We’ve blogged before about how traditional Chinese architecture can be a little overwhelming and confusing, especially if you’re trying to decipher its meaning on your first China tour.
Like many aspects of local culture, traditional Chinese architecture styles have endured. Surviving millennia, the various distinct styles are usually the hallmark of a particular period in Chinese history.
To the untrained eye, the various architectural features, such as the bilateral symmetry, open compounds within buildings, and the deep cosmological and mythological symbolism inherent in design and structure, can make it difficult for a novice to really understand the significance of a building. In fact, when you’re traveling on a busy China tour, all the culture, buildings and stories behind them can become a blur.
So with that in mind, let’s simplify the complexity around traditional Chinese architecture so you can make the most of every minute on tour - and maybe even share a few fun facts with family and friends when you arrive home.
Different styles, different places
A good rule of thumb that applies to the styles of traditional Chinese architecture is remembering that each distinct style is associated with a particular region in the country.
Now you may not remember which style originates in each region, or even where each region is, however, at least you’ll be aware that not all styles are found everywhere in China.
In the table below, we've summarized these styles of architecture and the regions they’re found in, as well as the typical features associated with each one.
|Wan (皖派)||Anhui||Grey blue tiles, white walls, and carved bricks|
|Su (苏派)||Jiangsu and Zhejiang||Hills, water, and winding paths|
|Min (闵派)||Fujian||Earth building defense function|
|Jing (京派)||Beijing||Symmetrical courtyard layout, Chinese cultural symbol|
|Jin (晋派)||Shanxi, Shaanxi, Ningxia and Gansu||Cave houses, historical culture of the Shanxi merchants|
|Chuan (川派)||Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou||Stilt houses, colorful ethnic minority features|
As with much of Chinese culture, the distinctive style specific to each region tells a unique story in this first of a two-part series, you can discover the basics and come to appreciate the significance of each on your journey through China.
Wan (Hui) style architecture
Wan - or Hui - style architecture is perhaps the most well-known and easily recognizable styles among the six.
How will you know it? Well, if you’ve ever seen the traditional white folk houses with grey tiled roofs that are prominent in marketing for China tours, that’s Hui-style architecture.
Found in southern China, these traditional buildings are now World Heritage listed. They are recognizable as folk houses, ancestral temples and archways, which are all considered to be the ‘masterpieces’ of Hui style.
Carvings are also synonymous with Hui style architecture, with wood, stone and brick all used for decorative effect. The incredible skill applied by the traditional craftsman is only to be admired, and while the often ornate and intricate details have withstood the test of time, it is hard to find a modern equivalent that even comes close to the same level of work.
Typical Hui-style folk houses are surrounded by high courtyard walls. The ingenious design saw rainwater from roofs flow into courtyards, symbolic of the philosophy maintained by the ancient Anhui merchants who believed that ‘fertile water does not flow into the fields of other people’.