Coexisting “Unworldly” and “Mundane” Worlds

Traditional Chinese Dwellings

T

he Han race, China’s racial majority, and the numer­ous other racial minorities that are scattered across the vast mainland formed distinctive residences in accor­dance with their respective climatic conditions, economic circumstances, and ethnic customs. For the most part, these diverse vernacular dwellings are closed and intro­verted in composition.

“Qing-ming shang-he tu” (Ascending the river at the Qing-ming season), a painted handscroll by Zhang Ze – duan, is a realistic depiction of the main avenue of the Northern-Song (a. d. 960-1126) capital Kaifeng (in pre­sent-day Henan Province), from the palace grounds to the outskirts of the city, showing the character of farmhouses, villages and neighborhoods surrounding the palace, and shops within the palace complex (Figure 48). Unlike resi­dences seen in Beijing and Huizhou, which are enclosed by solid walls, the Northern Song-townscape shows simi­larities to Japanese and Korean residences and villages. The present-day insular Chinese townscape is a post-Yuan (a. d. 1280-1368) characteristic—particularly common dur­ing the Ming (a. d. 1368-1644) and Qing (a. d. 1644-1911) dynasties. The examination in this section focuses primari­ly on Ming-period residences.

The residential styles that will be explored here in an effort to define the fundamental characteristics in the com­position of traditional Chinese dwellings are the siheyuan residential quadrangles seen in Beijing, and minju, or the popular dwellings of Huizhou in central China’s Anhui Province. Both have a basic composition comprised of covered interior spaces or halls, and open-roofed exterior spaces or courtyards surrounded by a retaining wall. The exterior spaces within the residential compound are referred to as “yuanzf (courtyard) in Beijing, and “tian – jing” (literally, “skywell”) in Huizhou.