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Courtyard of the Wang family

Courtyard of the Wang family

Born in Langya (today’s Jiaonan of Shandong province), the Wang family later emigrated to Taiyuan of Shanxi province. At the beginning of the Southern Song Dynasty, Wang Shi, a member of the Wang family, emigrated from Taiyuan to Gouyutan Village, Lingshi County. In the second year during the reign of Emperor Renzong of the Yuan Dynasty (1313 AD), Wang Chengzai led his family members all the way to Jingsheng Village. At the beginning of the Qing Dynasty, Wang Xingwang, a member of the Wang family, started to conduct some business. This tradition of doing business was passed down from generation to generation and it was in its 14th generation that family members including, Wang Qianshou, Wang Qianhe and Wang Zhengju accumulated enough capital to become rich merchants. In the middle of the Qing Dynasty, the Wang family evolved from an ordinary family to a distinguished one that had official careers in politics, business and agriculture. The courtyard of thte Wang family consists of the east yard, west yard and Xiaoyi Memorial Temple, with  an area of 34,650 square meters.

The east yard, commonly known as “Gaojiaya,” was originally built in the Jiaqing Period. It’s a residential architectural complex in the shape of an irregular castle. The complex was built iwith the physical features of its surroundings. Overlooking the east yard, you can find that the whole yard is compose of three rectangular courtyards of different sizes. The middle part is made up of two main yards and a small yard in the north, its northeastern region, while the small side courtyard is generally referred to as cypress trees courtyard and its southwestern part is a large courtyard. There is a door located at each side of the castle. Its east door is at the eastern point of the main road that is in front of the main courtyard; its west door is in the southwestern corner of the big side courtyard; its south door is in the middle of the main road that leads to the main courtyard; its north door is in northeastern corner of the small side courtyard. Outside the south door lies a 50-meter-long and 3-meter-wide flagstone pavement that leads directly to Wuli Backstreet of the village. Made up of flagstones, the main road in front of the main courtyard is 127 meters long and 11 meters wide. In the south of the main road stands a wall made up of bricks, with a long corridor extending over 60 meters. The main structure of the east yard consists of two rectangular courtyards with tall screen walls, stepping stones for mounting up horses, stones of poles, stone lions and stone steps in front of their gates. Looking at their layout, each of the main courtyard have such subordinate yards as the middle yard, side yard, Chuanxin (means passing through in Chinese) yard and Kua (means spanning in Chinese) yard. When considering their functions, each of the main yard is equipped with a memorial temple, a guest hall, a guest room, a mansion, a hallway, an academy and a kitchen. To complement its surroundings, the yard is built with hallways, small roads, short fences and tall walls. There are yards in yards, doors in doors, caves in caves and houses upon houses. The big side yard in the southwestern corner of the main yard is made up of two garden-like yards that is spacious enough to accommodate the host. 13 caves stand in line at the back of the main yard and guard the main yard in four separate parts. The whole magnificent east yard is well-designed.

If you walk out of the east door of the east yard and pass the U-shaped small path, you will reach the west yard. It is commonly referred to as “red gate castle,” where there is an enclosed-style complex in the shape of a castle. Its front and its back are the same as the east yard. Extending 105 meters from the north to the west and 180 meters from the south to the south it only has one door, which is to the east of its southern wall facing the main street. The magnificent gate tower is two stories high. There is a stone plaque inscribed such characters as “Heng Zhen Bao” (means Hengzhen castle in Chinese) in the middle of the gate tower. As the gate is red, people like to call it “red gate castle.”The wall of the gate tower is eight meters high outside, four meters high inside and two meters thick. It’s built with stone bricks with crenels on it. There is a screen wall right in front of the gate tower. There are paths that lead to the walls of the gate tower on its right and left sides as well as its northeastern and northwestern corners. There is a main road made up of big pebbles from its south to its north. People usually call the road “Longlin Street.” The 133-meter-long and 3.6-meter-wide main road consists of two parts: the east and west. Three lanes cross the yard sideways from north to west, dividing the west yard into four rows. Downward from the top, they are named Dijia, Erjia, Sanjia and Dingjia respectively. The main street crosses three sideways lanes, forming a huge Chinese character-Wang. In its northeastern and western corners stand night towers, and in its southeastern and northwestern corners stand wells. There are altogether 27 yards in the castle. The yard named “Dingjia” stands 6 yards and the other there yards stand seven.

The layouts of the yards are quite similar. Most of them have one main hall, two guest rooms and two yards. In their fronts stand caves and corridors and on their tops build rooms or caves. Most of the yards are symmetric from north to west with an axis crossing from south to north. Some of the yards are subordinate standing to the southeast of the gate. Inside the yard extends a corridor that connects the front yard to its west and leads to the back yard to its north.

The courtyard of the Wang family is more than an architectural museum than a residential complex. Its buildings, decorative with intricate carving techniques are extraordinarily superb and unique. Inside and outside the yards, houses and rooms, exquisite architecture are everywhere to be found. Such unique and exquisite artistic works including eaves, corner corbel-bracket sets, screen walls, stone dragons, cornerstones, shrines, stone drums, doors and windows are characterized by the majestic style of northern architectures as well as the elegant style of southern architectures. The complex absorbs the merits of carving techniques like woodcarving, brick carving and stone carving, such pieces as paintings, calligraphy and poems as well as such creatures as figures, animals, flowers and trees. It’s so rich and unique in style that it lives up to its reputation as a shining pearl in the art gallery of northern residential complexes. The courtyard of the Wang family is Shanxi’s largest and best-preserved architectural complex and is crowned as “the largest family house in Shanxi.”It was introduced in the Corpus of China’s National Architectural Complexesthe North Residential Complexes. It’s the Shanxi’s only complex that was introduced in a prestigious book.