Nestled deep in the Western Hills, about 90km outside Beijing is the tiny village of Chuandixia. Founded by the Han family during the 14th century Ming Dynasty, and with more courtyards than residents, little has changed in the last 600 years.
Modern facilities haven’t reached this remote area yet, so water is still drawn from the village well; grain is still grown in the fields; bread is made from flour ground at the town’s only millstone and all lighting comes from flames. Chickens and goats wander the streets, whilst elsewhere pigs and bees are the only other animals reared in the village.
Only 70 people live in Cuandixia. They are all descendants of the original founding couple and all still have the Han surname.
Some of the courtyards have been turned into tiny hotels and restaurants. With no heating in any of the hotels the kang beds are heated from beneath by hot coals, which keep them warm throughout the night. Peeking into one of the compact rooms it seems they also have at least 10 thick blankets per bed which must help somewhat.
All around town the newly harvested corn crop was still drying on trellises hung above the streets. The sweet smell of the corn perked up the appetite so we stopped in one of the smallest restaurants for a locally grown lunch. We ate smoked pork, spring onion pancakes, asparagus looking greens and the local specialty: a delicious omelette of preserved vegetables made with eggs laid that morning.
Our host (Mrs Han of course) also sold us a two litre bottle of raw wildflower honey. The honey is taken straight from the village hives and simply strained to remove any large lumps of honey comb, but all the pollen and enzymes are still intact. The unpasteurised result looks slightly milky, but tastes fresh and smells like walking through a field of flowers.
Lying at the end of a single road that curls its way down the valley, the village is bounded on both sides by steep hills. One side is marked by a small but attractive temple and the other curves up steeply round behind the farming terraces to provide a view over the whole valley, and the iconic picture above.
The village only really became known after it was used as the set for a 2008 film called The Warlord, starring Jet Li and Andy Lau. It’s an epic tale of love and betrayal, with the type of massive set piece battles that would all have been CGI in Hollywood. The trailer is worth watching at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ok_5CKAOch8