Shaxi: only preserved market on the Tea Horse Road

The ground paved with red sandstone is crude and plain. The delicate and straight attic connected to the stage. The old houses form a shape of square. Tourists play shuttlecock under the several hundred years old big Chinese scholar trees. Here is the old town Shaxi in Jianchuan, Dali. Last years, 100,000 tourists have visited this far away and old town, which makes it getting more and more popular.

When Huang Yingwu came to Shaxi in 2003, the town did not look like it is now. You can only describe it in a bad condition: the rickety old houses, the gap of the tiles on the rooftop have grown with weeds, local shops unarranged and messy. However, the World Monuments Fund has comment on Shaxi that “Chinese Shaxi (Sideng Road) area is the only preserved market on the Tea Horse Road. It has the complete stage, inns, temple and village gate, which makes the market that connects Tibetan and South Asia quite complete”. The comments have expressed the past glory of Shaxi. Losing something might turn out to be good, Shaxi turned quiet after the decline of Tea Horse Road, but it survived due to unpopularity: rich traditional history and culture are able to settle and accumulate, waiting for someone special to come.

In October 2001, Sideng Road was added into the 2002 watch list of 101 Most Endangered Sites by World Monuments Fund. December same year, the government of Jianchuan County and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technoloy have signed the Shaxi Region Restore Planning memorandum. From 2003, Huan Yingwu, graduated from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technoloy, was appointed as the representative from the Swiss tea in the restoration project, in charge of the building protection design, capital management and maintenance.

In the book of The Reading Time in Shaxi, Huang Yingwu says:” Cleaning up the timeline in the traces of the cultural heritage, following the lead to find the facts that covered by the dust of the history, and show or express them in certain way and let people understand it at a glance, which is one of the basic goals of the protection of cultural heritage. In other words, the success of culture heritage protection depends on the ability of reading time.”

The Tea Horse Road has accelerated the prosperity of Shaxi, and also brought large of foreign culture. It is not hard to clarify them, but restoring the old building cannot avoid the issue. The attic with stage and the Xingjiao Temple opposite to the stage are buildings from Ming dynasty. The gate of the temple has been destroyed several times and rebuilt again and again. No one knows what the original pattern look like. On the issue of the gate restoration, experts from Swiss and the Scholars from Jianchuan have different ideas. Huang Yingwu has worked as the “bridge” and proposed the plan that is agreed by both parties. He has successfully brought “Marshal Heng and Ha” in to the front gate.

To preserve and restore the original appearance of the history the most, and let people feel “the trace of time”, is the model and pursuit of the restorer. At the courtyard door of Bai Nationality, if it’s not for the old photo that found by Huang Yingwu, you would not be able to tell the trace of renovation. The reason that the new “gateway” looks better is because Huang Yingwu’s tea has carefully changed the hidden broken lintel. Huang Yingwu says, as a restorer you have to position yourself right: in broken house in front of you is not at your disposal, it is the historical relic that worth respect.

Respecting history does not exclude new idea, which is indispensable during the renovation, construction. Huang Yingwu thinks without sustainable utilization and development, it is not the real protection on cultural heritage. The attic and stage and the buildings on the both side were not connected originally, during the renovation, it connected the second floor of those buildings and turned it into an exhibition room, which adds exhibition function into it. A wooden ladder is built at the back wall of the attic, which expand the function and space of the attic. Looking closely, the most parts of the wooden stair is exposed in the air. It does not fit the traditional Chinese wooden structure, which is actually the rural Swiss style.

From 2003 to 2010, the renovation project in Shaxi has conducted three stages that bring Shaxi back to life. In 2005, the renovation project in Shaxi has received the “UNESCO Asia-Pacific Outstanding Award for Cultural Heritage Conservation”. In August 2011, the China-Swiss joint project of “Shaxi low carbon community center” has started construction, the development of the whole Shaxi village conservation has been put on the schedule. Huang Yingwu’s focus has transferred from renovation of the building to the sustainable development of the village. Is this against the identity of architect? Huang Yingwu says: “As an architect it has always been a role of coordinate from a comprehensive view, over the past 10 years, I have been integrated into the mountains and rivers in Shaxi.”

During the interview, Huang Yingwu is known to the locals as “Mr. Huang”. 10 years, this stranger has devoted himself to this far away city – Shaxi. The popularity of Shaxi has also proved that he is not just reading time, but also sowing time.