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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.

The traditional domestic architecture of China has five major styles. There is the compound with a courtyard (si he yuan) to be seen in northern China, Farmers' Caves (yao dong) in Northern Shaanxi Province and Earthen Buildings (tu lou) in southeast China's Fujian province, Stilt houses that may be on steep inclines or projecting over water (diao jiao lou) in southern China and the Seal-like Compound (yi ke yin) in Yunnan province.

As well as their respective features, traditional residences tend to conform to their environment and to become integrated with it. They are expected to blend with the surrounding rivers and mountains, thus complimenting but never spoiling the natural beauty.

Our ancestors made use of local materials and took the natural factors into consideration whenever they built a house.

The Si he yuan in northern China features a thick roof and walls and a wide courtyard to draw in maximum sunlight while ventilation is a prime feature of the diao jiao lou in the much warmer tropical climate of southern China.

The Si he yuan in Beijing reflects the formal royal ambiance with its symmetrical style while garden-residences such as the famous Garden of the Master of the Nets in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, gives priority to a harmonious blend with nature. Prince Gong's Mansion in Beijing is the world's largest Si he yuan.

Si He Yuan vary substantially in different locations. For details, please refer to: Beijing's Hutong and Courtyard , Qiao's Compound , and Wang's Compound in Pingyao, Shanxi and Dang Village in Hancheng around Xian, Shaanxi Province.

In calligraphy, the Chinese characters with a roof-like component relate to various houses. For example, with a pig, it is a home; with a cow, it is a prison; with a combination of two mouths it means 'many houses' - it is palace. Such characters combined with that for ' woman' imply peace and safety. The logic behind this is based on two layers of meaning. Firstly, when a woman sits peacefully at home, it means there is no war. Secondly, when they lived in simple caves in open air, our ancestors faced the hazards of bad weather, wild animals and hostile tribes. By building houses, they were better protected, thus there was safety.  

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