Hongcun, a tiny rural village near Huang Shan, got forgotten as the rest of China marched purposefully towards modernity and a gleaming capitalist future. Thank heavens – now Unesco has recognised it, and nearby Xidi village, as World Heritage sites.
After arriving in the dark, with just the sliveriest sliver of a moon in the sky, we were led from the road down a narrow alleyway to our guest house, Hongda Tingyuan, set behind a high stone wall. I had no clear idea of my bearings, or of what the village would be like in daylight. At night, it was too dark to see anything at all.
The early morning revealed a clear sky, and a beautiful and ancient village centred around curved Moon Lake, around whose edges the villagers were washing their clothes, their vegetables, and their hair.
The high-walled village alleyways unwind from two giant central trees – a poplar and a gingko, and lead outwards through a maze of twists and turns to a small rushing river, and fields of vegetables and flowering rapeseed. I could feel Shanghai’s noise and crush falling away.