As UNESCO describes the town when designating it as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1997, “The Old Town of Lijiang, which is perfectly adapted to the uneven topography of this key commercial and strategic site, has retained a historic townscape of high quality and authenticity. Its architecture is noteworthy for the blending of elements from several cultures that have come together over many centuries. Lijiang also possesses an ancient water-supply system of great complexity and ingenuity that still functions effectively today.”
Located in the Lijiang Naxi Autonomous County, Yunnan province, with an elevation of more than 2,400 meters, the Old Town of Lijiang, boasting a long history, simple and natural style and well-preserved ancient architectures, consists of several old towns, such as Dayan, Shuhe and Baisha, among which Dayan is the best representative of Old Town of Lijiang. Built in the late Song Dynasty and the early Yuan Dynasty, Dayan is situated at the center of Lijiang Plain, covering an area of 3.8 km2. Its population is approximately 25 thousand in total, and the vast majority of its inhabitants are Naxi people, many of whom are still engaged in traditional handicraft and commercial activities. Dayan is an old town without walls, as the hereditary headmen of Lijiang surnamed Mu (Chinese character is “木”) considered it as ominous if the “木” is enclosed by “口” formed by walls, which means being stuck in difficulty or danger. The old town enjoys a well-arranged layout that perfectly adapted to the uneven topography, demonstrating a landscape incorporating features of mountains and streams, as it is described “a town entangled with waters” and “every house enjoys clear spring and weeping willows”.
With a history of over a century, most dwellings in the Old Town of Lijiang incorporate elements from several cultures, such as Han, Bai, Yi and Tibetan, forming a Naxi layout of “quadrangle courtyard with three buildings and a screen wall on the four sides and five patios in the center”, an ingenious key legacy for Chinese folk residence architecture. In the center of each old town stands a square market surrounded by tidy shops. It is called “Square Market”, where all the other streets in the old town meet. Streets and lanes stretching from here are paved with colored slates, smooth and full of sense of history.
Baisha Murals are kept and displayed in religious buildings in Baisha village, which is also the birthplace of the hereditary headmen, Mu’s family. As the essence of traditional Dongba culture, Baisha Murals blend religious culture with ethnic arts, demonstrating a style of its own featured by rich colors, concise brushwork, even lines and wide-ranging themes.
Deriving from Dongjing music and Huangjing music of Han people, Naxi ancient music not only includes the ancient music of Naxi nationality, but incorporates Chinese classic music that emerged in Tang and Song dynasties and became mature in Ming dynasty, as well as Hu music from Western Regions and Persia. With two majors (Shenzhou and Huatong) and over fifty minors, Naxi ancient music adds bold and vigorous national characteristics into the elegant string and bamboo flute music, therefore it is honored as a “living music museum”.