Video by James Wood
A Tibetan Catholic family, by the name of Zhang, built a farmhouse near Cizhong in 1989 and lived in it until they were forced to relocate due to the construction of the Wunonglong dam in 2017. Cizhong Village is located near three great rivers of Asia—the Mekong (Lancang), the Salween (Nu), and the Yangtze (Jinsha) River run closely parallel, cutting deep gorges among the glaciated peaks of the eastern Himalaya to create a region renowned for its rich cultural and biological diversity. Close to the Tibetan and Burmese borders, this “Three Parallel Rivers” region is recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site and boasts 15 protected areas, including China’s first national park.
The village of Cizhong has a unique history as the home to a Catholic church, where local people of diverse Tibetan, Naxi, Yi, Lisu, Bai, and Han ethnicities join together to attend mass every Sunday. The people are subsistence farmers practicing traditional agriculture and animal husbandry, but the village is also home to a thriving wine production industry introduced by French and Swiss missionaries in the nineteenth century. Villagers were able to keep these unique traditions and local knowledge alive through the revolutionary period. The similarity to Virginia landscape agriculture is striking: farming grain and gardening between mountain and river, raising hogs and cattle, tending orchards of walnut and fruit trees and vineyards for making wine.
The house itself is a blend of Tibetan, Naxi, Bai, and Han Chinese ethnic styles, built by Bai carpenters from Jianchuan County, a place renowned for fine craftsmanship, particularly in house building and wood carving. The house was built in a way that fits both the local environment and the cultural hybridity of the community. Although it was built in 1989—before electricity came to Cizhong—the house follows the traditional layout, materials, methods, and ornamentation of houses in the region going back centuries. It is a “good” house with solid fit, quality materials, and lovely carving and joinery—not unusual, but unusually well-built and well maintained. Most importantly, the family understands the idea of moving the house that we outlined to them, and they are committed to participating in the project not for profit, but in order to share their culture and folkways with the rest of the world.
Mountain to Mountain, River to River: A Chinese Farm House Finds a New Home in West Virginia
From the Himalayas and the Mekong to the Blue Ridge and the Shenandoah, the China Folk House’s original site and its new home share cultural landscapes that highlight common rural folkways. Now, the China Folk House lives at the Friends Wilderness Center (FWC), a beautiful 1,600-acre nature conservancy connecting the Appalachian Trail to the Shenandoah River. The China Folk House is a cultural and educational center dedicated to environmental stewardship, cultural exchange, community engagement, and experiential education.
Map by Bryce Linden
The China Folk House Retreat:
Hosts cultural exchanges, retreats, and China-related events to build mutual understanding;
Promotes experiential learning about the diverse folkways of rural China to cultivate a unique connection to China in the U.S.;
Offers intensive Chinese language study in a culturally immersive environment to build pathways for dialogue between China and the U.S.;
Celebrates traditional crafts, local knowledge, and cultural preservation to uplift marginalized communities and appreciate the dignity of labor;
Fosters environmental sustainability with traditional architecture methods and innovative technology to promote environmental stewardship; and,
Empowers young people to build self-confidence as they “build common ground” to encourage collaboration, communication, and mutual respect.