China may be a country on an exponential rise to the future, but it is also a country with a long history that is still treasured even as they make technological and economic leaps and bounds. Those who have toured Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai will see China's contemporary culture, but for those who are ready to take a step back in time while in China, they should start with these six places.
Bing'an in Guizhou
Nestled along the Chisui River, Bing'an used to be a vital gateway between Sichuan and Guizhou during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Although the town now hosts a new suspension bridge, it used to only be accessible by water which many locals still use to get around. For those looking to visit this old village, they best be prepared for a major workout. It is rare to spot a flat swathe of land in this mountainous region. The locals that originally settled here made use of what they had by adapting the existing technology of stilted houses and wooden frames to build house among the hills that not only house the people but protected them. The terrain and the gates guarding every land gateway to the city have historically made Bing'an more impenetrable than any castle in the world.
While visitors traverse the bluestone slabs covered with thick and ancient moss, touring the old buildings by the woods, they are transported to ancient China, a feeling that is further evoked by the faded ancient pictures that are hung on the walls of small local hotels and restaurants.
Baoshan Stone City in Yunnan
Yunnan province in itself is the land that time forgot. Rural and littered with old bridges and rice paddies, Yunnan is one of China's most beautiful regions if only for its simplicity. This rural province also hides a beautiful secret, the stone city of Baoshan. Located along Jinsha River Canyon, the so-called stone city is built atop a huge mushroom-shaped rock sloping into the canyon.
Boashan once was home to the Naxi people that migrated to China during the reign of the Yuan dynasty. Today, it is different from most old cities found in China, reflecting and preserving the unique architecture, language and culture of the Naxi. Although magnificent from within, the best views of Baoshan lie outside the city. It looks like the stone city is slipping straight into the Jinsha River, but in reality, it is immoveable in its stone foundations.
Dayu in Guangxi
Situated on the bank of the Li River, the ancient town of Dayu was first built in 200 AD during the Northern Song Dynasty. Even after 1,800 years of history, the town still remains majorly the same as when it was first built. Visitors are invited to walk the ancient bluestone slab streets lined with buildings that have existed since the city itself. While some buildings are from the city's original construction, the majority are remnants from the Qing and Ming dynasties, featuring beautiful black bricks and black tiles on the exterior. For those truly looking to get a taste of the ancient ways, many workshops still exist that do things the old way. From bamboo workers to straw sandal makers, visitors can tour industry that still puts emphasis on handmade craftsmanship and quality.
Hekou Town in Jiangxi
Hekou Town in the northwest Jiangxi Province was built in 953 AD as one of the Ten Kingdoms that followed the Tang Dynasty. The town used to be an important distribution center that traded goods to eight different provinces when water transportation was still widely used. The stone bridges, Ming-Qing Dynasty architecture and bluestone and granite streets still heavily mirror the beautiful scenery of this ancient town. Today, the town is famous for its production of Lianshi paper that was widely used throughout China to print books, draw paintings and write calligraphy works. With a production history of more than 600 years, Lianshi paper is even more precious to China than rice paper.
Zhaojiabao in Fujian
Zhaojiabao was built in the year 1600 during the Ming Dynasty by the descendants of the Zhao imperial family that ruled during the Song Dynasty, originally taking in 600 people from 100 different families whose descendants still live there today. Zhaojiabao's architecture is a copy of the design and structure of Bianjing City, the capital city in which the Zhao ruled.
Surrounded by four gates guarding each entrance, the city is dived into three sections: living section, etiquette section and garden section. Each section is accented by palaces, temples, ponds and public buildings that aid in the section's desired purpose. One of the major attractions in Zhaojiabao is the five massive mansions in the center of the city, the most magnificent of which being the Wanbi House with its 400 square meter grounds and three story building. The Wanbi House, like the other mansions, is now a museum which shows off the 18 emperors of the Song Dynasty and relics from their rule.
Heshun Village in Yunnan
Heshun Village used to be an important stop on the ancient southern land silk road, a trade route that linked together Burma, India and China's Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces together. During ancient times, Heshun transported large numbers of cigarettes, alcohol, silk and tea from other cities in Yunnan in exchange for cotton, jade and jewels. However, the wealth from this trade route did not change Heshun. Today, it is still very much the traditional village it once was, rich with preserved heritage and architecture. Visitors can tour the ancient ancestral halls, temples, pavilions and folk houses as they enjoy the serene aura in this small piece of Chinese history.