A rich history filled with natural and social treasures created the perfect environment for a variety of unique Chinese folk houses. Such houses display local economic and social development and the symbiotic relationship between humans and nature. Among these historic treasures are the intriguing Fujian Tulou, gorgeous Xidi and Hongcun villages, which give us an idea of how people can live together with nature. Locations such as the Qiao Family Compound and Kang Baiwan’s Manor offer a glimpse into the beauty of wealthy families’ homes.
Now, let’s take a look at these charming and unforgettable houses!
Fujian Tulou is a type of Chinese rural dwellings of the Hakka and Minnan people in Fujian. Because Hakka people like to live together in remote mountainous and forested regions, they built fortified houses to defend themselves against fierce animals and thieves. Built on a stone base, the Tulou’s thick walls were packed with dirt and internally fortified with wood. The first Tulou appeared during the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279), and the building style developed over the following dynasties until reaching its current form as found during the period of the Republic of China (1912 – 1949). Its design incorporates the traditions of Feng shui, showing a perfect combination of unique traditional architecture with picturesque scenery.
Kaiping Diaolou (Watchtower Houses in Kaiping)
Kaiping Diaolou are fortified multi-storey towers mainly located in Kaiping City of Guangdong Province. They feature a unique architectural style, which combines an elegant Western style with the earthy countryside in southern China. The number of Diaolou is more than 3,000. Now there are 1,800 units scattered over 15 counties. They were first built in late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and were booming in early 1920s with the development of overseas Chinese. Diaolou served as the filming site of the famous movie “Let the Bullets Fly”. Due to abundant numbers and varied architecture styles, it is known as the Museum of Watchtower Houses.
Wang Family Compound
Located in Jingshen Town, 12 km east of Lingshi County, Shanxi Province, Wang Family Compound, or “Wang Jia Da Yuan”, is the largest folk residence among all the well-known grand courtyards. It was built by Wang Family, one of the four grand families of Lingshi County from Kangxi Emperor’s Reign (1661 – 1722) to Jiaqing Emperor’s Reign (1796 – 1820) of the Qing Dynasty (1636 – 1911), featuring the architecture style of the Qing Dynasty. It consists of five alleys, five fortresses and five ancestral halls. It has 231 small courtyards and 2,078 rooms, covering an area of 80,000 square meters. The layout of the yards shows the strict hierarchical system of ancient China. Rooms and yards with different scales were offered to people in accordance with their social status.
Qiao Family Compound
Located in Qiaojiabao Village, Qixian County, 54 km north of Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, the Qiao Family Compound was built in the late 1700s by the then influential Qiao family. The entire compound house covers an area of 4,175 square meters and consists of 6 main courtyards and 20 smaller ones, with 313 rooms altogether. Looking from the pavilion on the southwest corner is a great way to have a bird’s-eye view of the entire complex. Beyond the gate is a wall on which is carved Chinese characters, evoking the theme of longevity. Various kinds of red lanterns hanged in courtyards, and the carving on the roof is very delicate. It has been featured in many famous Chinese movies and TV series, including the well-known film “Raise the Red Lantern.” This internationally acclaimed film fully demonstrated the house’s character.
Huangcheng Prime Minister’s Mansion
Located in Yangcheng County of Jincheng City, Shanxi Province, the Huangcheng Prime Minister’s Mansion is the former home of Chen Tingjing, a royal teacher of Emperor Kangxi as well as the editor-in-chief of the Kangxi Dictionary in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). What made this mansion unique is that Emperor Kangxi visited the house on two occasions. Designed in two architectural styles, it is actually a palace, which contains a group of castle-style buildings. The inner palace was designed in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) by his uncle Chen Changyan in 1633. The outer complex was finished in Qing Dynasty by Chen Tingjing himself in 1703. The palace has 19 gardens and yards, 640 rooms and 9 castle gates, covering an area of 36,000 square meters. It has a wall which is 1,700 meters long and 12 meters high.
Liu’s Manor (Former Residence of the Liu Family)
Located in Dayi County of Sichuan Province, the Liu’s Manor was the former residence of the big landlord Liu Wencai. It covers an area of 70,000 square meters, and consists of two big architecture groups. The buildings are very luxurious, and include various shapes such as rectangles, squares and terraces. It was converted into a museum in October 1958. It now houses an extensive collection of over 27,000 cultural relics, including a suit of rosewood desks and chairs with marbles in it. In addition, 8 of them are embedded with 27 colorful pearls. The manor exhibits the life of Liu Wencai, which consisted of four parts, and shows the day-to-day life of the affluent landlord. The museum is an ideal place to learn about Neoteric and Modern Chinese history.
Ancient Villages in Southern Anhui – Xidi and Hongcun
Located near Huangshan Mountain in Anhui Province, Xidi was built during the Song Dynasty. Now, there are 124 brick-wood buildings with a neat layout, elegant decoration and deep cultural connotation of Ming and Qing styles. All of its features are rare in China. Xidi is known as “The Most Beautiful Village in the World” and “The Ancient Treasures of the Vernacular Architecture.” It has many famous buildings, such as the Governor Huwenguang Archway (also called Xidi Archway), which is famous for its elegant modeling grave and the outstanding stone carving techniques. Some Hui-style and courtyard-style private houses are also very famous.
Located in Northeast of Yixian County, Anhui Province, Hongcun is famous for its long history, deep culture and splendid environment. Hongcun was built in the Southern Song Dynasty (1131 – 1162), which has over 800 years of history. As the village’s layout looks like an ox, this village is also called “Ox-shaped Village.” Leigang Mountain is the ox head; the verdant dark green trees its horn; the folk houses the body; the lakes are the stomach and four ancient bridges near the village are the legs. Hongcun is known as “the live module of researching the ancient water conservancy history of China.”
Yulin Manor of Jiang Yaozu
Situated in Liujiamao Village, Mizhi County, Yulin City of Shaanxi Province, the manor was built by Jiang Yaozu, the richest man in the village during the reign of Emperor Tongzhi of the Qing Dynasty (1861 – 1875). Covering an area of over 40 mu (2.7 hectares), it consists of three parts: lower, central and upper sections. The lower part is surrounded by a 9.5-meter-high stone wall, while connected to the central part by an 8 by 10 meter wall. The upper part is the manor’s main living area. A cave connects the back of manor to a mountain, providing an excellent shelter for people to avoid attacks.
Kang Baiwan’s Manor
Located in Kangdian County of Gongyi City, Henan Province, Kang Baiwan’s Manor was built during the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) by the landlord Kang Yingkui. It covers a building area of 64,300 square meters, including 33 courtyards, 53 buildings, over 1300 houses and 73 caves. It consists of dozens of parts such as a residential section, ancestral hall and garden section. The manor features various kinds of delicate carvings, including brick, wood and stone in different vivid shapes. It now has 36 exhibition rooms, boasting a large number of well-preserved antiques, and receives 160,000 tourists per year.