Yangquan - Eshanxi
Beautiful Dapin Village, a “Potala Palace” among the Remotest Parts of the Taihang Mountain
Time: 01 15,2020      Source: Friends Shanxi

Dapin Village (locally called Dachang Village) situates itself among the remotest parts of mountains and valleys in Liangjiazhai Township, Yuxian County of Shanxi Province. It is the oldest and only ancient village still existing across the county. At the entrance to the village hang 3 cascades; the village takes the area through which the largest cascade flows, thus naming itself Dapin Village. As its layout looks somewhat like the holy place for Tibetan Buddhism, it is also dubbed “a Potala Palace among the remotest parts of the Taihang Mountain.” 

Dapin Village has a long history, and its inception is as ancient as that of the Yungang Grottoes, which were built in China’s Northern Wei. According to a survey by the local cultural relics department, behind the village, there was the Temple of the King of Mountain, in which 7 stony sculptures were placed for people to worship. On the back of one stony sculpture, there was this inscription: “2nd Year of the Yong’an Reign, Northern Wei,” a time over 1,500 years back. Thus the village, experts claim, already existed in Northern Wei.

Regarding the forefathers of Dapin villagers, there are several theories. Historically, through excavation, an ancient tomb came to light near the Big Locust Tree of the village. From the record of finds, we deduce that a court minister, as southerners surnamed Ma, came in to this mountain from another place to evade big trouble and built their homes here. On the other hand, at the Yuan and Ming dynasties, three biological brothers surnamed Han moved from Hongtong County, Linfen Municipality, Shanxi to Yuxian County and settled in its Shahutan Village. It was the place that the current Dapin villagers surnamed Han moved from, who has since had 13 generations (as long as over 300 years). The southerner Ma’s should be creators of Dapin Village, while the Han brothers become its forefathers: current villagers are all surnamed Han.

During the Anti-Japanese War, the village housed the arsenal and the grain depot of the Eighth Route Army, with fierce fighting occurring to protect the facilities. On the night of August 10, 1943, a total of over 300 Japanese troops and traitor Chinese troops sneaked into the village, slaughtering humans mercilessly. More than 20 villagers were gunned down, over 800 livestock animals as well as money and things were snatched, and more than 170 houses were burned down. The tranquil village was turned into such a ruin…

By the 1950s, Dapin Village had over 360 people in more than 80 households, which, as sort of a mini-society, featured the school, the official Supply and Marketing Cooperative, etc. Since the 1990s, the vast majority of them, subject to flooding and the subsequent disaster, have gradually moved elsewhere in their own way, leaving just a dozen or so behind, who are all aged, the oldest being nearly 90 and the youngest over 50 indeed.

The village has no shop, restaurant or drugstore. Just shabby houses and oldsters can be seen, if at all. The residents - increasingly aging and unable to shoulder the hard labor needed for a mountainous living, along with the fact that the wild boar, the roe deer, the badger, the yellow weasel make inroads on crops - witness their walnut trees, previously able to annually produce over 10 tones of walnuts, now having just several hundred kilograms of output. A cement pavement across the village to the outside world was built in 2006, but was washed away by the rainday mud into nothing in less than 3 years. Notwithstanding, villagers harvest as much as they can; they keep chickens and goats. Selling goats is a major means for living on; goat butchering becomes a skill men are best at. The large, serene mountainous area has an air of freshness and vitality: the occasional herding voice by the goat herder has broken the tranquility otherwise kept for eons.

The oldsters, living here, always have their looks of relaxed happiness from a simple character ready to be content. Such a Shangri-La, with no need to strive.

Dapin Village is a presence on the slope. Its housing is a combination of Hui-style dwellings and stilted buildings in southern China. The village is a place still keeping the looks of primitive farming. It’s a remote, hilly, tiny presence smacking both of the splendidness of the Potala Palace, and of the taste of south of the Yangtze River with characteristics of southern Anhui. The village, stationed on the Shanxi part of the loess plateau, is really something wonderfully exotic. The village boasts 4 oddities.

Oddity No. 1: The house. Dapin Village has its houses roughly in 4 types (the bungalow, the cave dwelling, the multi-story house and the cave-building mix), featuring the walled-in residence, the structure of the attic as the 2nd floor and notably the 3-story stony house, with every necessity available: the yard, the dwelling structure, the granary and the livestock pen. What amazes you the most is the fact that each type of the house has no foundation, with the house just being a structure composed of pieces of rock fixed on a smooth rockbed with clay. All the houses are built somewhere on the slope, some lower against the background of those higher. The top to the bottom of the whole village is a difference of about a dozen or so stories, with the houses laid out in a beautifully irregular manner, the highest house being at an elevation of 800 meters. Closed in with hills around, backed by the slope, facing the sunny direction, arresting the wind and gathering the favorable mien, expanding eastward and concluding at the west side, with trees overhanging each house and clean streams around the place, the entire village is a natural arrangement fully embodying the ideal of the natural in oneness with the human.

Oddity No. 2: The path. All paths of the Dapin Village are paved with slabstone or stones, with the pavement materials just sourced locally. All houses are interconnected with each other into a wonderful system with zigzagging alleys, some higher, some others lower. The paths with their steps, oldster villagers report, were formed by ancestors through filing the rocky slope into groups of steps, one step after another. Strolling on the village’s external paths and internal alleys, you will feel, with sudden realization, the cleanness of the place from mundane “dust,” and the clock of the moon and the sun sort of brought to a standstill at some point. You’ll be struck by a sense of mysterious fun.

Oddity No. 3: The stony sculptures. Dapin Village has presented 7 Stony Sculptures of Dragon Gods, also called the Kings of Mountain, for villagers to worship. They were worshipped in a temple near Sanpin outside the village. According to legend carried on by villagers down the ages, worshiping these 7 Kings of Mountain is efficacious. A survey by the local cultural relics department reveals that on the back of one stony sculpture there are some partially worn and weathered textual inscriptions self-dated in the 5th year of Cheng’an Reign in Jin Dynasty, which means the figures have a history of nearly a millennium. Of them, the biggest sculpture boasts something queer: it weighs differently at different time in different places, the difference being somewhere between 2 and 3kg and its weight falling between 30kg and 35kg. This phenomenon, verified but still inexplicable by provincial, municipal and county cultural relics departments, remains an enigma, something mysterious concerning Dapin Village.

And oddity No. 4: The tree. Dapin Village is built fully upon one large block of rock, with tree growth being very difficult. However, at the entrance to the village, there stands the Big Locust Tree, whose trunk is too thick for three adults to embrace, hand in hand. Its age is over 500 years at least. A tree has been growing, down the ages, in a village upon a slope of dry rock, which is amazing, if you like. In the 1940s, Japanese invaders were here, burning, killing and pillaging, when the Big Locust Tree was also suffering. In the wake of the Yangquan area getting liberated by the CPC army, the Big Locust Tree, once again, has been unleashing its vigor, with branches sticking out and leaves prosperous, protecting its villagers.

The peculiar scenery at Dapin Village was spotted in the autumn of 2006 by Cui Dadao, a photographer of Yuxian County, who recommended the village to Professor Cui Manhong, a famous economist who was in Yuxian, masterminding the launch of the Yuxian Hutuo River Ecotourism Zone. Professor Cui Manhong has since arranged for experts to survey and study Dapin Village for several times. He has also been writing much to publicize and promote the village. The Provincial Photographers Association of Shanxi has set the village as one of its Photography Bases. Hence many artists come here to sketch or create paintings, and the groups upon groups of tourists pay visits to this amazing village. 

Dapin Village, a multi-episode cultural documentary through two years of careful dedication by Yangquan Radio and Television, premiered locally, with a ceremony, on March 8, 2013. Then, in March 27-31, the film was shown on CCTV-9. The documentary comes in 5 episodes, respectively entitled “Celebrating the Lunar New Year”, “Around the Lunar Sowing and Raining Term”, “A Summertime Story”, “Grains Yellowed”, “Snowing toward New Year”. The show, by revealing the seasonal changes as well as the elderly villagers’ living and labor through the four seasons at Dapin Village, has presented a kind of living scenes so intimate yet so remote, depicting a picture soaked with natural emotions that are pure, simple and primitive.

The Taihang Mountain, where Dapin Village is based, features sharp slopes and stones everywhere, with donkeys, mules and yellow cattle, commonly used elsewhere for farming, having no chance to function. As a result, farming is a painful experience. In spring, villagers have to carry seeds and farm chemicals in the packbasket up the slope to their plot, one basket after another; in the harvest season in autumn, they carry the grains to their home, one shouldering after another. Year after year, they work on, generation after generation. Nowadays, this village has more people coming and going, which some villagers find to be a chance to have more money. They have launched hostels for agritainment: at the central part of the simple yet intimate yard attached to their home, there are various things piling together for sale. With visitors coming in, villagers have begun to happily recommend to them the products they produce by themselves, or invite them to enjoy home cooking. Thanks to visitors often coming, villagers have found their monthly income up by several hundred yuan.

Dapin Village, compared with Xidi Village and Hongcun Village or the ancient towns of Zhouzhuang and Tongli, considers its primitiveness and pure beauty having the possibility of being more touching, for its Potala Palace-esque irregular layout and primitive state going through a thousand years of gusts and rains and still unchanged; for its ancient wisdom going through the spatiotemporal and its awesomely excellent architectural expertise; and for its happily keeping its own way of life in the deepest part of the Taihang Mountain to enjoy its indifference to fame or gain. However, with the fleeting of time, Dapin Village has seen the number of its ancient constructs less and less. Of those still existing at all, some are in a very bad condition: walls down and windows shabby, or roofs inclined and weeds rampant.

How many ancient villages like Dapin are there? We don’t know, but we know that with history turned over, such ancient villages will be fewer and fewer, and increasingly rare and precious. Conserving Dapin Village is already urgent. According to information we get, protection-oriented development of the ancient Dapin Village is a near-and-mid-term priority among projects to establish tourist spots across Yuxian County. The developer for the Dapin project said that the project, covering a total area of 1.7 hectares at a total investment of over 30 million yuan, includes planning the renovation of ancient houses and executing the plan, repairing and fine-tuning constructs disagreeable with surroundings, environmental renovation and equipping the village with matched infrastructural facilities. The project has virtually gone through the approval procedure and efforts are being made to start the renovation design for the Ancient Dapin Village Tourist Zone.

Dapin Village is small and nameless, but it is just like an age-old window for us to have a glimpse of the humankind’s footprints of agricultural civilization and gain much historical information. It is also a living sample of the ancient village. By understanding it, we can sort of see how humankind trudged ahead. Dapin villagers say: the mountain (山) and the water course (水) constitute the village (汖, local pronunciation being chang). Water coursing down the mountain shows that this is a good place featuring mountains and water courses; mountains and water courses make boom (昌, its pronunciation also being chang), which implies Dapin villagers’ great yearning and nice feelings for a wonderful life. We envision the ancient village of Dapin fully radiating its unique greatness again, just like its Big Locust Tree unleashing its remarkable vigor once more…

Yangquan - Eshanxi