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Chinese Residence -- Earliest Form of Architectural Art


Before the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC), the residential houses both for emperors and folks were all called palace. The term palace became a specific title for emperors' residence since the Qin and Han dynasties (221BC-220AD). In modern times, all the other residential houses except palace and official buildings are called folk residence.

The Chinese wooden framework house first appeared in the late Neolithic age. The Hemudu Culture Site (5,000-3,300BC) inYuyao County,ZhejiangProvince reflected the wood construction techniques of this period. TheBanpo Site inXi'anand Yangshao Culture Site in Jiang village,Lintong,ShaanxiProvince revealed the overall arrangement of villages and constructions of this period.Chinese residences can be divided roughly into nine kinds:

 Beijing'sSiheyuan(Courtyard Houses of North China)

This is the most important form of Chinese traditional residential house. It is great in number and wide in distribution, popular among the Han, Manchu, Bai, and some of other minority groups. Most of the houses are of wood framework. The principal room is built on the south-north axis, and two wing rooms are located on both sides of it. The family elders live in the principal room and wings are the bedrooms for the younger generations. Women live in the inner yard. Guests and male servants live in the outer yard. This distribution is in accordance with the feudal rules.Siheyuanspreads over towns and villages throughoutChina, but each developed its own characteristics as a result of respective natural conditions and different way of life.SiheyuaninBeijingis the most representative with its own style.


Residential houses distributed in areas south of theYangtze Riverhave a lot of names, but the overall arrangement is generally the same withSiheyuan. The difference between the two is that houses in the south have smaller yards (orTianjing), with only two functions: drainage and daylighting. The principal room in the first yard is usually a big hall. The yards in the back are usually smaller, mostly with storied buildings. Roof covered with small tiles and floor with flagstones help to adapt the rainy climate in the south. Houses in watery regions are usually built along rivers, with the front door leading to the alley and backdoor facing the river. Every household has a small dock where they do the washing, bailing and getting on boats.

 U-Shaped Houses ofSouth China

The houses inYunnanProvincein southwestChinacan be a good representative of this kind of building, and they could also be found in southern provinces likeHunan. The structure overall arrangement is more or less the same withSiheyuan, but the houses are all connected together at every corner, forming the shape of U. The houses are made of wood truss with earth walls, on which are colorful paintings.

 Lingnan Hakka Group Houses

Tulouis a traditional dwelling for Hakkas in westFujianProvince. There are three to four floors in average, and the tallest can have up to six floors. Including the houses in the yard,Tuloucan usually hold more than 50 families. Halls, storage houses, domestic animal houses, wells and other public houses are all located in the yard. The Hakkas created this special defensive building to protect themselves, and it's still in use now.

 Cave Dwelling ofNorthwest China

Cave dwellings are mainly distributed in central and west provinces likeHenan,Shanxi,Shaanxi,GansuandQinghai, where the loess is of great depth. The loess has little seepage and a very strong vertical nature, which provides a very good precondition for the development of cave dwellings. The cliff cave dwelling is an earth cave dug horizontally along the vertical earth cliff. Residence built in this way saves raw materials and requires less complicated technology. The cave dwelling is cool in summer and warm in winter. It is divided into the following three kinds: cliff, ground and hoop cave dwellings.


Ganlan(a wood or bamboo storied house) are mainly distributed in the southwest provinces ofChina, such asYunnan,Guizhou,Guangdongand Guangxi. It is the residence for Dai, Jingpo, Zhuang and other minority groups.

AGanlanusually stands alone, separated from otherGanlanhouses. Supported by poles, the living sector ofGanlanis usually on the second floor high above the ground, while the first storey is retained for raising domestic animals and storing; in this wayGanlancan ward off moisture, as well as the attack of insects, snakes and other animals.


Diaofang(Stone Chamber) is the most popular kind of dwellings inTibetand some areas inInner Mongolia. According toThe History of Later Han Dynasty, this stone and earth dwellings existed before 111 AD. The height of the dwellings varies from two to three storeys. Built mostly of stone and earth, they look likeDiaolou(blockhouse), and hence got the name ofDiaofang. The origin of its name can be traced back to 1736 in the era of Qianglong Reign of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

The first floor is often used for livestock and poultry, and the second is retained as bedrooms, living rooms, kitchen and storehouse. Some have a third floor for the family sutra hall and the balcony.

The nomadic Mongolians and Tibetans also live in tents, which are convenient to assemble and unassembled.

 Mongolian yurts

The Mongolian felt tent in northwestChinais called Mongolian yurts.The wooden wattles are fastened with leather thongs and studs to form a fence-like structure. Each part of the yurt is ingenious and quite convenient to dissemble and carry. The diameter of a small yurt is about four to six meters, with no pillar inside, while the bigger one needs two to four poles to support the yurt. There are thick felts on the ground. Every yurt has an opening on the top, and there's usually a stove under it.


Ayiwangis the Uygur residence. The houses are all connected together, with yard around them. The front room with a skylight is calledAyiwang, also known as summer room, which serves as the living room as well as reception room. The back house called winter room is the bedroom, usually without a skylight. The plane arrangement is very ingenious and there are usually a lot of niches inside the rooms. The walls are usually decorated with gesso carvings.

There are also some other special residential houses such as the boat house. Nowadays, as a result of economic development, population increase and modernization, people in the cities usually live in storied buildings, which have increasingly diversified styles and a tendency of height rise.

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