Majianglong 马降龙: The most beautiful village in China???

Majianglong 马降龙

Kaiping / Guangdong Province

Majianglong 马降龙
Majianglong 马降龙

Majianglong 马降龙  is a must when exploring the Diaolou in the Kaiping region. The local tourist propaganda calls it the most beautiful village in China and one of the 50 places that can’t be missed. Heard that one before? Actually, while I’d take some of the hype with a pinch of salt, Majianglong is undoubtedly very pretty and makes for a fascinating visit.

Majianglong 马降龙: The most beautiful village in China?
Majianglong 马降龙

Majianglong is not one village, but a collection of 5 small hamlets: Yong’an永安, Nan’an 南安, Qinglin庆临, Hedong河东 and Longjiang龙江,linked together by bamboo- shaded stone paths along the shores of the Tanjiang River 潭江.

Majianglong 马降龙: The most beautiful village in China?
Majianglong 马降龙

The buildings in Majianglong are sturdy, grey- brick constructions with beautiful roofs and lovely paintings above and around the doorways, showing scenes from classical China: beautiful maidens, song birds, flower arrangements, etc. The vernacular buildings mostly date from the Qing dynasty, while the Diaolou are early Chinese Republic edifices.

Majianglong 马降龙: The most beautiful village in China?
Majianglong 马降龙

Obviously, the number one activity around here is ‘spot the Diaolou’ (Click here for a definition of a Diaolou). Given that these are rather tall buildings, you’d be surprised how challenging this can be. Many are hidden by the dense vegetation and the tall, swaying bamboo trees, or concealed down blind alleys.

Majianglong 马降龙: The most beautiful village in China?
Majianglong 马降龙

The best way to get your bearings is to climb to the Continue reading “Majianglong 马降龙: The most beautiful village in China???”

三门里村落 Sanmenli Village (A sleepy village where nothing ever happens)

Sanmenli Village三门里村落

Guangdong Province 广东省: Kaiping 开平

Sanmenli's oldest Diaolou, Yinglong Lou迎龙楼

Sanmenli 三门里村落. If ever there were a sleepy place where nothing ever happens it has to be Sanmenli Village. Tranquility and peace imbibe this pretty village only a few kilometers from the large and ugly city of Kaiping 开平.

Sanmenli residents washing clothes

Being so close to Kaiping, Sanmenli is easy to miss; we nearly did!  As you leave town, keep your eyes peeled on the right and you’ll see a cluster of fabulous- looking old houses, straight out of the China you imagine existed centuries ago. We couldn’t quite believe what we were seeing. If this were Shangrila Yunnan, there would be a coach park, souvenir stalls and thousands of flag- waving tour guides with their camera- toting and mobile phone – fixated hordes traipsing behind them. It seems that the rural and architectural charms of Guangdong Province have largly escaped the scourge of Chinese mass tourism.

Sanmenli old houses

Still, it was curious to see a clearly marked signpost, both in English and Chinese, pointing  in the direction of the village (See getting there), given how few people actually visit. We had the whole place to ourselves on a weekend in August.

The entire area around Kaiping is famous for the fantastic Diaolou buildings 碉楼 (Fortified buildings used as watchtowers: Click here). These magnificent structures can be seen everywhere, sprouting out of paddy- fields or hidden between the housing blocks of encroaching urbanization.

Beautiful old Sanmenli buildings

However, Continue reading “三门里村落 Sanmenli Village (A sleepy village where nothing ever happens)”

Kaiping Diaolou / Guangdong Province (Visiting the Diaolou)

Kaiping Diaolou

Guangdong Province: China

Diao Lou in Jinjiangli Village 锦江里的碉楼

The Diaolou

These amazing buildings sprout like giant mushrooms from the pretty paddy fields around Kaiping. Some structures are simple and plain affairs, others elaborate and ornate, the best are jaw droppingly beautiful.

Diao Lou near Kaiping

The Diaolou were mostly built by returning Chinese emigrants in the early years of the 20th Century, especially in the 1920s.  Many reflect the styles of the countries where the  émigrés went, like Malaysia, Indonesia, Europe or North America.  Some of the Diaolou are a mix of different styles.  Building a Dialou was a returning émigré’s way of showing the homeland that he had made it.  However, at the same time, one of the principal functions of a Diaolou was defensive. China in the 1920’s was in the midst of the Warlord era. Internal conflicts and instability were rife.

Dialou everywhere

Bandits and remnants of warlord armies roamed the countryside, pillaging and looting. The Diaolou were used primarily as night watch-towers and as a way of sealing off and protecting the family from potential intruders and kidnappers. This was done by providing the towers with heavily fortified entrance gates, as well as the means of closing off each floor separately.

The more elaborate Diaolou were also built to display their owners’ wealth and prestige. Some have commemorative plaques, documenting the family’s history.  There are stories of great patriotic heroism, others are of personal tragedies and incredible hardship. When the Japanese invaded China, many of the Diaolou owners fled abroad and never returned.

Abandoned Diaolou

After the Chinese Revolution in 1949, the Diaolou fell into disuse and were all but forgotten until the 1990s. However, after a long campaign by Chinese history scholars, the Diaolou of Kaiping were listed as UNESCO heritage in 2007. Slowly, the descendants of some of the emigrants have been returning to restore the buildings. There are still over 1,800 Diaolou in the Kaiping region.

To visit the Diaolou, you first have to get to Kaiping, which is  some two and a half hours by bus from Guangzhou.


Kaiping is Continue reading “Kaiping Diaolou / Guangdong Province (Visiting the Diaolou)”