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Located 90 km from downtown Beijing, Cuandixia, a village of unique architecture and natural beauty that goes back to ancient times, is emerging as a popular destination with artists, photographers and movie-makers.
On entering the village in mountainous Mentougou district, one can see a handful of old stone houses dotting the slopes. Red lanterns and yellow corn adorn every entrance. Political slogans of the "cultural revolution" (1966-76), scrawled in red paint and bleached by the sun, are still there on the walls.
"I realized the charm of this village before those artists," says Han Mengliang, the village head, pointing at a film production team.
Han learned of the village's history and legends by chatting with the elders in the early 1990s and began to collect first-hand information about the 76 courtyards in the village.
An ancient city built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Cuandixia is one of the best preserved villages in Beijing.
"Every village corner has a story to tell - from the age-old tiles, screen walls, frescoes and latticed windows, to the 'long live Chairman Mao' slogans painted on the walls and the copy of a 1960s newspaper pasted on one door," explains Han.
He began working as a tour guide in 1994 when the village opened to tourists and his vivid descriptions are much sought after.
"Tour guides should know their travelers well just as farmers know their fields," says 47-year-old Han. He is the first countryside tour guide in the village, and has won prizes at national tour guide competitions. "I only want to let travelers know the village, which is abundant in historical, cultural and architectural resources."
Han provides home-style accommodation in his courtyard house for visitors. Three neat kang earth beds can accommodate 20 people at a time. On Mondays and Tuesdays, he and his wife cultivate their fields, and from Wednesday to Friday, they are busy taking accommodation bookings.
Visits peak during the weekend. Sometimes, nine large dining tables are placed in the yards at the same time and the couple hire help to manage the cooking. Han provides free tour guide services to such visitors. With annual income of 60,000 yuan ($8,820), the couple live a happy life.
Encouraged by Han's successful business, 40 families in the village have embarked on such home-style tourism, providing accommodation to more than 760 visitors at one time.
Some artists, such as Dong Hongbiao, rent the village courtyards. Dong's son-in-law owns a small shop for designing and printing food menus. The computer major also helps villagers open blogs to promote their business. "Almost 50 percent of business is booked through these blogs," he says.
Standing at the top of the slope, with a bird's-eye view of the neatly structured village, Han points to some new houses under construction. He voices his worries:
"I hope the villagers and newcomers will not fuel too much construction, and will help preserve the original atmosphere of the village."