of the 5,000 such villages with a high need for protection.


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