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Ancient Village Liukeng

China is littered with ancient relics and structures that represent the country's 5,000-year history. Ancient villages hold a high standing among these historical gems. Towns and villages famous for their ancient residences include Zhouzhuang and Tongli in Jiangsu Province, Xidi Village in Anhui Province, Qiao Family Mansion in Shanxi Province, and the earth towers of the Hakkas in Fujian Province. Recently, in Le'an County, Jiangxi Province, a 1,000-year-old village has been discovered in a remote mountain village-Liukeng.

The village grew during the Five Dynasties period (907-960), flourished during the Song Dynasty (1206-1368), flourished again during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and declined again during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). All families in the village are surnamed Dong, and the villagers regard Dong Zhongshu, a great Confucian scholar of the Han Dynasty, as their first ancestor. The village has produced 32 jinshi, people who passed the highest imperial examinations; two zhuangyuan, or, Number One Scholar, the title given to the highest scorer on the imperial examinations; and more than 100 juren, people who passed the imperial examinations at the provincial level. Today, the village has nearly 800 families and 5,000 inhabitants. Some refer to the village as a "living fossil reflecting the changes of Chinese feudal society," a "museum of Chinese faming and intellectual civilization," and a "living specimen of the historical and cultural belt along the Yangtze River Valley."

Ancient Village

Panoramic views of the village can be seen form the slopes of Donghua Mountain. From above, one can see village's remarkably well-planned layout. Liukeng has seven east-west lanes and one north-south thoroughfare. The roads in the village were paved with pebbles and lined with drainage ditches. Rainwater and sewage passed through these ditches to a long man-made lake, "Dragon Lake," which is linked to the Wujiang River. At the entrance of each lane stands a fortification-style gate tower. Originally, the gate towers were linked by walls. Liukeng's enclosed layout gives it an urban feel. The village's chessboard layout derives from the Tang Dynasty urban planning traditions. A dock sits along the bank of the Wujiang River.

More than 260 structures were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties, including watchtowers, ancestral temples, residences, stores, temples, archways, academies, stages, tombs, bridges, ponds, wells, pavilions, and pagodas. Many buildings display their date of construction, a useful yet rare phenomenon.

At the village entrance stands five tall granite pillars-the remains of the village's largest ancestral temple, the Dong Clan Ancestral Temple. It was built in 1536 during Emperor Jiajing's reign of the Ming Dynasty to worship Dong He, the founder of the village. The temple was rebuilt in 1586 during Emperor Wanli's reign during the Ming Dynasty, but was then burned down by warlords in 1927.

Zhuangyuan Tower, located in the northwestern corner of the village, was built by Dong Deyuan, a successful candidate in the imperial examinations, during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279) and rebuilt in 1860 during Qing Emperor Xianfeng's reign. The tower is the highest building in the village and is thus regarded as a landmark.

There is a narrow lane in the village, called "Ming-Qing Lane." The western side of the lane is lined with buildings of the Ming Dynasty, and the eastern side is lined with buildings of the Qing Dynasty. According to locals, the street is "one lane spanning two dynasties."

The village has many extensive residence compounds. The most representative is the "Dabindi Building Complex," comprised of seven linked residences. Locals call Dabindi a "village within a village." The ancient residences in the village are tall and spacious. Houses have small courtyards, and rooms rely on the courtyard for sunlight. Beneath residences is a stone discharge pond. When it rains, the rainwater flowing down the eaves empties into the pond.

The village has a well-preserved theater dating from the Qing Dynasty. The theater has hidden boxes for unmarried women.

Liukeng Village

Unusual Intellectual Heritage
The Liukeng inhabitants advocated education and regarded Confucian doctrines as standards of morality. They tried to invigorate clans through education. During Ming Emperor Wanli's reign (1573-1620), the village had 26 academies, and during

Qing Emperor Daoguang's reign (1821-1851), there were 28. A cultural relics expert once commented, "The architectural style of ancient residences in Liukeng differs from that of imperial buildings, ordinary farmers" residences, or of ordinary merchants' residences. The character of Liukeng residences is reminiscent of feudal scholars. Inscriptions portraying the ideology, culture and morality of Confucianism cover lintels, screen walls, gables, and archways. According to rough statistics, the village now has 170 inscribed boards, 200 inscriptions on walls, and 100 pairs of couplets. More than 60 percent of the halls in Liukeng's residences hang boards with the name of the hall inscribed on them. Many of the inscriptions were written by famous scholars.

Paintings and Sculptures
Over time, many ancient buildings in Liukeng Village have become dark and gloomy. But the paintings and sculptures on lintels, window lattices. Walls, eaves, pillar bases, and ceilings are still very beautiful.

Huaide Hall, or Phoenix Hall, at 68 Shubei Lane, built during Emperor Wanli's reign (1573-1620), is the most well-preserved Ming building in the village. Three pictures of relief sculptures consisting of 70 bricks lie inside the hall.

Every window lattices, partition, and douguong (brackets atop support columns) in Liukeng Village is a work of art. The inch-long patterns of fugures, flowers , and animals on window lattices are vivid and lifelike, and several lattices form a complete drama plot. Beautiful colored paintings and ink-washes have been left on outside walls, door lintels, and ceilings.

The largest stone carvings in Liukeng Village are two red sandy rock lions in front of Dong Sui's former residence. They are more than 400 years old. To avoid damage by the Red Guards during the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), they were buried underground. Now unearthed, they represent ancient splendor.

Culural Relics in Homes
Nearly every home in the village contains state-level cultural relics in he hands of villagers are up to state ratings. Historians regard the more than 20 kinds of clan genealogy since the Ming Dynasty as the most precious.

At present, the state cultural relics department is sorting out and registering the artifacts that have been preserved in the village.

Ancient and Unique Folklore
Liukeng Village has formed its unique folklore. The Liukeng villagers worship the "He-Yang God." According to a legend, when Dong Dunyu, an ancestor of the Dong clan, went through a period of great hardship, two generals named He and Yang saved his life and helped him complete his mission. To commemorate these two generals, Dong built a temple and set up shrines in their honor for villagers to worship. Then ninth day of the first lunar month has been decreed as the god's birthday. Every year, on He-Yang's birthday, villagers form a parade and carry the statue of the god as a way to pray for happiness for the whole village. Every family burns joss sticks, lights candles, and sets off fireworks to greet He-Yang. The custom has been handed down from generation to generation for several centuries.

In Liukeng, the Dong clan has eight branches, and each branch has its own temples. Starting from the second day of the first lunar month, branches parade around the village. The parades become most elaborate on the 15th day of the first lunar monthe (Lantern Festival). Villagers perform a mask dance that has been performed for generations. Locals once believed that by performing the mask dances, they could drive away pestilence. Liukeng Village also holds parades to honor deities such as Bodhisattva. During festivals. Villagers carry statues of the dieties' around the village, hoping to bring safety to everyone's homes.

There are a number of household-run shops in the village specializing in weaving, candlestick making, tofu making, and wine making. The village's market street is called Zhaozhaojie. Often, along the street, old nannies huddle around wide, shallow bamboo baskets, playing an ancient Song Dynasty game of copper coins.

Ancient buildings in Liukeng Village have been well preserved. It is hard to imagine how such a remote village could have created such a splendid civilization. Maybe its isolation fostered its cultivation.

Tips for Travelers
To get Liukeng Village, visitors can take a three-hour bus ride from Nanchang, capital of Jiangxi Province, to Le'an county town. The village is 32 kilometers from the county town. The village is 32 kilometers from the country town. The asphalt road has been recently built and is in good condition. The scenery along the way to the village is beautiful-green mountains and red-earth hills create an eye-appealing contrast. Along the road are rice field and the Wujiang River that is shaded by green trees.

Liukeng Village has no hotel for tourists, but the hostel in the county town is inexpensive and provides shower facilities and decent rooms. 

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