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Home >> Chinese Architecture

Eunuch Li's
Siheyuan Residence
in Beijing

22 August 2006

Siheyuan is a traditional Chinese residence, most commonly seen in Beijing. A typical siheyuan consists of several courtyards divided by doorways, with each courtyard being surrounded by rooms that are directly open to the court and linked by verandas.

Verandas are the linkages between the rooms

It is a self-contained small world: within the humble enclosure walls, there is a multi-layered realm which is orderly and tranquil with access to natural elements.

Siheyuans usually sit in the north and face the south. Such a structural arrangement is not only for maximising the exposure to the sun and obstructing the winds in the winter, but also to follow the principle of Feng Shui. So naturally, the hutongs (alleyway of Beijing style) that offer access to siheyuans are normally running in the east-west direction.

The sizes of siheyuans vary. While having two or three courtyards is the most common, they can also contain one courtyard only, or get two or more siheyuans standing side by side with a garden at the rear.

Siheyuan is not just confined to residential uses. Most of Buddhist and Daoist temples in Beijing are also built in siheyuan style - a case in the point is the famous Taoist temple White Cloud. But the most magnificent siheyuan is, undoubtedly, the Forbidden City, which comprises of nearly a hundred courtyards, from as majestic as the one with emperor's audience halls to as tiny as those in which low-rank eunuchs used to live.

The siheyuan residence shown in the photos originally belonged to famous eunuch Li Lianying, the most trusted assistant to the most notorious Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Situated in northwest Beijing's Haidian District, fairly close to the Summer Palace, it was for a long period inhabited by Li's brother and his descendants. Currently the district health bureau uses it as its office.

(source of part of photos: 焦点房地产网)


The screen wall behind the inner gate has the image of phoenixes and peony flowers carved on, indicating the space beyond is the inner residential quarter where ladies used to live. In the old days guest gentlemen and male servants were not allowed to step across the threshold without exclusive permission.

The top part of the screen wall decorated with the motif of bat. (Bat is pronounced "fu", same to that of Luck)

The deco over the front gate: a lion playing with an embroidered ball


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