--- SEARCH ---
Learning Chinese
Learn to Cook Chinese Dishes
Exchange Rates

Hot Links
China Development Gateway
Chinese Embassies

Residential Buildings Among Mountains and Rivers

The encyclopedia defines that civilian residential houses refer to buildings for people to live in except palaces and government offices. In the Three Gorges area, few ancient civilian residences with cultural value have been left and most of them were built during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties. The three representative ancient residential house groups can be found in Fengjie Dadongmen (Great East Gate), Dachang and Xintan, respectively in the upper, middle and lower reaches of the Yangtze River, featuring differently the lives of businessmen, officials and aristocrats and ordinary people. By 2008, when the water level of the great Three Gorges Reservoir reaches 175 meters, they will be buried forever. However, getting to know these old house groups will help one understand the history and folk customs of the area.

Fengjie residential houses: from living merchant's fossils to poem museum

The Great East Gate civilian houses, located in the old city proper of Fengjie were built at the end of the Qing Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic of China (1912-1949) and experienced  great renovation on a large scale between the 1930s and 1940s. They are among the most important ancient building groups of the Three Gorges. Most of the houses have three stories, with the ground floor used for business while the upper two for living. Considered to be high rises at the time, these houses feature simple designs in their corridors, doors and windows, a typical building style of the Tujia ethnic group living in this area. They record the prosperous trade and business of the place, known as 'Kuizhou' at that time and thriving life of the people.

In earlier years, three-story buildings lined the two sides of the street, but were destroyed. Now, seven such houses in the middle of the street need immediate protection. As the planned salvage budget of over 5.9 million yuan (US$710,000) was cut off for various reasons, Zhao Guilin, who declines to live without history, picked up the project. As a poet and expert of Three Gorges residential houses, he knows clearly the historical value of the Great East Gate civilian houses. Furthermore, he doesn't want to see Fengjie, known as the city of poems, to lose itself on the river bottom. Therefore, he came up with the idea to build six to eight similar residential houses on a 74-meter-long street in a new place, which will collect the essences of all kinds of civilian residential houses. They will feature poems as well.

With 200,000 yuan (US$24,200) allocated by the Migration and Development Bureau under the Three Gorges Construction Committee, 200,000 yuan from his own savings, 200,000 yuan borrowed from friends and relatives and 300,000 to 400,000 yuan (US$36,300-48,400) to be lent from banks, he starts his journey to build a Poem Museum.

Since September 2002, he began collecting and purchasing wooden partitions, decorated walls, old furniture and daily necessities from local residents. He also asked some workers to demolish the old houses and he himself is at the site all day long. At last, tiles and logs fill 15 trucks and are carried to Baotaping, waiting to be revitalized.

In fact, many ancient buildings in Fengjie face dismantling. Now nearly 100 have been salvaged by individuals or cultural relic units. After they are moved to a new place and rebuilt into private museums, exhibitions and businesses, souvenir selling will be available. In this sense, the revitalization of Great East Gate residential houses will play as an example. 

Zhao said that those materials he transported to Baotaping look like garbage today, but only when they are used to build new houses will their value reappear.

Dachang residential houses: old prosperity of official families

Dachang was the only completely preserved ancient town with a history of 1,700 years before the Three Gorges Reservoir began storing water. It used to be a strategic place in the Three Gorges area and a gathering site for businessmen. Surrounded by water on three sides and covering an area of 10,000 square meters, it has a tranquil, easy and comfortable atmosphere.

Strolling among the residential houses in the Three Gorges area, the Wen Clan Compound was a must-see. Initially built in the first year of the Qing Dynasty (1644), it was the largest and best-preserved building in the town. According to Wen Guanglin, the 10th generation grandson of the Wen family clan, his ancestor who once took the position of a provincial governor for military and civil affairs built the compound. The houses sit against the west and face the east, covering 320 square meters. The courtyard is composed of an entrance hall, central hall and back hall. The whole house uses 12 pillars and 37 beams. The window lattices were engraved with various designs.

Fu Shaoxiang, hostess of the Wen Clan Compound, remembers many advantages of the house and the glorious past of her husband's family. Wen Guanglin, host of the house, said they moved as the government had asked them to.

The Wen Clan Compound could be seen as an epitome of the Dachang ancient town whether in building techniques or family changes. As the water filled the Three Gorges Reservoir, the compound was buried forever. Another 37 residential houses and complete ancient city walls went into the same fate with it. The government has invested 30 million yuan (US$3.6 million to move cultural relics out of the area. In several years time, it should be possible to see new "ancient civilian houses" erected on a new site seven kilometers away.

Xintan residential houses: space for common people

Ancient houses made from gray bricks used to be the unique landscape of Xintan, a section of the Xiling Gorge, one of the Three Gorges. Now, however, they were the first group of houses swallowed by the Three Gorges Reservoir.

In ancient times, a family's house usually had three to four floors. Several stone steps would lead to an arch with exquisite design and colorful decoration. Another stairway connects the arch to a gateway and courtyard and a third stairway finally to the main house. This was the case of houses for common people. Rich families would have three to four courtyards, countless stairs and winding corridors. Outsiders might find it hard to get out.

All these magical scenes have become a thing of the past. Today people can only see residential houses of a local flavor newly built on Mount Phoenix one kilometer away from the Three Gorges dam. On top of the mountain, people can see five renovated houses belonging to Zheng Wanzhan, Zhen Yunnian, Peng Shuyuan and Zheng Wanlang. They are all built with wood and bricks, sitting against the south and facing north. The ridges point to the sky and the eaves turn upward. The wall base, stairs, courtyard, doorframe and lintel are all built with stones from mountains along the Three Gorges, on which are engraved designs of figures, beasts, flowers, grass, insect and fish. These simple but delicate stone carvings combine to form a picture-story book. The gray bricks used to build outer walls are baked from yellow earth with firewood. As they are only two centimeters thick, they are called "thread brick" by the locals. When building walls, workers first make a hollow box with several bricks and then fill in with rubble and mud. The houses therefore are solid and cool in summer. The tiles on top of the roof are laid out in a unique way and at equal distance. No rain leaks through the ceiling and no tile will need to be added for 100 years.

A typical house here is that of Peng Shuyuan. It was said to be built according to feng shui (or geomancy). The overall structure is in the style of the Chinese character "shou," meaning longevity. The corridor is slanting in the northern part and the angle between the door of wing rooms and wall is oblique. However, after the Peng family moved in, they experienced many difficulties and two members even died unnaturally. So they asked another geomancer who suggested opening the door in the back. Thereafter, two of the Peng family members succeeded in imperial examinations and the whole life of the family became better. Despite the superstitious color, this kind of house represents folk customs of the Three Gorges area.

Except for these ancient-style houses in Zigui, most new buildings for immigrants are in Western styles with Roman pillars or look like match boxes. The immigrants from the Three Gorges feel happy for their new life.

(Beijing Youth Daily translated by Li Jinhui and Daragh Moller for China.org.cn, December 24, 2003)

Plans to Rescue 1,700-year-old Town from Three Gorges Flooding
The Disappearance of an Ancient Town
Three Gorges Project to Move 500,000 More Residents in Seven Years
Fengjie Vaporized for Three Gorges Project
China Begins Three Gorges Reservoir Bed Clean-up
Why Fengjie Was Chosen as First Site for Demolition
Print This Page
Email This Page
About Us SiteMap Feedback
Copyright © China Internet Information Center. All Rights Reserved
E-mail: webmaster@china.org.cn Tel: 86-10-68326688