The historic China Folk House brings the foothills of the Himalayas to Jefferson County

By Vanta Coda III, RealWV

In Jefferson County, American history is not the only heritage and culture to be celebrated, as within a clearing of a dense forest stands the historic China Folk House.

The China Folk House is a Chinese farmer’s house that was originally from the small hamlet of Ximalaza, in the Yunnan province of China, on the foothills of the Himalayas. Although the village of 33 homes was peaceful and picturesque, the site was set to be inundated by rising water from a nearby reservoir, and there was soon to be nothing left of Ximalaza.

Dr. John Flower, a teacher at Sidwell Friends School in D.C., and a group of his students were visiting the region as part of a field study in 2016. The group was walking through the village, observing the village when they all were invited in for tea by Zhang Jianhua, the owner of the house.

“The Chinese government marked the areas where the water level was going to rise and we saw this small village and decided to go down and see the structures before they were washed away,” said Dr. Flower. “That’s when we met Mr. Zhang Jianhua, who invited all of us in for tea and the rest was history.”

After a remark from Flower about wishing to bring the historic home with him back to the United States, Jianhua eagerly agreed for Flower to take the house. Thus, starting the six-year process of dis-assembling, shipping, and re-assembling the historic Chinese home near Shannondale.

A member of the Yunnan Native Place Association wears a traditional Yunnan headpiece. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

“We brought it back, found land, and got in touch with our largest donor, Dao Feng,” said Flower. “We had hundreds of volunteers and the West Virginia Timber Guild to help us, it was truly an amazing community experience.”

Flower planned for the house to be a museum, as well as a Chinese cultural center for students in West Virginia, Maryland, D.C., and the northern Virginia area. The house, intended as a teaching tool of Chinese heritage, has become more than just that but connection to one another, no matter where we come from.

Xin Jiang and her dance team check their phones to look over group pictures taken moments prior as part of the celebration. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

Fast forward to present day, the China Folk House now sits on 1,400 acre Friends Wilderness Center nature preserve. On May 4, 2024 the house hosted a community building and fundraising event for the Yunnan Native Place Association, celebrating the house and the unique cultural heritage of Yunnan province.

Colin Liang, head chef and owner of Water Song Kitchen in Baltimore helped cook and prepare foods that were served in his homeland of Yunnan province, while live traditional Chinese music filled the air with the spectacle and smell of Yunnan’s heritage.

In the peaceful living room of the China Folk House, Poet Yuxi prays. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

“When some of the members of Yunnan Native Place Association from my hometown reached out to me to help with cooking for this event, I was all for it and was excited to be a part of this event,” said Liang.

Dr. John Flower gives a tour through the house to guests from the Yunnan Native Place Association. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

Even though the China Folk House may seem out of place to the Blue Ridge Mountains of West Virginia, it carries with it its Himalayan culture to the surrounding area as it settles in its newfound home with its people to build it up.

“This house hopes to connect everyone, and I believe it is doing just that,” said Flower

An example of how the house is made sits on a workbench in an upstairs room of the China Folk House. The house is held together by many interlocking dovetail wood pieces not using any screws or nails to bind beams together. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

“This is a replica of one of the outside dovetail set-ups,” said Flower. “The dragon is meant to ward off evil, while the piece below it is an elephant symbolizing strength and stability.”

Jingyi Zhou prepares bowls of noodles, for one of the courses of dinner. “We are serving traditional dishes that you would find in Yunnan, with the help of Colin and other Yunnan families we have been able to amass a great menu for today,” said Zhou. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.
Dancers strike a pose as the dance troupe finishes their performance on the first-floor porch of the China Folk House. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.
Slinky Cobblestone, a nearby neighbor to the China Folk House and longtime friend of Dr. Flower, looks out from a window at one of the many buildings of the China Folk House. “It truly is amazing,” said Cobblestone. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.
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