While exploring Yunnan’s countryside, I have stumbled upon impressive and almost unknown architectural wonders. Here is a list of eight structures that are worth putting on your bucket-list.
1. Shuanlong Bridge of Daying
This bridge is considered as a marvel of ancient civil engineering that compete with Beijing’s Summer Palace (颐和园) ten-span bridge. Following a series of devastating floods during which the Lujiang and the Tachong Rivers merged into one near the village of Shui Daying, this seventeen-span bridge was built.
Known by locals as the ‘Seventeen Arches Bridge’ or Shiqi Kong Qiao (十七孔桥), it is also called the Shuanglong Qiao (双龙桥) or ‘Double-Dragon Bridge’, because the two rivers are said to meander in the valley like two dragons.
2. Huilan Pavilion of Baxin
Under this well-preserved stunning centuries-old historical pavilion and arched stone structure acted as a device that allowed for the regulation of the stream of water flowing from the Yilong Lake into the plains of Jianshui (建水). The name itself, Huilan Pavilion 洄澜阁 points to this function of water regulation. The character ‘hui’ 洄 means ‘whirling of water’ or ‘to go against the current’ (etymologically, water 氵returning 回) and ‘lan’ 澜 means ‘swelling waters’.
Since then, the water regulation device is cloaked and with the waters receding, it is no longer on the shores of the Yilong Lake. It is a still a wonder of ancient architecture in Yunnan province.
3. The Chen Clan Lineage Temple of Zhengying
Completed in 1925 in Zhengying (郑营), a small village that started off as a military outpost just 10 kilometers west of Shiping (石屏) in south Yunnan province, the Chen Clan Lineage Temple (陈家宗祠) is a large compound that includes a massive stone gate, a lotus pond, two main temples and wing halls built to honor the ancestors of the Chen family who had migrated from eastern China into the rural southwest borderland and amassed their wealth in mining and trade.
The Chan Clan Lineage Temple was secularized and you will not find any stone tablets or altars for ancestors worship lifestyle. Instead, it is now a recreational center for the village’s elderly who spend their afternoon chatting, playing mahjong or cards inside the wing hall.
4. Wu Family Courtyard of Heijing
Constructed between 1837 and 1858 in Heijing (黑井), the ancient salt capital of Yunnan, the Wu Family Courtyard (武家大院) with its wood and stone carvings that ornate the 99 different rooms on three floors, its garden surrounded by a wall, the ostentatious entrance gates, and the large scale of the building, is an astounding public display of luxury and wealth in a remote rural village of central Yunnan.
Shaped like character wang 王 which means ‘king’ in Chinese language, the Wu Family Courtyard is also an expression of the power and the hegemony of wealth family in the dominance of trade in Yunnan. Witness of a class of wealth salt merchants and traders which became extinct after the Communist took over the power in 1949, the Wu Family Courtyard is a unique structure and architectural wonder of Yunnan.
5. Wenchang Palace of Yiluo
Built in 1637, the Wenchang Palace (文昌宫) of Yiluo (绮罗), an ancient village near Tengchong (腾冲) in western Yunnan province, integrates the architectural features Confucius Temples (文庙) and Taoist temples and combine them into a large temple complex. Extended in the 1740s, the Wenchang Palace was renovated in 1851 and 2009 after being damaged during the Cultural Revolution. Local villagers call it the ‘Small Forbidden City’ (小故宫).
Inside, behind a half-moon shaped pool, we find several temples and halls dedicated to Confucius (孔子), Wenchang (文昌), the god of culture and literature, Nüwa (女娲), the goddess-creator of Chinese mythology, Kuixing (魁星), the god of scholars, and a performance stage.
6. Catholic Church of Dali
Tucked away in a courtyard right next to Dali ancient town’s busy shopping street, the Catholic Church of Dali (大理天主教堂) is an architectural masterpiece that combine the Western features of the church layout and the exceptional Bai construction style. Built in 1927 by foreign missionaries who had set out to evangelize southwest China, it is one of the 32 churches still active in western Yunnan.
7. Theater of Sideng village
In the center of Sideng, the main village of Shaxi valley, the Old Theatre is a masterpiece of the Bai people architecture and one of the main reason to come and visit.
Dominating the old Market Square, the Old Theatre stage stands face to face to the Xingjiao Temple so that the Buddhas may also enjoy performances with the people.
On each side of the Old Theatre, shops that catered to the caravan leaders and muleteers were transformed into coffee shops and storefronts for tourists. Behind the performance stage, there is a four-story Kuixing Tower (魁星阁). Kuixing is the deity of good fortune in examinations and was thus revered by scholars who wanted success in the imperial examination.
8. Ganden Sumtselin of Zhongdian
Established in 1679 by the 5th Dalai Lama, Sumtseling was built during the reign of emperor Kangxi 康熙 of the Qing dynasty, the layout of Sumtseling was designed to look like the Potala palace in Lhasa, but without any original blue prints, the architects were not able to make a faithful replica.
Songzanlin Monastery monastery was given the name of ‘Ganden’ in reference to the Ganden monastery near Lhasa which was founded in 1409 by Tsongkhapa, the founder of the Gelupa order or Yellow Hat Sect. After Zhongdian changed its name into Shangri-la, the local government marketed Sumtseling as the ‘Little Potala’ and became known to tourists as ‘Songzanlin Temple’ (松赞林寺) in Chinese.