Thursday, May 1, 2014


It is interesting how similar architecture is throughout China, Korea and Japan. And while ancient buildings are distinct and interesting looking, they're not much to look at on the inside. We appreciated this report because it helped us look at older buildings more intelligently.  The entrance for all ancient Chinese homes and temples had nearly foot-high thresholds. Stepping of these over and over was no easy feat. We heard one story that because the spirits of the old dead had stiff knees they couldn't step over the high thresholds which thus kept them out.

"A Siheyuan is a historical type of resident that was commonly found throughout China, most famously in Beijing. In English, siheyuan are sometimes refried to as Chinese quadrangles. The name literally means a courtyard surrounded by four buildings.

"Throughout Chinese history, the siheyuan composition was the basic pattern used for residents, palaces, temple, monasteries, family businesses and government offices. In ancient times, a spacious siheyuan would be occupied by a single, usually large and extended family, signifying wealth and prosperity. Today, many remaining siheyuan are still used as housing complexes.

"Siheyuan dates back as early as the Western Zhou period, and has a history of over 2,000 years. They exhibit outstand ing and fundamental characteristics of Chinese architecture. They exist all across China and are the template for most Chinese architectural styles. Siheyuan also serves as a cultural symbol of Beijing and a window into its old ways of life.

"The layout of a simple courtyard represents traditional Chinese morality and Confucian ethics. The four builds of a siheyuan are normally positioned along the north-south and east-west exist. The building positioned to the north and facing the south is considered a Main House. Four buildings in a single courtyard receive different amounts of sunlight, so the main house receives the most, thus serving as the living room and bedroom of the owner or head of the family. The buildings adjoining the main house and facing east and west are called side houses. They receive less sunlight, and serve as the rooms for children or less important members of the family. The northern, eastern and western buildings are connected by beautifully decorated pathways. These passages serve as shelters from the sunshine during the day, and provide a cool place to appreciate the view of the courtyard at night.  The building that faces north is know as the Opposite House. It receives the least sunlight, and usually functions as a reception room and servants' dwelling or where the family would gather to relax, eat or study.

"Behind the northern building, there would often be a separate backside building, the only pace where two-story building are allowed to be constructed for the traditional siheyuan. The backside building is for unmarried daughters and female servants: because unmarried girls were not allowed direct exposure to the public. They occupied the most secluded building in the siheyuan.

"The entrance gate, usually pained vermillion and with copper door cockers on it, is usually at the southeastern corner. Normally, there is a screen wall inside the gate, for privacy. Superstition holds that it also protects the house from evil spirits. A pair of stone lions are often placed outside the gate. Some large siheyuan compounds would have two or more layers of courtyards and even private gardens attached to them. Such is a sign of wealth and status in ancient times."

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