HEFEI, Jan. 11 (Xinhua) -- It was near 11 p.m. on a cold winter night, and Lu Huizhong was at work patrolling narrow, winding alleys between traditional Chinese houses with a gong on one hand and a mallet in the other.
Lu, 63, sporadically hit the metal dish during his walk, reminding residents to take care of potential fire hazards before they go to sleep.
This is an ancient Chinese tradition that has lost its place as people have moved into concrete buildings with fire alarms and smoke detectors, but in Lu's village in eastern China's Anhui Province, the tradition lives on.
Xidi Village, boasting thousand-year-old Chinese houses in local Anhui style, is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage. Around 224 wooden houses make fire prevention a great priority.
"The houses in the village are built close together, and fire trucks cannot get to them easily. So we set up the night watch team to remind villagers about fire safety," said Huang Yu, head of the team.
Lu has been on the team for over three years and has developed a code for gonging.
"Gong at each crossroad, and every 100 meters; don't strike in front of people's doors; don't strike outside families with children, and strike harder near families with lone seniors," Lu said.
There are 99 alleys in the village, and Lu has memorized the zigzagging patrol route and knows each of the families.
The route is passed down from generation to generation by the night watch team. A trip can take more than an hour, and during the summer, the team takes two trips -- at 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Lu often finishes his day job and returns home near dusk. He sleeps for several hours before preparing for night patrols.
"We always wait for him at home during the patrol," said Hu Yixia, Lu's wife. "And when the sound of gong draws near, we know he is about to come back."
Despite concerns about Lu's safety under extreme weather conditions such as the knee-deep snow at the end of 2018, Hu said the family supports Lu's work.
All year round, the team patrols the village without missing a single night and have worn out over a dozen gongs. For more than two decades, no fire accidents have occurred.
"I have gotten used to the sound of the gong. When I hear it at night, I feel safe," said 68-year-old Wang Jiaping, a villager. "The village is safer too."