Back in time: Self-Help Village

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2005, 12:00am

Back in time: Self-Help Village


As one of Kaiping's five World Heritage sites, Self-Help Village has the largest number of watchtowers open to visitors in one place, and offers a rare glimpse into Chinese village life. This is a thriving community where the villagers continue to live much as they always have, except for the colour televisions and the air conditioners. It has a visitor!?s centre, a postal kiosk, a clinic and an outdoor performance venue.


Most of the watch towers at Self-Help Village were built by returning overseas Chinese in the 1920s and 1930s, and several still contain their original furnishings. While some people still live in the low-rise farmhouses, many of the watchtowers have stood empty for 80 years. According to local lore, some have not been entered since their original owners left for foreign lands in the first half of the last century.


Qiangkou Township, Kaiping


Tel: (750) 267 9078


Reaching new heights: Ruishi Watch Tower


Nine stories high, Ruishi Watch Tower rises above scenic Jinjiang Village, another thriving community where life goes on as though time has stood still. The village continues to house 40 families and a population of 100.


Built in 1923 by Huang Bixiu, a wealthy businessman, Ruishi Watch Tower is the tallest watchtower in Kaiping and the most elaborate. The lower floors are beautifully appointed with the original furnishings. The original hardwood staircase is in excellent condition. The balconies on the upper floors afford excellent views of the village and surrounding countryside. The top floor houses a large spotlight for surveying the countryside.


Next door is Zhongren Tower, which was able to house the entire village during bandit raids and floods. The village!?s third watchtower, Shengfeng Tower, is under renovation and will open shortly.


Jinjiang Village


Xiangang Township, Kaiping


Multicultural Classical: Li Yuan


A Unesco World Heritage site, Li Yuan was built by Xie Weili, who was born in the United States to parents who had emigrated from Kaiping's Tangkou Township. Asked by his father to return to his ancestral village and construct a garden, Xie took a team of engineers on a tour of the classical gardens of Beijing, Suzhou, and Hangzhou to gather ideas. They also drew inspiration from the architectural styles of the US, Europe, Japan, and Southeast Asia.


The result was Li Yuan, a 19,000-square-metre complex of gardens, villas and a watch tower. It is one of the most important tourists sites in Guangdong province. From a distance it looks like a quintessentially Chinese structure, but the pastel yellow colour and the emerald-green tile roof adorn what is actually a western-style home with Chinese characteristics ?C typical of the cross-cultural undercurrents that flow throughout the entire region.


Kaiping Li Yuan Tourist Area


Tangkou Township, Kaiping


Tel: (0750) 267 7933


Website: www.kpliyuan.com


More watch towers


Revolutionary Martyrs


Nanlou Watch Tower sits in the centre of a memorial park honouring the seven martyrs who died defending their village during the Sino-Japanese War in 1945. Built in 1913, it was renovated in 1999.


Nanlou Watch Tower


Tengjiao Village, Chikan Township, Kaiping


Tel: (0750) 261 3943


European Landscape


Built in 1926, this collection of watch towers is located in the village of Da Tong, which is considered to have the most authentically European rural setting in Kaiping. There are 14 farmhouses, 11 alleys, and three watch towers. From a distance it looks like a European castle.


Da Tong Li Watch Tower


Da Jin Da Tong Village, Chishui Township


Beacon of Hope


Located near Self Help Village, the Fang Family Lighthouse is situated on a small rise. Built in 1920, it was called a lighthouse rather than a watch tower because under its dome-shaped roof, a large beacon was used to survey the surrounding countryside during times of peril.


Fang Family Lighthouse


Guzhai Village, Tangkou Township


Tianlu Tower


Ma Jiang Long Watch Tower Villageis home to Tianlu Tower, which provided refuge to 29 families during times of peril. The seven-storey structure rises 21 metres above the ground. The village, which has often been hit by floods, contains an excellent collection of watch towers hidden among the bamboo.


Ma Jiang Long Watch


Tower Village Ma Jiang Long Village, Baihe Township;


Leaning Tower of Kaiping


This is Kaiping!?s answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Built in 1903, Nanxing Leaning Tower leans at a 30 degree angle, caused by small ditch that wasn!?t noticed when construction began. It only became apparent as the building went up. As with its Italian counterpart , attempts to correct the slant were unsuccessful.


Nanxing Leaning Tower


Nanxing Village, Xiangang Township;


Concrete Wonder


While most of the watch towers in Kaiping had reinforced steel frames, Shilu is made entirely of concrete. Completed in 1924, it rises five stories amid natural bamboo groves.


Shilu


Houshan Xiabian Village, Baihe Township, Kaiping