Yingtan Old Village is situated in Luluo, a town in the western, mountainous area of Xingtai, a city in northern China's Hebei Province. Yingtan has a history that dates back more than 600 years. In 2007, Yingtan was named one of China's historical and cultural villages by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.
A family, with the surname of Lu, migrated to Yingtan from Hongtong, a county in northwestern China's Shanxi Province, during the reign of Emperor Yongle (1360-1424) of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Three brothers — Lu Faxian, Lu Fasheng and Lu Fayao — divided up their family's property, and Lu's family was divided into three branches at the beginning of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
After the brothers divided the family, the branch of the eldest son was called the "eldest branch," to represent his primogeniture. The second son's branch was called the "second branch." The third son's branch was called the "third branch."
During the reign of Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) of the Qing Dynasty, the three branches of the family built three halls, at the center of the village; the eldest branch built De He Tang (hall), the second branch built Ru Lin Tang and the third branch built Gui He Tang. The eldest branch was divided into two branches during the reign of Emperor Jiaqing (1760-1820) of the Qing Dynasty. The second branch built Zhong He Tang at that time.
The villagers in Yingtan do not worship any god; however, they still consider the halls to be holy places. The memorial tablets of their ancestors are placed in the halls. The locals offer incense and worship their ancestors in the halls of their branches at New Year and during every festival. The halls have several hosts. The hosts help the villagers prepare for funerals and their wedding ceremonies. The hosts also help the locals mediate family disputes. The local custom of enshrining halls instead of gods is rare in China, which is the first strange local custom in Yingtan.
The second strange local custom is that every family's courtyard has a back gate. According to the folk customs in southern Hebei Province, a courtyard should only have a front gate, and it should face the street. Most people in southern Hebei Province believe if their houses have back gates, it is easy for thieves to slip into their houses. However, every courtyard in Yingtan has a back gate. If the locals stay at home, they will open the two gates wide. Guests do not need to knock on the doors when they visit neighbors.
The third strange local custom is that local women spend much time making shoe pads. It is common to see local women making shoe pads. Yingtan was a military camp in ancient times, before Lu's family migrated to the village. In the past, the shoe pads were the most common thing sent to the soldiers by their relatives, before the soldiers went to the front. Even though the village is no longer a military camp, the custom of making shoe pads continues.
The fourth strange local custom is the locals still process grains with traditional stone tools, instead of machines. The locals use millstones to grind soybean. They use mortars to crush corn. They also use stone tools to make rice milk, bean curd and thin pancakes. They believe foods made with stone tools is more delicious than foods made with machines.
In the village, bridges, walls, handrails, steps, benches and window frames are made with stones. Nearly all of the dwellings are made with red and/or cyan sandstone. Most of the dwellings were built during the reign of Emperor Xianfeng (1831-1861) of the Qing Dynasty. The stone dwellings in the village have attracted many travelers, painters and photographers to the village.
Xingtai has two train stations. Buses run between Xingtai and Yingtan. The Ticket is 25 yuan (US $3.70) per person.
Admission fee to the village is 30 yuan (US $4.50) per person.
Travelers can eat and stay overnight in the agritainments (village inns) run by the locals.
(Executive Editors: WEI XUANYI and ZHANG PING, Women of China English Monthly January 2017 Issue)
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