Lijia Shan


This supremely peaceful 550-year-old village, hugging a hillside with terraces of crops running up it, has hundreds of cave dwellings (窑洞, yáodòng) scaling 11 levels. Once home to more than 600 families, most with the family name Li, today’s population is much depleted at around 45. Some stone paths and stairways that twist up the hill date from Ming times; note the rings on some walls that horses were tied to and the ornate stone, brick and wood carvings.

The cave structures look similar at a glance, with red dates and bushels of corn hung out to dry beside the doors, but in fact there are three villages here: West (西财主, Xī Cáizhǔ), East (东财主, Dōng Cáizhǔ) and the Chen's (陈家湾, Chénjiā Wān). The larger West Village has a plain gate but spacious courtyards; East Village has tiny courtyards and a beautiful gate with a metal door knocker (in the past men coming home late at night would knock instead of calling for their wives and giving mischievous mountain spirits ideas). East Village faces terraced fields, and if you follow the path down a little further and look to the left, you see an isolated cluster of homes belonging to the Chen's who were the only inhabitants here before the Li's moved in.

The village is very popular with artists who have come to walk in the footsteps of the late Chinese painter Wu Guanzhong, a pioneer in modern Chinese painting who found inspiration here. The surrounding countryside offers ample opportunities for hikes and there are homestays (¥60 including two meals). Accommodation is basic; you'll have to use the public toilets and they are rough.

The village is 3km south of Qikou. To get here, cross the bridge by Qikou’s bus stop and follow the river for about 30 minutes until you see a blue sign indicating Lijia Shan. Walk on for about 100m and then take the road up the hill for another 30 minutes and you’ll reach the old village. Local cars do a return run for around ¥50 to ¥60.

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