HomeLocal History in Jinhua

Local History in Jinhua

For centuries villagers in China have built ancestral halls, lineage compounds, shrines, and temples; these were the communal spaces in which the ceremonies of kinship and religion took place. These visible links with the past are rapidly disappearing. Some were destroyed in the 1950s or converted to other uses; almost all of them were desecrated during the Cultural Revolution. Today the traditional buildings with their lofty halls and open courtyards are being torn down to make room for multistory Western-style brick and cement buildings, others are being razed as streets are broadened for automobiles, and others have simply been left to decay. But there is also a growing interest in preserving the finest and oldest examples of what remains, both for their historical importance and their ability to attract tourists. The buildings and villages you will see here are located in Jinhua, a prefecture located in the center of Zhejiang Province.

Jinhua Prefecture in 1911, showing the main postal route.

Jinhua Prefecture as of 1911

The map below shows the distribution of markets and roads at the beginning of the twentieth century.

How to use the China Local website

The website is organized by place. Choose a site from the main sites page or from the descriptions below. You will arrive at an introductory page and map for that site; from there you can enter a building complex or village. The sites are organized around panoramic views, static images that allow you to examine details, videos of local activities, and translations of inscriptions and documents. Our goal is to provide visual access to the history of a place and the people who live there. The website is always under some degree of construction.


Jinhua today covers an area of about 11,000 square kilometers and has a population of nearly 4.5 million. By the twelfth century it already had about a million people, as the population table illustrates. Today's Jinhua Municipality is the successor to Jinhua Prefecture of the Ming and Qing dynasties, which in turn was the successor to Wu zhou (Wu Prefecture) of the Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasties. Since 696 the geographic shape of Jinhua/Wu zhou has changed very little. Before 696 its present territory was contained within the much larger Dongyang and Guiji CommanderiesSee below the change over time.

Jinhua as a prefecture (or municipality) is composed of several counties (or lesser municipalities) each of which has its own county government led by officials appointed from the capital. In imperial times, the Jinhua prefectural government had its offices in the seat of Jinhua county, an arrangement that has persisted into this century. See the table of Jinhua's administrative status through history to see how the administrative composition of the prefecture changed over time. County boundaries have changed as well; a map of county boundaries as of 1990 compared with one for 1911 show numerous adjustments. It is difficult to reconstruct county boundaries for earlier periods with precision, although the 1911 borders originate in changes made in 1471. Traditional county maps rarely drew boundaries. Instead they might present a simplified rectangular plan of major points in the county, as seen in a Lanxi county map from 1510 which greatly enlarges the county seat, or they might provide a view of the landscape, such the Yongkang county map of 1892; the few that did depict boundaries, such as this map of Yongkang roads and villages from 1892, are informative but not spatially accurate. We can determine the locations of the county seats with relative precision over time, however, thus giving us maps for 500600750758-12751295-1369, and 1368-1470.


There are few surviving sources for Jinhua's history prior to the eleventh century. The most common sources of information for earlier times are the rather abbreviated entries found in the Treatises on Geography section contained within the official histories of various dynasties; see for example the entry in the Sui dynastic history. Before the Yuan dynasty (1260-1368) even national administrative geographies provide only slightly more detailed information, as we can see from the Treatise (with maps) on Commanderies and Counties of the "Primal Harmony" (Yuanhe) Reign Period (806-814) and the Treatise on the Nine Regions of the Primal Abundance (Yuanfeng) Reign Period (1078-85). In the 970s, however, Yue Shi (930-1007), an official from one of the southern kingdoms conquered by the new Song dynasty, submitted his Universal Geography of the "Great Peace" (Taiping) Reign Period (977-84) to the court. Yue's book went beyond the bare bones of administrative and physical geography to include notes on the cultural history of all the significant places in the realm. Perhaps the most important development in the centuries that followed was the spread of a new kind of historical genre, the local gazetteer. Gazetteers compiled information about the administration and history of a particular place, and they were revised and updated. The first Jinhua prefectural gazetteer was compiled in 1154, although the earliest extant version is the 1480 edition. The tradition continued into the early twentieth century, maintaining fairly standard categories of description. The compilation of gazetteers essentially ceased in the mid-20th century, but beginning in the later 1980s there was a resurgence in their publication, now with substantially different standard categories. Today, municipal and county websites provide an immediately accessible but frequently changing source of local information. Jinhua's municipal website includes English language pages: http://english.jinhua.gov.cn/.


The sites

City God Temples

City God temples, more accurately, temples of the "god of the walls and moats" - are associated with a particular prefecture, county, or town. In addition to providing protection, this god also keeps track of the good and bad deeds of the local inhabitants and judges them after death.

Tangxi City God Temple Located in the seat of the former Tangxi County, this is the best restored city god temple in Jinhua. In the 1980s the building was repossessed by local elders and money was raised to renovate the temple and restore the image of the god.

Prefectural City God Temple  Located in Jinhua city, this was the city god temple for the entire prefecture. After 1949 it was converted to housing, and apartments were constructed in the courtyards. In 2002 work began on restoring the halls. By 2010 religious statuary had been put into the temple.

Buddhist sites

The monastery on Bailu (White Dew) Mountain  Located in Lanxi county, this is today once more an active Buddhist monastery.

Yanfu (Extend Good Fortune) Monastery  Located in southern Wuyi county, formerly part of Xuanping County in Chu Prefecture . The main hall which no longer has any Buddhist images dates from the Yuan period (1279-1368).

Tianning (Heavenly Peace) Monastery  First built in the eleventh century, this monastery in downtown Jinhua city is no longer active. The main hall dates from the Yuan period (1260-1368).


Architectural Models

Hengdian open-air museum (currently unavailable) A large assemblage of reconstructed residences and ancestral halls from the Jinhua area. Half-finished as of 2004. Eventually buildings from other parts of China will be added. This is a private museum supported by the Hengdian Group, Dongyang. www.hengdian.com


Lineage Compounds

Lu Family Compound Outside of the East Gate of Dongyang. This is the largest lineage compound in Jinhua. The Lus have been one of the leading families of Dongyang since the fifteenth century. They were forced out of the compound and a large portion of it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. It is being restored today as a museum. This portion of our website includes extensive materials on the Lu family. Through the Lu Family Compound main page, you can see panorama, static images, the Old Lu Family Map, and supplementary documents of the compound.

Li Family Village A village in Dongyang dominated by the Li family, which traces its history back to the twelfth century. The major building is the Li family's joint ancestral hall, which was built in 1542.

Eight-sided Hall of the Huangshan Chen Family One of the few surviving ancestral halls of the Chen lineage in in Huangshan village in Yiwu, it has some of the most ornate wood-carving to be seen in Jinhua. The carving is probably from the early twentieth century. This hall was used as housing after 1949 but is now being restored.

Seven Pillar Hall A fine hall, dating back to the Ming period, in Yafan Township in Jinhua county. The main hall is now used as a barn and is decaying rapidly.

Wenlou Village This recently renovated ancestral hall of the Cheng family was built in by Cheng Zhengyi in the late sixteenth century. We focus here on the hall's portraits of Cheng, his father, his sons, and their wives.


Government Buildings

Headquarters of the Taiping Assistant King This building in downtown Jinhua city was built as the headquarters for one of the Assistant Kings ( shiwang ) of the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace (Taiping tianguo), whose armies occupied Jinhua in the 1860s. The site itself goes back to the Song dynasty, when the prefectural office was located here. It is now a museum.


Mountain Villages

Guodong Village This well-protected village in the mountains of Wuyi still has much of its original character. The villagers, almost all of whom belong to the He family, have restored many of the older buildings and have started to attract tourists. The village includes family residences, a grand ancestral hall and opera stage, and various temples.

Shanxia Bao Village A beautiful and isolated village in the mountains of southern Wuyi (formerly in Xuanping County of Chu Prefecture). The Tu family, the dominant lineage, established itself by cultivating and selling indigo in the eighteenth century.

Upper Tang Village About 2000 members of the Tang lineage reside here. Although set in the hills, the village has an adequate amount of flat land. Located in Lanxi county, this village has a complex lineage system in which each lineage segment has its own hall.

Lingxia Tang  Located in Wuyi, the name of the village means the Tang family below the peak. The Tangs have lived here since the twelfth century. They have recently restored an unusual ancestral hall in which the beams and pillars are made of stone.


Border Villages

Yuyuan Village Located at what was once the southern boundary of the prefecture, on the border of Wuyi County and Xuanping County of Chu Prefecture. The Yu family and Li family have long histories here. The local family compounds and ancestor halls have also been developed for tourism.

Zhiyan Village A well-preserved, tightly built stone and brick village of the Chen family in the northwest corner of Lanxi, on the border with Jiande County (of which it was formerly a part). This part of the website devotes particular attention to the history of the Chen family, which has been here for about 800 years.


Lowland Villages

Zhuge Village Although few of the buildings in this western Lanxi town are particularly old (many were rebuilt after having been burned down during the Taiping rebellion), the prosperity derived from local herbal medicine businesses enabled its inhabitants to maintain a village of grand family compounds and ancestral halls. More than most other places, it has maintained the look of a well-to-do traditional village and there is little new construction to detract from its overall prospect. The 3000 members of the Zhuge lineage here claim descent from the great third century figure Zhuge Liang.

Yao Village On the edge of the urban district of Lanxi, the village today draws its income from crafts such as woodcarving and the production of hams.

Siping In the former Tangxi county, this is the lineage village of the Dai family. The area is largely agricultural with a good amount of arable land.

Shantouxia and Shenzhai The Shen lineage village of Shantouxia straddles the border of Jinhua and Yiwu. Since the neighboring villages such as Shenzhai are also inhabited by fellow Shens, it is surprising that this village has been built in a way that closes itself off to the outside world.

Dayuan Village This lineage village of the Wu family was built around a grand hall celebrating its most illustrious ancestor, the general Wu Baipeng, who gained merit in the wars against invading pirates in the sixteenth century.

Hou Wu Village This lineage village of the Wu family has numerous ancestor halls and family compounds.


Traditional Urban Districts

Old City of Wuyi From as far back as there are records, the heart of Wuyi city has comprised of Upper and Lower Street and Cross Street. The major buildings the county office, the Confucian Temple, important shrines, and the most expensive residences - were located along it. Today this is the "backward" old section of a county seat that has broad avenues and heavy traffic. This website lets you walk the streets, tour the few grand buildings that survive, and compare the new city with the old on the basis of historical maps.



This site is the new version of the original Harvard China Local project website, which has retired. The materials on the original website were prepared during field trips in 2002 and 2004 by graduate students and faculty from Harvard and elsewhere, as well as volunteers from around the world affiliated with Earthwatch. Without their interest and effort, and the support of Zhejiang Normal University, this website would never have been possible.

With thanks to:

Abigail Church, Allison Massey, Andrew Shultz, Angela Boone, Anna Lu Lane, Anne Coles, Anne Ng, Anne Proctor , Anne Rasmussen, Anneliese Spiro, Arleda Watson, Carmen Chiarandini, Carol Link, Carol Schille, Chen Song, Chen Wenyi, David Holmes, Douglas Skonicki, Elizabeth Barrett, Elizabeth Graves, Fang Rujin, Forrest Glick, Gerald Carbone, Gerda Jansen Hendriks, Gong Jianfeng, Graham Massey, Han Seunghyun, Hans-Peter Wissel, Iwata Yuriko, Jeffrey Moser, Joanne Nay, John Holmes, Kathleen Woodruff, Kong Hwee Ting, Lee Jungwhan, Lee Sukhee, Lee Tsong-han, Li Haihong, Liu Guanglin, Liu Jie, Lois Langham, Lynda Lovely-Wright, Maileen Celis, Margaret Holmes, Marina Rivers, Marina Svensson, Melissa Brooke, Nancy Mannes, Nicholas Russell Smith, Nick Tustin, Ong Changwoei, Patricia Dancy, Paul Nay, Peter Bol, Peter Crowley , Richard Piper, Robert Lewis, Sabrina Snow, Satomi Matsumura, Sheng Hao, Sloan Sable, Song Jaeyoon, Sophia Huang, Sun Yanfei, Susannah Fone, Terry Wright, Tien Wen-hao, Wu Baichen, Wu Songdi, Xu Wei, Zha Mei, Zhang Shanshan, and Zhu Yi.

Financial support from the Harvard University Asia Center, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, and Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, Earthwatch Institute, and the International Music and Art Foundation.

Logistical support from Zhejiang Normal University, the cultural affairs bureaux and stations of Jinhua Municipality and its cities and counties, the Harvard University Instructional Computing Group, the Harvard-Yenching Library, and the people of the many villages in Jinhua that are depicted here.