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A Piece of Nature in Living Room
- Inner Courtyards in Traditional Chinese Dwellings

5 May 2007
 

If Chinese provinces of Shaanxi (陕西) and Henan (河南) are rich in relics excavated from underground, Shanxi (山西) is abundant with physical heritage items still erecting firmly on the ground. And Wang Family's Mansion (王家大院) is just one of them.

A close-up shot of the inner courtyard of Wang Family Mansion, located at Jingsheng Town (静升镇), Lingshi County (灵石县) in Shanxi Province (山西省)

This 700-year old residential compound was first created prior to the formation of the Ming Dynasty in 1368, and at one time in the later stage it boosted 8,000 rooms all together, famously known for possessing five laneways, six castles plus five temples (五巷六堡五祠堂) within one household. Presently it has about 800 rooms scattering in more than 50 courts (院), with an approximate total site area of a quarter million sqms, for this it is dubbed the Private Palace.

Built according to fengshui principles, it sits at the north with the hills as its backdrop and looks down at open terrain in the south, which is pretty like someone who rests comfortably in an armchair before a screen wall with a view in front of him.

The whole mansion, constructed along the central axis, is subdivided into six super-blocks, and the overall site plan bears a marked resemblance to Chinese character "王" (Wang) which is, of course, the surname of the household.

The courts within the compound are well-interconnected to one another, at the same time, each court operates as a semi-independent unit. The pivotal mechanism that makes it possible to achieve is of a magical spatial ingredient: inner courtyards, through which nature is introduced into intimate living quarters, and able to keep its compelling presence in people's daily life. As it provides the functional needs for natural light and ventilation, and satisfies a spiritual yearning for the nourishments from the nature, dignified engagements between the units and thus an orderly harmony within the entire compound are attained.

In this regard, Wang's Mansion is more than just a piece of architectural wonder, but stands as a silent testimony to a civilisation that emphases the importance to foster an open dialogue between man and nature, allowing the built environment to keep responsive and remain relevant to the natural environment.

The locals are tremendously proud of this particular piece of heritage. When you meet them, they would say, “我们老王家在山西有一座好大的宅院啊,走进去花三个小时还走不完,那气派、除了皇宫,没几处可比。” ("Our fellow Old Wang family has a huge mansion in Shanxi, tell'ya, three hours won't be enough for you to go all the way through, that's that kind of magnificence, put this way, except the Forbidden City, it has very few equals.")

And here are what other Chinese say about Wang's Mansion:

灵石古村山水间,四合坊巷礼为先,楼台塾馆凝文气,儒雅兴衰数百年。

放眼苍凉厚重的三晋大地,一片雍容华贵的历史遗迹。

不到紫禁城不知帝王之威,不到老王家不知晋商之富。

Finally, here is the verdict of fengshui masters on Old Wang's masterpiece: "既可登高望远,享受负阴抱阳;又能隐身山林,背风排涝,占尽地利之优。”

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