I, Li Bai, sit aboard a boat about to go
When suddenly on shore your farewell songs o’erflow.
However deep the Lake of Peach Blossom may be,
It’s not so deep, o Wang Lun! as your love for me.
This was how the poet Li Bai felt almost 800 years ago as he left Wang Lun in Tao Hua Tan, the area in Anhui province where Zhaji village is situated. If he returned today he would find that little has changed
Hidden in the backwaters of southern Anhui, far from the madding crowds that throng the province’s most famous sites, Huangshan and Jiu Hua Shan, Zhaji is a haven of tranquility and pastoral beauty. The village has grown almost organically around a couple of pure mountain streams with no industry for miles around to spoil the clean air. But apart from clean air, what is so special about this village?
Zhaji is a small, sleepy village in southern Anhui that’s home to only 4,000 people.
Zhaji Village in Anhui Province is the biggest of its kind in the province, and a state cultural relic. Zhaji is seldom visited due to its remote location, however, this also helps it to preserve its ancient style. Beautiful landscape, ancient houses and the ancient way of life make the village a perfect model for artists.
The road to Zhaji is a bit bumpy. Located about 250 kilometers away from Nanjing, only about the first quarter of the ride is on highway. The rest of the trip takes place on winding, two lane roads with green hills and farmers on motorcycles for scenery. There are almost no signs to follow, and very few places where one could stop to ask for directions.
But it’s the remoteness of the place that makes Zhaji so attractive to those who wish to leave it all behind for a while.
The village has no cars and not a single traffic sign. Clothes and dishes and sometimes children are washed in the clear waters of the river that flows through the hamlet, conveniently passing just below the doorstep of each household.
Pathways are made of cobblestone and packed earth that residents of Zhaji carry on their daily tasks like going fishing, taking a child to the only school in the village, and walking to the surrounding mountains to collect tea leaves. The air is fresh, but most of all, for visitors from the city , the entire village is a site for sore eyes and a chance to refresh all the senses.
The vast majority of visitors found wandering around Zhaji these days are artists.
All year-round, painters and photographers follow their search for inspiration to this quaint village where it’s impossible to take a bad photo.
Around every bend lies a new angle, and with each turn of the cobblestone path, another beautiful scene unfolds. Locals don’t even seem to notice the artists anymore, or if they do, they’re too proud of their homes to be annoyed by the outsiders who set up easels and tripods on their narrow paths. The fact that young artists still gather there is a good indication of scenery left natural and unsoiled.
History of Zhaji
The village was in fact founded in the early Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD) by a regional official, Zha Wenxi, who had tired of commuting great distances by donkey for his duties and decided to retire to a picturesque part of the countryside he governed. He moved his family here in 625 AD, and his reputation for honesty and his esteem of education helped his family and the local community to flourish. Most of the residents today still bear his surname.
Zhaji became a thriving town of 100,000 souls in its heyday in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), and was home to a number of successful officials and scholars who built houses of great splendor here. Some of the ancestral halls, that were built during this period, massive, imposing constructions where business and family matters were aired and settled, even rival Beijing’s later architecture in grandeur.
At one stage, Zhaji contained more than 100 ancestral halls, one of which boasts supporting pillar stones of over 1m in diameter, far larger than those of the Forbidden City. Such was the sumptuousness of the townspeople’s lifestyles that it was an easy target for the Taiping army, which rampaged through the countryside in the mid-nineteenth century. Many of the more luxurious homes were completely destroyed. Some of the foundations and stone floors can still be glimpsed through the jungle of wild flowers that proliferate on their site.
How to get there
Zhaji lies in a valley about one and a half hours’ drive from Jingxian in southern Anhui. The easiest way to get there is from Nanjing by direct bus to Jing Xian. There are slow local buses from Jingxian to Zaji, but they only run in the morning, so it’s best to get a taxi, which should cost between 60-100 yuan.
It may be best to stay overnight in Jingxian where there is no shortage of small cheap hotels, and then get an early morning bus or taxi to the village itself.
Zhaji Restaurant is the only place that serves food, but the dishes are very reasonably priced, simple and delicious – all the ingredients are local and ultra-fresh. Book your meal on arrival in the village.
When to Go
The village is worth seeing in any season, just make sure there are no rainstorms forecast as access is liable to be difficult.
(Tips from City Weekend)