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Ancient Places / Trip Ideas

The Picturesque Zhaji

By Wei Jia

June 22

If you are one for the less trodden road and exotic architecture that both stands out and blends into its natural surroundings, an ancient Chinese town called Zhaji should pique your interest.

If you are one for the less trodden road and exotic architecture that both stands out and blends into its natural surroundings, an ancient Chinese town called Zhaji should pique your interest.

If you are one for the less trodden road and exotic architecture that both stands out and blends into its natural surroundings, an ancient Chinese town called Zhaji should pique your interest.

Located about 60 kilometers from Jing County in Anhui Province, Zhaji is not as famous as other similar ancient towns in China despite the fact that it is the largest extant Chinese ancient town according to its official website. Part of its obscurity is due to its underdeveloped access to the outside world, a situation redressed when Jing County had its first high speed railway station in June 2015.

Houses in Zhaji [Image Credit: Wei Jia]
While it’s not usual to see throngs of tourists visiting Zhaji, another group of people have become a fixture in this beautiful town, who try to recreate the charm of the place with their artistic skills. Aspiring and highly respected painters alike pay tribute to Zhaji with their works, surrounding themselves with its unique architecture, limpid winding streams and lush vegetation. Some more well-off painters are so in love with this place that they bought houses there.

Zhaji, more than 1,000 years old, is a showcase of traditional Hui architecture. Elegantly poetic, Hui architecture emphasizes the harmony between man and nature, and Zhaji is an ideal example.

Three streams meander through the town, and locals still do their laundry in them because they believe the water does a better job than a washing machine. The arched bridges over the water are draped with vines that almost veil the structures, while the railing-free flat bridges are bare but for some grass on the side. Those bridges are not only used by people but dogs, of which there are many in Zhaji, roaming sometimes into the town’s somber ancestral shrines that revere not only the history but exalted virtues transcending time.

A bridge in Zhaji. [Image Credit: Wei Jia]
Distinct white-walled and black-roofed houses, a signature of Hui architecture, line the streams, and through them stretch mazy narrow alleyways paved with flagstones. Rather than sticking out from the luxurious plants all around, the houses blend with their surroundings and the supposedly sharp contrast between their colors soften into a curious result where the artificial agrees with the natural.

Those local residents who are not bothered by gawking tourists sit by the door of their homes making handicraft, probably to sell. Commercial development, however, is yet to take over the town. Unlike many other ancient towns, Zhaji is yet to be overrun with vendors selling all kinds of souvenirs and restaurants catering to all kinds of taste. That’s not to say Zhaji is not travel-friendly, as there are more than 100 boarding houses there, with more than 1,000 rooms.

See for yourself what draws so many artists to this far-flung place, whether you are into painting or not, because the appeal of Zhaji is too obvious and intact to miss.

Best time to visit: spring and fall.

Entrance fee: 80 yuan.

How to get there: The nearest high-speed railway station is Jing, a county about 60 kilometers away from Zhaji.

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