It’s easy enough to get to, if you know where it is, off the quiet country road that runs more or less parallel to the Yulong River, in Yangshuo District, Guangxi Province, in southern China. A turn between buildings in a haphazardly built cement block settlement and about half a kilometer along a narrow new concrete road through the rice paddies, the only clue that one is going someplace, rather than away. Tucked in against the region’s famous karst formations, it’s believed the village began as a settlement in the Tang Dynasty (618-906) and became a village in the Qing (1644-1911).
About 8 kilometers outside the highly touristed town of Yangshuo, but almost entirely off the radar, the new road may be a sign that Jiuxian Ancient Village has aspirations. The road circles one side of the village, outside the wall surrounding it and, once inside, walking is the only possibility through meandering narrow lanes paved with haphazardly-set stones and irregular steps. A posh guesthouse, the Secret Garden, in newly remodeled 19th century Qing Dynasty buildings, seems to be the village’s only business, or maybe just the only one I could identify, other than the ladies playing cards outside the wall as they optimistically tend their souvenir carts. I saw few residents, some laundry drying a clue that there are any at all. The proliferation of green that engulfs so many buildings gives one a distinct feeling of abandonment. Even so, the story has clearly not ended, no doubt just the lull before tourism’s kiss awakens Jiuxian.
Wandering between buildings, I was beckoned by an elderly woman at an open doorway and followed her into a dark, windowless, astonishingly primitive dwelling and found no signs of modern life except a small television. An old man watching it sat in the smoke-blackened interior near a low wood-burning masonry stove and it wasn’t at all clear to me why I’d been summoned, unless for a donation. I exited with thanks, through an opening on the opposite side, at a loss regarding what had been expected of me, hoping I had not disappointed or offended, knowing I probably had, and continued walking through the empty lanes.
I visited Jiuxian twice, once on a long walk exploring the countryside on both sides of the river, and again with a couple I met where I was staying, and had an excellent lunch both times at the Secret Garden, such a contrast with the rest of the mostly decaying village. But if I were to return, I have no doubt I’ll find things in better repair and maybe another guesthouse or 2 benefitting from the presence of the Secret Garden’s enterprising pioneers.
Visit the Secret Garden’s interesting website:
To follow the walk and my first visit to Jiuxian Ancient Village, click here.
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