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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.

Beijing's Siheyuan, seated in the north of the compound and facing south, mostly consists of inner and outer yards. The outer yard is horizontal and long; the main door opens to the southeast corner, conducive to maintaining the privacy of the residence and increasing spatial change. After entering the main door and turning westward into the outer yard, one finds there are guest rooms, servant's room, a kitchen and toilet. Going northward from the outer yard through an exquisitely shaped and quite beautiful floral-pendant gate, one enters the square, spacious main yard. The principal room in the north is the largest, erected with the tablets of "heaven, earth, monarch, kinsfolk and teacher", which is for holding family ceremonies and receiving distinguished guest. The left and right sides of the principal room are linked to aisles inhabited by family elders. In front of the aisle there is a small corner yard which is very quiet and is often used as a study. Both sides of the main yard have a wing room serving as living rooms for the younger generations. Both the principal room and the wing rooms face the yards which have front porches. Verandahs are used to link the floral-pendant gate and the three houses, so that one can move along or sit in them to enjoy the flowers and trees in the courtyard. Behind the principal room, sometimes, there is a long row of "Hou Zhao Fang (back illuminated room)", serving either as a living room or utility room.

Beijing's Siheyuan is cordial and quiet with a strong flavor of life. The courtyard is square and vast and of a suitable size. The courtyard is planted with flowers and set up with rocks, providing an ideal space for outdoor life, and making it seem to be an open-air large living room, drawing heaven and earth closer to people's hearts and therefore most favored by them. The verandah divides the courtyard into several big and small spaces, which, however, are divided but not distant from each other; instead, they penetrate each other and increase the levels, setting off the void and the solid and the contrast of shadow They also make the courtyard better conform to the standards of daily life. Family members can have an exchange of views here, creating a cordial temperament and interest in life.

In fact, the centripetal and cohesive atmosphere displayed by Beijing's Siheyuan, with strict rules and forms, is precisely a typical expression of the character of most Chinese residences. The courtyard's pattern of being closed to the outside and open to the inside can be regarded as a wise integration of two kinds of contradictory psychology: On the one hand, the self-sufficient feudal families needed to maintain a certain separation from the outside world; on the other hand, the psychology deeply-rooted in the mode of agricultural production makes the Chinese particularly like to get closer to nature. They often want to see the heaven, earth, flowers, grass and trees in their own homes.

The square courtyards of an appropriate size of Beijing's Siheyuan are helpful to take in sunshine in winter. In areas south of Beijing, the setting sun in summer is quite strong, so the courtyards there become narrow and long on the north-south side, so as to reduce the sunshine.

Turning to residences in the northern region in addition to Beijing, the level of large residences of Shanxi's merchants is very high, their scale even surpassing that of Beijing, and they have more wooden sculpture adornments.

In Gansu, Qinghai and other northwest regions, where a sand-laden wind is very strong, the height of courtyard walls is increased. The northeast region is extensive, but the weather is cold, so that, in order to take in as much sunshine as possible, the courtyard is broad and large, and there are many open areas inside the courtyard walls. 

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