Hierarchical Dwelling Composition

The traditional composition of Chinese dwellings, where­by a number of units are joined to form a residential com­plex is a design influenced by a feudal patriarchy rooted in a class system. Confucianism was key to the maintenance of this feudal order. As explained earlier, Confucianism became the orthodox system of thought in Chinese histo­ry, developing from a respect for custom to a values sys­tem based on filial piety, then to “education” and finally to “scholarship.” It was a political system in which every­one, from the emperor down to the lowliest commoner, had their place in the order of things, so it was only natur­al that a hierarchy of residential units—from the commu­nal, housing an extended family centered around the citang (ancestral shrine), to individual units—should, along with the class system, become an element in the composi­tion of villages and residential complexes.

In the Beijing siheyuan, the central zheng fang was reserved for the head of the household and housed the ancestor room; erfang on either side were for female chil­dren; xiang fang to the left and right were for the first and second sons; and the dao zuo fang was for the younger sons or the servants. Of all the buildings in the complex, the inner hall facing south was the highest ranking, fol­lowed by those to the left and right and the one in front. In Huizhou residences the innermost row {jin) was the most important, and the ancestor room was placed in the center of the middle row.

This “sacred” order based on Confucian principles was— in the context of the Taoist idea of being unconstrained by custom—“mundane.”

The “Mundane” and the “Unworldly”

The keju examination system for entering government service was part of the mundane world. During the early Qing dynasty, there existed also a system known as zhike, which worked in parallel with the keju system. The zhike was a system which relied not on examinations, but on promoting people who were in seclusion. This was known as “the course of seclusion in the mountains and forests.”12 Even in light of the prevailing orthodoxy, the govern­ment intellectuals who had passed through the keju sys­tem and themselves functioned within a mundane world

saw no contradiction in the parallel existence of a “way of seclusion.” During the thousand-year period that followed the establishment of the keju system, philosophical devel­opments led to the acceptance of these seemingly contra­dictory methods of recruitment.

Areas for everyday living took on standardized forms as the “mundane” corresponding to the Confucian order, while areas removed from everyday life—the ting yuan and yuanlin—became stylized, “unworldly” realms in accor­dance with the elements of landscape painting. Everyday living space was then a tangible manifestation of the Confucian-based patriarchal system with custom as its prototype, while the unworldly realm of the yuanlin was a stylization of the visual and philosophical realms of land­scape painting which had the Taoist concept of woyou as its prototype. Neither of these contrasting areas overpow­ered or absorbed the other: instead, from them arose a style of building composition in which they coexisted as representations of their respective prototypes.

Updated: October 7, 2015 — 9:39 pm