Top 9 China Folk Architectural Sites
Traditional folk residence is a fading but priceless heritage of Chinese ethnic culture. The varied land terrains display diverse regional styles of houses across China, from primitive cave dwellings to stilted wooden cabinets, and from neatly laid-out rectangular courtyards to round earthen towers. Here blow list the top 9 sightseeing sites of China's most exceptional folk architecture examples.
Courtyards, also known as Si He Yuan in Chinese, is the oldest and most common residential form in Beijing, which is also a core part of the capital's folk culture. As the typical residence of northern China, Beijing courtyards are comprised of independent houses in four directions that enclose a square or rectangular space, with only one entrance often facing south. It is a perfect example of Chinese axisymmetric architecture. Usually each side of the courtyards are designated to certain family members to reside, the seniors living in the north while young children in the south. The middle open-air courtyard is a public area for the whole family to relax, and it is usually richly decorated with greens and floras. Besides, the four sides are well linked through by shaded corridors so that families could move around freely even in rainy days. Hutong is exactly the place where the old courtyards are centered on, creating a close and intimate communal neighborhood. Shichahai in Beijng is an area with highly concentrated courtyards, and famous hutong like Yandaixiejie and South Gong and Drum Lane are two great places to stroll as many well-preserved courtyards are open to visitors. Additionally, the burgeoning Wudaoding Hutong becomes popular by holding a quiet and artistic ambience, while the Mao'er hutong stands out by embracing an array of former residences of celebrities.
Longtang or Lilong, is a long and narrow neighborhood of lanes populated by shikumen houses, which is an unfailing characteristic of the old Shanghai. Though Shanghai is already a none-to-the-second mega city in China with arrays of skyscrapers, the city still retains authentic old architecture of the last generations. Shikumen, referring to stone gate in Shanghai dialect, usually a two-storied building made of red bricks at the outer walls and woods for inner structure, with the main door frame decorated adorned with stone archway, thus giving rise to the name shikumen. Wandering these bustling lanes gives a hint of the magic of the typical Shanghai life. Natives live cheek by jowl with neighbors, by socializing, shopping, washing clothes and having dinners in such a narrow open-air space. These three lilong complex would present you an authentic view of shikumen alleyway life, including Xintiandi, Tianzifang and Wulixiang Museum.
Can you imagine that caves are still being used as dwelling places in modern China? Indeed, cave is a great idea for living no matter how time lapses. Cave dwelling, aka Yaodong in Chinese, is an ancient form of living on the loess plateau in northwest China with a history of over 4, 000 years. Most of the existing cave dwellings are now scattered in Shaanxi and Gansu provinces. Due to the less rainfall and vegetation, the primitive ancestors seek their shelters by digging into the earthen cliffs, without occupation of the limited cultivated land. Those carved caves are brilliant in fireproofing and keeping a mild temperature all year round. Particularly in rural parts of northern Shaanxi, now there are a great number of cave houses inhabited by local rural villagers. Those houses could be richly functional and even fancier than the urban residences. If your China tour involves a visit to the hometown of Terracotta Army, Xian, you will have a chance to walk into a real local cave home and even learn to make dumplings there.
Suzhou gardens are a remarkable part of Chinese waterside folk architecture of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. Most of the gardens were built for private use by aristocrats and rich merchants dating back to the sixth Century BC. Featuring their flexible layout integrating people and nature, the scale of each garden varies depending on the wealth of its owner. Generally, the gardens are comprised of two parts – the residential area and the garden. In order to replicate a natural landscape on a miniature scale but to be full of life, Suzhou gardens wield all resources including pavilions, ponds, corridors, bridges, rockeries, stones and plants to demonstrate the man-made elegance. Even from the steles and couplets of the rooms and pavilions, you can find out the owner’s aspirations, interests, philosophy ideas or religious beliefs. Nine of the many are still in a good state of preservation and included in UNESCO's World Heritage List since 1997, while you could pick one of the three most popular ones to visit, including the Master of Nets Garden, Lingering Garden and Humble Administrator's Garden.
The 2,700-year-old Pingyao Ancient Town might be exactly what traditional Chinese architectures are like that you picture in your mind. There are about 4,000 buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties that still retain wooden structures with pitched roofs. The true highlights of Pingyao, however, are the well-preserved courtyards, hidden from the eyes of the passerby from the old streets. The traditional Chinese courtyards in Pingyao adhere to very precise rules. Usually the entrance is in the southeast corner, but it does not open directly into the central courtyard. You will find a screen wall inside the entrance, which blocks visitor's sight from peeking into the private space of the house. Humble families may have only one courtyard, while the wealthy may have tons of them even with gardens and city walls. The Wang's Compound outside the town is just an extraordinary example of the rich merchant family. Walking into a folk courtyard in Pingyao would be well worth the price of admission, which would immediately bring you back to the elegant and traditional China of a century ago.
Mostly spread in the countryside of South-West Fujian Province, Tulou (earthen towers) is arguably the most unique folk residence boasting special features that differentiate it from any other kind of vernacular architecture in the world. Their aerial images are so peculiar that some Western Medias mistake them for nuclear bases. Tulou are fortified earthen buildings in a round shape, and they are closely associated with the Hakka people and culture. Traditional Hakka Tulou is a communal type of multi-storied dwellings and clustered living quarters that could accommodate the entire family clans or several different families. Most Tulou houses were often built with defensive purpose resembling fortresses and castles. The external walls are made of rammed earth and bricks, while the internal is mostly open with round balconies and wooden loggias. Since 2008, 46 Tulou folk residences have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Xiamen is an easy base to explore the most typical ones.
Diaojiaolou, aka stilted house, is the most outstanding folk architectural style of the Miao, Zhuang and many other Chinese ethnic minority groups who dwell in the rural mountains of Yunnan, Guizhou and Hunan provinces. Diaojiaolou is a definitely vernacular architectural gem characterized by fully wooden building structures made without the use of nails or rivets. Because of the hilly terrains, the inclined front of the house is usually supported by wooden columns or stilts, while the other side of the house is landed. In humid and misty mountain areas, stilt houses could be more ventilated and protective from snakes, beasts and heavy rain runoff. The lower vacated space could be a warehouse or a pigpen. Now Diaojiaolou are still inhabited by many rural minorities, while the hidden Guizhoun could offer visitors a more authentic insights into such unique folk architecture.
Located about 40 miles from the renowned Yellow Mountains, Hongcun is famed as one of the most scenic villages of China. Along with Xidi Village, Hongcun is inscribed as a UNESCO world heritage site since 2000, and the 900-year-old village fully deserves the reputation. The unique Hui-style architectures make Hongcun a real folk delight, with the distinctive white walls and black tiles as well as the upturned eaves. Particularly, the high horse-head walls and small-hole windows form an elegant skyline in the countryside, while more importantly they were designed to protect the old and women from both fire and bandits when men were out for business. In Chinese Feng Shui, the village plan was designed to resemble the shape of a buffalo, and water channels are the soul of the village keeping the entire neighborhood well connected. The Moon Pond located in the center of the village is absolutely the most picturesque and famous spot of Hongcun, with blue sky and jagged edges of the Hui houses reflecting off the water, which enchants thousands of photographers every year. In addition, Chengkan Village is also a core part of hui-style dwellings, and it comes to be another good choice at travel peak seasons because of the fewer crowds.
The Diaolou refers to fortified towers mainly used for self-protection but also for residential places, scattered in the countryside around the city of Kaiping, two hours from the center of Guangzhou city. The first Diaolou could be traced back to the 17th century, which was built for the purpose of defending the people of the countryside from frequent bandit assaults. And such folk architectures reached its peak splendor and popularity a few centuries later between 1920s and 1930s. These bizarre buildings were transformed into villas of various western architecture styles, but they still retained the function of refuges with watchtowers and even gun ports. However, the decor of Diaolou is inclined to being more eclectic and showy to suggest the wealth and well-being of the owners. Today there are about 1,800 diaolou towers still standing in the Cantonese countryside, and the biggest and most elegant ones could be found in Zili Village of Tangkou Town. Some were abandoned in the mid-20th century, while others are still inhabited.