Breathing life into derelict rural homes

Xinhua, August 14, 2023
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This photo taken on May 17, 2023 shows an old building that has been renovated into an exhibition hall for agricultural products in Chenzhou's Huatang Town, central China's Hunan Province. (Xinhua)

In a remarkable metamorphosis, derelict houses are being renovated to revive their faded splendor and repurposed into villa hotels, village museums, educational bases, and other public spaces, breathing new life into these once-forgotten architectures.

The "Awakening Heritage Homes" initiative in the city of Chenzhou, in central China's Hunan Province, is orchestrating a profound renaissance by resurrecting long-abandoned rural residences, ushering in a great transformation while revitalizing entire communities.

Arriving in Chenzhou's Huatang Town feels akin to stepping into a realm of picturesque beauty. Xiao Xiuling, who works in the local food processing industry, rented two old buildings dating back more than 100 years and has renovated them into an exhibition hall for agricultural products.

"Many villagers have moved to the cities, leaving their rural homes neglected for long. Consequently, these once-thriving residences succumbed to decay, with some houses reduced to mere fragments of broken walls, while others stand as precarious and hazardous structures," Xiao said, adding that when she first saw the old houses the atmosphere was filled with dust, the wooden windows showed signs of damage, and mossy corners were clearly visible.

"We restored and renovated the old houses based on the principle of 'preserving the classical charm through meticulous repair and minimal intervention,' and the old houses now retain the old style and are brimming with newfound vitality," Xiao said.

"Multiple generations of our family have lived in the same house since its construction for our grandparents. As the younger members eventually moved to larger and more modern residences, the original family home sadly fell into abandonment," said Li Yuai, a resident of Huatang Town.

"Now, not only have the old houses been repaired, but we can also receive rent and dividends every year," Li said, expressing his delight in seeing the revitalized homes evolve into a prime attraction of the community.

As a pilot town for the initiative, Huatang has approximately 300 derelict houses that can be transformed into rental properties. According to Tan Hao, the town's Party secretary, owners of 80 houses have signed agreement to join the initiative so far.

"The progress of the rural areas was hampered by the presence of aging and abandoned houses, which also posed a safety risk and affected the quality of life," Tan said, adding that the initiative has significantly improved living conditions in the countryside by removing unsafe and rundown structures, improving outdated sanitation facilities, and solving other issues.

In line with the inherent conditions of these homes, Chenzhou has also been actively pursuing a diverse "awakening" approach.

In Chenzhou's Hexie Village, a splendid classical house stands as an example of this endeavor. Within its walls, the melodious echoes of chants reverberated, as a group of students dressed in traditional attire delved into the realm of sinology.

This photo taken on May 24, 2023 shows students dressed in traditional attire studying in a renovated old house in Chenzhou's Hexie Village, central China's Hunan Province. (Xinhua)

According to Huang Kai, Party secretary of the village, Hexie has revitalized 19 old houses, transforming them into diverse cultural venues.

"The rebirth of these old houses has also brought opportunities to enhance the collective economy of our village," Huang said.

"The villagers are now actively pursuing a trajectory that amalgamates traditional culture and agritourism. Looking ahead, we hope to leverage our distinctive brand of 'old houses' to channel investments into the augmentation of infrastructure," Huang added. Enditem

(Wu Haowen also contributed to the story.)