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Commoner Architecture

The commoner residence is most local characteristic and all the more creative. There are multiple styles in accordance with differences in the nature and human environments in various localities. China has a vast expanse of territory and a long history. The diversity of Chinese residences is a rare phenomenon even in the history of world architecture. Residences, in most cases, have natural and simple characteristics. They are built with locally-produced materials, by economical methods, and in close combination of such natural factors as climate, topography and environment. Here, man and nature have the most direct close contact. Residences, in most cases, are in harmony with nature and are seldom in a sharp contrast with nature. 

Local characteristic architecture refers to structures built in the countryside, including temples, memorial halls, residences, stores, pavilions, bridges, decorated archways, wells, etc. Because these structures were all built by local artisans and villagers, and belong to the category of local structures, they are generally called local architecture. In local architecture, the country residences are the main type and the most numerous. Using local materials, the residences are built in the traditional local ways. Due to China's vast territory, numerous ethnic groups and regional differences, there is an abundance of different architectural styles. For instance, courtyard houses area called siheyuan in north China and "skylight courtyard houses" in south China. In moutain areas in Guizhou, Sichuan and Yuannan where there is an abundance of timber and a humid and hot climate, people build houses on stults using local timber. In pastoral areas in Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, travel from place to place grazing their livestock, their houses are in the form of tents callesd yurts which can easily be dismantled and put up again. In the loess highland in Shananxi, Shanxi and Henan, cave dwellings are built in line with local conditions.  

As for the commoners, be they mandarins, merchants or farmers, their houses tended to follow a set pattern: the centre of the building would be a shrine for the deities and the ancestors, which would also be used during festivities. On its two sides were bedrooms for the elders; the two wings of the building (known as "guardian dragons" by the Chinese) were for the junior members of the family, as well as the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen. Sometimes the extended families became so large that one or even two extra pairs of "wings" had to be built. This resulted in a U-shaped building, with a coutyard suitable for farm work; merchants and mandarins, however, preferred to close off the front with an imposing front gate.

All buildings were legally regulated, and the law held that the number of storeys, the length of the building and the colours used depended on the owner's class.

Compared with other structures, the residence is the earliest and most fundamental type of structure, largest in numbers and the most extensively distributed. The direct aim of residential construction is mainly to satisfy the actual needs of people's daily fives. It is the location of the "family". In China which pays special attention to blood relationship and affinity, "family" is a place full of the color of sentiment. People have not forgotten to set an appropriate spiritual demand on it, i.e., the general esthetics and affection which may even be raised to the plane of 1expressing a certain ideological tendency, Such as patriarchal and ethical ideology, including the rite between the elite and the lowly, the order between the elderly and the young, the difference between man and woman and between inside and outside. 

Chinese residences can be divided roughly into six kinds in accordance with form: i.-e., courtyard houses of north China, courtyard houses of south China, small yard houses of south China, Lingnan (south of the Five Ridges) Hakka Group residences, free-style houses of south China, and cave dwellings of northwest China.

Balustrades of Siheyuan Houses

The village dwellings in Qinshui county. Shanxi province, are two story Siheyuan. In front of the second story of the main house there is a carved woooden balustrade. In autumn, persimmons are hung to dry beneath the caves of the house, a common sight in the locality.

The Grand Courtyard of the Wang Family

The Grand Courtyard of the Wang Family in Lingshi County, Shanxi province, was the residence of a wealthy merchant of the Qing Dynasty. It has several courtyards connected with each other.

Windows in Residences

The village dwellings in Jiexiu County, Shanxi Province, are also in the from of Siheyuan. Between the pillars beneath the front eaves of the main house there are big windows letting sunlight into the rooms. By means of carved windows lattices and paper-cuts, the local people create beautiful designs on windows.

The Inner Courtyards of Siheyuan 

The Siheyuan of northern China usually have two courtyards each: the front one and the separated by a gate decorated with overhanging flowery patterns carved in wood. This arrangement makes the inner part if the residence a quiet and private space. Hongcun Village is situated in Yixian County. Anhui province. The main feature of the village is water; every house has access to a pond or stream. Hongcun Village and nearby Xidi Village are both on UNESCO's World Cultural Heritagke list. 

Huizhou Dwelling Houses

The Huizhou area of Anhui province has been noted for its wealthy merchants since ancient times. As a result, tasteful residences have sprung up there. These buildings are in the form of skylight courtyard houses, mainly two-storied ones, with high walls. The white walls, gray bricks, black tiles, narrow alleys and entrance gates with brick carvings are features specific to dwelling houses in Huizhou.

Gate Decorations of Huizhou Residences

The entrance gate of a residence is often the symbol of the owner's wealth and social status, and so it is common to see highly decorated ones. The entrance gates of residences in Huizhou are mostly decorated with brick carvings. Bricks are used in imitation of wooden beams, pillars and roofs and are covered with carvings reflecting wishes for happiness, longevity and honor. Decorations on entrace gates are called mentou (gate heads).

Windows of Guanlu Village

Bedrooms of wealthy families in Guanlu Village, Yinxian County, Anhui Province, often have windows covered with wood carvings. They only open slightly, so this kind of windows is more for decoration than for practical use.

Xinye Village 

The inhabitants of Xinye Village, Jiande County, Zhejiang Province are nearly all related to each other, most people having the surname Ye. In the village, there are temples, ancestral halls, pagodas and a large number of ponds.

Guodong Village

Guodong Village in Wuyi Country, Zhejiang province, is inhabited exclusively by people of the He clan. The village is situated between two mountains, and there is a stream running through it. At the place where the stream runs out of the village, there is a protective wall, stone bridges, pavilions and temples.

Windows in Guodong Village

In Guodong Village, there are many old residences. Some of the windows of these residences are covered with pictures of bats and deer, which symbolize happiness and honor, respectively, and designs of plants and geometric figures, which are exquisitely carved and have a strong ornamental effect.

Fubao Town

Fubao Town in Hejiang County, Sichuan Province , is built on a series of hills. The frameworks of the houses are made of lacal timbers, between which are white-washed walls made of mud-filled bamboo. These houses in picturesque disorder constitute a beautiful scene against the background of the surrounding green hills and waters.

Guangdong Village Residence Entrance Gate

This is the entrance gate of a village house in the city of Dongguan,Guangdong Province.Atthe Spring Festival, every family pastes brand-new pictures of door -gods,new antithetical couplets and horizontal scrolls of calligraphy on the inner and outer doors of their houses to pray for a happy and prosperous new year.

Fujian's Fortress Dwellings

In Yongding and Nanjing counties of Fujian Province one can find groups of dwellings made in theform of a square or round fortress. Each of these fortresses can accommodate hundreds of people, and constitutes a village in itself. The windows and door in all open inward . In the outer walls, there are only a fewentrance gates and loopholes which in olden times were used for shooting arrows and bullets at attacking enemies. Tianluokeng Village in Nanjing County is particularly noted for these structures

(Parts of text sourced from "Ancient Chinese Architecture", 
By Lou Qingxi, Foreign Languages Press Beijing)

Siheyuan, The Chinese Quadrangle
Beijing's Hutongs
Cave Dwellers of Shaanxi Province
Major Styles of Traditional Chinese Residences
Seal-like Compound (Yi ke yin)
The Earthen Buildings of Hakkas 
Chinese Ancient Towns 

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Beijing's Hutong and Courtyard
A hutong is a unique form of community that exists only in China. If you are fed up with high buildings and wide streets, enter Beijing's hutongs then. Here, you will find "Hutong Culture" and "Courtyard Culture"."
Beijing's Si He Yuan
Courtyard houses of North China, with Beijing's Siheyuan (courtyard with houses on all sides) being the highest level and most typical, are the outstanding representatives of traditional residences of China's Han nationality.
Cave Dwellers of Shaanxi Province
Shilipu in Changwu County, Shaanxi Province, is a village where everyone lives in a cave. The caves were dug out of the hillsides. They are reminiscent of Beijing's courtyard houses in as much as each dwelling consists of a central square cave and subsidiary caves in the three walls.
Major Styles of Traditional Chinese Residences
Traditional Chinese residences reflect the national culture, the sub-culture of a specific region and that of the ethnic group within it.
Seal-like Compound (Yi ke yin)
Many people are familiar with Si he yuan residences in Beijing and other northern cities. However, the Si he yuan is not limited to just the north of the country. In southern China's Kunming, Yunnan Province, there is a variation of Si he yuan. Here the courtyard compounds are called Yi ke Yin, which is Chinese for 'seal' because when viewed from above the layout resembles the familiar shape of the square seal to be seen on Chinese documents and paintings.
The Earthen Buildings of Hakkas
The earthen buildings of Hakkas are considered a wonder of oriental architecture. Spread around Yongding, in the west of Fujian Province , there are 4,000 square buildings and 360 round ones, which are quite breathtaking.
Wuxi Old House

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