Step back in time and visit this fascinating ancient village in Guizhou Province.
We didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived at Tunbao village 屯堡 (sometimes known as Tunpu), next to the larger town of Tianlong 天龙. We had heard that it was home to a special group of Han Chinese who still dressed in Ming clothes. They are descendants of part of the army sent to quell unrest in the region during the reign of the Hongwu emperor; the founder of the Ming Dynasty 1368–1398.
Although we had wondered whether it was going to be some themed, Disney-style village to amuse Chinese tourists, we were actually pleasantly surprised.
The first thing we discovered came as a total shock: the women in Ming dress were the same ones we had seen haggling at Anshun market, or working the fields in nearby villages. We had previously mistaken them for Buyi (Bouyi) 布依族; ( an ethnic minority who live in this area), but from our previous visit to Shitou Zhai we had learnt that they wear darker clothes, embroidered in the different way.
The ladies in Ming dynasty clothes were definitely authentic; there were not only old ladies, but many young girls too, who continued to sport these traditional garments. There seems to be an area of villages and towns around Anshun where this practice continues.
The Ming costume basically consists of long, calf- length blue tunics, black trousers, dark aprons and the embroidered cloth shoes that are common in this area of Guizhou. The tunics are usually bright blue, but can be turquoise, purple or pink as well.
The ladies wear their hair in a bun at the back of their head, with a small white cap around it, held in place by a long pin, and they usually wear long dangling earrings as well. As is often the case, the men don’t wear anything special.
Tunbao village isn’t undiscovered. There is a 25- Yuan ticket that includes a guide, which we declined. However, it is far from over-run and a very picturesque place, which offers a much better example of the local stone village architecture than the touristy and over-priced Shitou Zhai.
While souvenir shops line the main street, the sales pressure is low and the haggling good-natured. Local woodcarvings and Dixi opera masks seem to be the main products.
The stone houses are well preserved and still lived in, many have a multitude of traditional farming implements spread all over the courtyard, as an indication that farming is still one of the main occupations of the villagers.
Tunbao 屯堡 boasts a few real architectural gems: one of these is the ancient Three Religions Temple 三教寺 (Sanjiaosi) which combines elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. In the Temple courtyard there’s a delightful wooden pyramid, adorned with carved figurines and ceramic bowls with tea-oil lamps.
Old ladies in their traditional blue dresses sit around sewing shoes, some are real ones, while others are miniature versions, something that seems to be another speciality of the village.
The second gem of Tunbao is the 19th century church school, built by a French priest, an unusual oval stone building with adjacent wooden halls that house a Dixi museum.
Dixi is the local style of opera, in which actors wear colourful wooden masks and extravagant costumes. The museum has a whole collection of these masks, some of them huge and frightening creations.
On the stage in the courtyard, regular mini-performances are held, whenever there are enough people around. The performances are lively and the mock fights are excellent.
You may have to wait around a bit in the plant-filled courtyard (look out for the dragon-shaped mini-tree) for a few other tourists to turn up. The actors a quite happy for you to enter their dressing room, nose around and ask questions.
Click here to Visit Tiantai Shan and Wulong Si from Tunbao Village
Practicalities: Tunbao 屯堡
Getting there and away:
Buses leave regularly from Anshun’s 安顺 main bus station to Tianlong. It takes around 45 minutes, up to an hour, depending on the route they take.
Food and Accommodation:
There were a number of restaurants serving local dishes and a few small inns (kèzhàn).
Practicalities Anshun 安顺
Accommodation can be tight in Anshun, especially at weekends, holidays and in summer. You may have to search around a bit before finding a bed, most of the hotels that feature in the popular guidebooks seem to be eternally full.
In 2003, we stayed at the pleasant Huayou Binguan on Tashan Xilu (tel. 322 6020), where comfortable airy rooms went for around 150 Yuan and staff were very friendly. Unfortunately, it was completely full on our last visit.
In 2007 we really had a hard time finding a room. Eventually we were pointed to the huge Fu Yun Hotel, right next to the bus station on Guihuang Gonglu lu. Light, airy rooms, arranged around an atrium, were 210 Yuan, a modest breakfast included. Staff were extremely friendly.
Other cheap options that may have vacancies are the Ruo Fei Binguan on Nanhua Lu, and the Anju Binguan next to the train station.
The best food in Anshun is definitely to be had at the night market. At seven o’clock on the dot, stall holders start appearing from nowhere, pushing their carts, and within minutes the entire length of Gufu Jie and its surrounding streets become crammed with stalls and tents, selling all kinds of snacks and more elaborate dishes. Cauldrons bubble and grilles crackle and practically the whole of Anshun seems to turn up for the feast.
Huo guo is extremely popular and the Anshun variety is one of the hottest we’ve ever tasted!
Another popular dish is grilled fish: you take your pick from an aquarium and watch while your choice is plucked out, bashed several times on the floor, gutted and placed in a metal griddle on top of a barbecue. You pay according to the weight and type of fish (around 60–70 Yuan for two). The whole, grilled fish is served on a hot plate, covered by spicy vegetables and aromatic herbs. Washed down with a mini, portable barrel of draught beer it makes for a very tasty meal.
One more dish that seems all the rage is barbecued mixed meats, mostly innards and offal, which you cook yourself on a round hot-plate, teriyaki style.
For vegetarians there is a real treat, something that seems unique to Anshun: at the top end of Gufu Jie there are two tents that specialise in vegetable pancakes. For 4 Yuan you get ten small pancakes that you can stuff with any of the vegetable fillings, meticulously prepared and attractively laid out on plates. Sauces and chilli are provided for dipping.
Noodles, Xinjiang lamb kebabs and a host of other snacks make up the rest of the market. Fruit shakes and shaved ice with various toppings, called baobing, provide the desserts.