This picturesque village is a well-preserved example of a human settlement created during the feudal period and was based on a prosperous trading economy. Hongcun was founded during China's Song Dynasty (960 - 279). It started as a single family village and was home to the Wang family. Until now Wang is a very popular name of the region. Hongcun flourished during the Ming and the Qing Dynasties (from the 14th to the 19th centuries), when merchants from Southern Anhui dominated Chinese trade. Most of the existing structures in the village were constructed during this period. The traditional residences, temples and other buildings all testify the existence of a rich local tradition that was jointly created by merchants, scholars and officials. It is interesting to note that the strong Confucian prejudice against merchants did not prevent the merchants from promoting Confucianism.
The houses and other buildings in the village were all arranged according to the principles of Fengshui (geomancy), and the design of Hongcun emphasized the accessibility of water, partly because the previous residence of the Wang family had been destroyed by fire. The whole village was originally laid out in the shape of an ox:
A nearby hill (Leigang Hill) is interpreted as the head and two trees standing on it mark the horns. Four bridges across the Jiyin stream can be seen as the legs and the houses of the village form the body. Inside the "body", the Jiyin stream can be seen as the intestines and the lakes - such as the "South Lake" (Nanhu) - as the stomachs.
The running water flows in the winding ditches to every household, and is finally gathered in a little lake at the entrance of the village. Hongcun earned great fame for its water-supply system. The waterways of the village were supposed to be designed to provide a source of washing and drinking water, and in case of emergency to extinguish the fire.
Hongcun has more than 140 well-preserved residences of the Ming and the Qing Dynasties. Hongcun distinguishes itself from villages in other areas by its unique design of the houses that were built with fine craftmanship. Among the buildings are several magnificent clan halls.
Together with Xidi it was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. Hongcun also was a location at which the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was shot. Below are the descriptions of the UNESCO:
"The two traditional villages of Xidi and Hongcun preserve to a remarkable extent the appearance of non-urban settlements of a type that largely disappeared or was transformed during the last century. Their street plan, their architecture and decoration, and the integration of houses with comprehensive water systems are unique surviving examples."