Pingshan’s Neglected Walled Villages

(9 August 2018)

This article contains Chinese characters and romanisations

Pingshan (坪山) was the only district in Shenzhen that I haven’t set foot on (until yesterday, of course). Nowadays, this northeastern factory town is but a dwindling, gradually gentrifying factory town. This, coupled with lying 58 kilometres away from my place renders it generally rather unappealing.

Yet as I gradually explored the less frequented quarters of this town—In particular, those ancient villages Shenzhen’s urban sprawl has eaten away over the past three years or so, I started to appreciate the significance and uniqueness of Pingshan. Little known to even the local factory workers, Pingshan sits at just about the confluence of the traditional homelands of Hakka (客家) and Teochew (潮汕) peoples—and the architecture of their villages distinct the two so evidently.

Here’s an example of a Hakka village I visited last week, notice its distinctive Diaolou (碉楼 / Fortified Watchtower):

Here’s a Teochew walled village I visited on this trip. Notice how they are walled. Formally these villages are referred to as Shiju (世居 / ancestral halls):

For this trip I am particularly interested in the latter, partly because there are already plenty of traditional Hakka houses around the place where I live. After rather extensive research, amongst the dozens preserved, I chose two of the more architecturally impressive Teochew walled villages, which also happen to be in proximity of one another. One of them used to be a (sort of) minor attraction since somewhat deserted, and the other is literally abandoned and overgrown. The latter (which I visited first) especially, is so off-the-beaten path that this might well be among the very first blog articles to actually write about it (Let alone in English).

Now without further ado here’s the actual visit itself:

The only practical means of getting there is via National High Speed Rail (Yes you read that right, I’m taking a 200 mph High Speed Rail for a destination within the same city) but for one station only: Just a swift 21 minute ride from Shenzhen North Station:

Shenzhen North Station (Concourse)

Pingshan Station

Then I hopped on a bus service that carried me straight to Pingshan Higher Middle School, which is a short walk away from Fengtian Shiju (丰田世居)—The one that which, as aforementioned, has been quite literally abandoned. Winding through a number of older houses around its periphery:

I was greeted by this:

I’ve seen a number of such walled villages before in Ping Shan (屏山)–Not the same one, they share similar names but that one is in Yuen Long) and Lung Yeuk Tau (龍躍頭) near Fanling, Hong Kong, but neither of them are anywhere near the scale of this.

Despite no one lives here anymore, and that it is not in the best condition possible, some maintenance work is visible on the outer facade and the porch. Thus I wasn’t at all prepared when I was greeted by this when I get in:

I wasn’t disappointed by such ruins though: Quite the contrary in fact. These crumbled houses–Their decrepit, wabi-sabi condition gives them a charm and identity, one that a reconstruction shall strip away.

Some Maoist propaganda

A notice board, from time immemorial

Upon leaving this pleasant surprise I searched for a dockless bike to get myself to my next destination. There were none in vicinity. Upon walking a few hundred metres down the road I discovered two of them, perfectly functional, but I was not able to use either.

Why? Well, simply put, the stinginess/cunningness of the locals. Usually, there are two QR codes in the front and rear parts of the bikes. When one scan the code with an app, the bike will unlock automatically. However, since these bikes are rare in this part of town, some locals who wish to use these bikes indefinitely, peel off the QR code sticker on the rear (see above photo), and use paint to cover the one on the front. Blatant vandalism indeed, but now that the bike’s identifications are completely removed, no-one else other than themselves who possess the QR code, is able to unlock and ride them away anymore.

Without a bike my only other option to get to my next destination is via very infrequent bus services. I shall not trouble you with the exact circumstances of how I hopped on a service in the opposite direction, but in short, after some confusion, along the bus ride I discerned a cluster of older houses in the distance, and immediately decided to hop off the bus to get a closer look of the place.

This place, as it turns out, was Pingshan Market Town, which is now on the brink of demolition to make way for gentrification. I didn’t take much photos here but much of the town’s high street, known as Dongmen Dajie (东门大街) is lined with Qing and Republican townhouses—Nearly all of which will be gone in a few years’ time.

A Qing Dynasty inn awaiting its eventual demolition

The local Wen Wu/Man Mo Temple (文武庙), now listed in the local heritage registry (despite so, these heritage preservation committees doesn’t have much genuine power before the real estate conglomerates, and since this temple lies within the demolition zone, I am not entirely confident as to whether it will actually survive)

A random snapshot of some deserted ancient buildings on a backstreet now labelled as ‘危房’ (lit. dangerous buildings)

A little quaint corner shop that reminds me of similar ones back in Sri Lanka

拆 (Demolish) painted on virtually every building in the vicinity.

These generic, bland 80s-ish portions of the high street will ironically survive though.

Leaving Pingshan Market Town, I finally secured myself a dockless bike and rode to my third and last destination for the day, Dawan Shiju (大万世居)

Despite cycling down such traffic flooded Strand and Fleet Street has been second nature to me, riding bikes anywhere in mainland China is still a completely different story. The reason why I survived two years cycling from home to my high school was because a) I live in a relatively affluent area b) I know the roads well. But then, once I got to roads like these in Pingshan, I always have to be extra cautious since potholes and road bumps are genuinely all around the place. There are no road signs whatsoever so I have to continually stop and check the maps as to whether I’m heading in the right direction. Besides, although cyclists are allowed to ride on pedestrian sidewalks, sidewalks simply aren’t a thing in these parts of town.

Also on a side note, two rather interesting road names:

Good luck finding your way around these places if you don’t understand the characters!

BYD, if you’re not aware of it already, is a manufacturer of, among other things, cheap ripoff automobiles. These copycats grow so powerful nowadays that they got the local government naming a major thoroughfare after them.

Anyway, Dawan Shiju. This is said to be the largest walled village in the province. An even more impressive facade than the one I visited earlier.

So I went in. It was expansive indeed. Its feels as if it was less of a village and much more of a walled township like Dapeng Fortress (大鹏所城) half an hour drive southbound. Most young people have left but there are still a number of older generation living in the village (but I was the only visitor while I was there). It was a minor ticketed attraction about ten years or so ago, but then the local government decided to revitalise it and it was closed for a number of years. However, these construction works have since halted, and so now it’s in a semi-deserted, semi-finished condition and virtually void of visitors.

Some more Maoist propaganda

Despite its abysmal maintenance, Dawan Shiju is a survivor, as compared to most such surrounding villages that were either abandoned in their entirety or destroyed indiscriminately, as the urban sprawl continues to ravage the area–Vivid examples of how capitalism irrecoverably barbarises local beauty. I am genuinely intrigued in discovering more about all other such little surviving ‘pellets’ of history before bulldozers come in and pull them down for good.

I’m sometimes wondering as to what makes these regional day trips around Shenzhen so exciting—Despite it’s a city/region so many deemed unworthy of slightest thoughts about its back stories. I guess that’s because I’m simply amazed by the sheer amount of heritage, and the untold stories forever forgotten under a mere facade of its glistering yet pretentious skylines.

One Reply to “Pingshan’s Neglected Walled Villages”

  1. The ruins are amazing and easily my favorite. Thanks for an emersive reading experience to the dilapidated sites off the urban area. The unique age that is our own has left memorable imprints on them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *