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Introducing Zhūjiāyù

Eighty kilometres east of Jǐ’nán, Zhūjiāyù is one of Shāndōng’s oldest intact hamlets, dating back as far as the Xia dynasty (2070–1600 BC). Most of Zhūjiāyù’s buildings are from the more recent Ming and Qing dynasties, and many have been spruced up to serve as Chinese movie and soap opera sets, but strolling the narrow streets is still a journey back in time. Wander on your own or hire one of the elderly residents playing tour guide (¥10 to ¥20, Chinese-speaking only) inside the city walls.

Flanked by bucolic panoramas of rolling hills, Zhūjiāyù can be explored in half a day. Pay at the main gate in the restored wall on the village’s northern end and then walk along the Ming-dynasty, double-track ancient road (双轨古道; shuāngguǐ gǔdào) to the Qing-dynasty Wénchāng Pavilion (文昌阁; Wénchāng Gé), an arched gate topped by a single-roofed shrine where teachers would take new pupils to make offerings to Confucius before their first lesson. On your left is Shānyīn Primary School (山阴小学; Shānyīn Xiǎoxué), a series of halls and courtyards with exhibits on local life. Further along the road looms a wall with two fading portraits of Chairman Mao dating from 1966.

Wander to see the many ancestral temples, including the Zhu Family Ancestral Hall (朱氏家祠; Zhūshì Jiācí), packed mudbrick homesteads (many are deserted and collapsing), and delightful, arched shíqiáo (stone bridges). The Lìjiāo Bridge (立交桥; Lìjiāo Qiáo) is an early form of traffic overpass dating from 1671. A further 30-minute climb past the last drystone walls of the village will take you to the gleaming white Kuíxīng Pavilion crowning the hill.

If you want to spend the night, look for flags posting农家乐(nóngjiālè; a guesthouse or homestay). The basic Gǔcūn Inn is a lovely old courtyard home with a spirit wall decorated with a peacock, 80m past the Lìjiāo Bridge. The owners will also cook up dinner (dishes from ¥12). At Lǎo Jiā Restaurant (老家菜馆), next to the Mao portraits, the genial owners take their sleepy yellow dog hunting for wild rabbit and forage for fresh mushrooms and greens in the hills (¥35 per jīn for rabbit and vegie dishes from ¥10).

To reach Zhūjiāyù from Jǐ’nán, catch the Zhāngqiū bus (章丘; ¥21, 1½ hours, from 7am to 6.30pm) from the bus station directly across from the train station; ask for the village drop off. From there, it’s a further 2km walk (locals offer lifts for ¥10). Returning to Jǐ’nán, flag down a bus across from the massive gate on the main road. Buses are rare after 6pm.