About 18 km north of Dali old town (34 km to Xiaguan), Xizhou is the typical town with Bai's characters. More than 1500 years ago, Xizhou and nearby area has been the major habitat for the Bai people. During Sui Dynasty, the region was conquered by Shi Wansui, General of Sui Dynasty. Locals also called the town: Shi Town. Until today, we still can see many well preserved residential houses of Bai's style.
Xizhou was once a commercial center of Yunnan, and the birthplace of Bai's modern entrepreneurs. It is said that more than 140 wealthy families built their houses here, including the Yan's, the Yang's, the Dong's and the Zhao's. These houses are characterized by '3 rooms and a wall screening' and '4 joints and 5 courtyards'. '3 rooms and a wall screening' refers that every house boasts a major room flanked by two wing-rooms, and facing the middle room erects a wall screening for the house privacy. '4 joints and 5 courtyards' means the houses have a central courtyard with rooms in all directions; other smaller four courtyards join the central one from four sides to make five courtyards. All these houses are decorated with woodcarvings, colored patterns, marbles and wash drawings, which represents the masterpieces of Bai's architecture.
Features of Xizhou Old Town
Xizhou is an old town of long history. Early in Han Dynasty, it belonged to Yuyu county. In Nanzhao period, it had been a onetime capital, also named "Da Li city" or "Shi City". Xizhou also has a long history in business, according to the "Documentation of Dali County" in the early years of the Republic of China: ¡°as for commercial mind, Xizhou people are the best". Along more than one thousand years of the historical river, Xizhou businessmen had even left their tracks in southeast Asia areas like "Xunchuan" and "Luoguo".
During Guangxu years of Qing Dynasty, the internationally famous "Xizhou Trade Caravan" was established. There were more than 300 business groups, firms and commercial ports in many places around the world, for example, early in 1920s, the four great commercial families including Yong Changxiang, Xi Qingxiang, Hong Xingyuan and Fu Chunhe had already established businesses in Shanghai and Hongkong. Therfore, Xizhou has a title of "Minor Shanghai".
Since Sui Dynasty, there had been thousands of scholars with official title. It was said by local people that "we have more than eighty second-grade successful candidates in th highest imperial examination, and numerous scholars at provincial and local levels". Based on some inadequate statistics, nowadays, the number of intellectuals born in Xizhou, with a title of "associate professor" and above, exceeds 400; the number of county cadres and above reaches 100; and more than 20000 Xizhou people are living overseas.
Even today in Xizhou, among the traditional Bai people's residences with blue tiles and white walls, you can still find those of Ming Dynasty, Qing Dynasty and Republic of China period. There are, in total, 15510 Bai residences, among which 151 are century-old relics. These residences have well revealed Bai people's social history, politics, economy, culture and art. They are a miniature of the life of Bai people in Xizhou, even in whole Dali area.
Yan's Compound of Bai Minority in Xizhou
The dwellings of the ethnic minority of Bai in Dali, Yunnan Province always make a strong impression on the traveler. Gradually, the Bai style architecture came into being. Over many years the Bai craftsmen practiced creating traditional Chinese dwellings, all the while cultivating a breathtaking architectural style to call their own.
Yan's Compound in Xizhou is the most representative of Bai-style residences, about 13 kilometers (8.08 miles) from Dali City. The compound covers an area of about 3,066 square meters (0.76 acres), built around the 1920's. As a whole, it is divided into four parts and each part is cleverly linked together. After visiting this impressive compound, one will ameliorate the admiration for its magnificence and the Bai people's architectural gifts.
Upon entering, one's eyes will fall upon the principal house with it's screen wall and two wings. According to the tradition of Bai-style architecture, the screen wall should face east in order to make use of the early morning sun and reflect the light into the inner rooms. Additionally, the screen wall, adorned with elaborate caligraphy and paintings, is considered as a talisman; the Bai people believe it brings good blessing.
Walking inside, one will see the second and then the third parts, each of the parts is enclosed by four houses with four small rooms built between each of the houses; a unique architectural style in Dali called "sihe wutianjing". The final house of the compound embraces a modern, western architectural style.
"Sandaocha" is a traditional regional tea ceremony consisting of three unique tea flavors, and is an experience not to be missed in Yan's compound. The host begins by presenting a bitter tea which stands for the hardships in life. Then, a sweet tea of sesame and walnut symbolic of happiness in life. Finally, a bitter, sweet, and spicy tea symbolic of pondering life.
How to get Xizhou Old Town
Take the bus of "Dali to Xizhou" and get off at its destination and from there you can walk to the Yan's compound.