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Cave Dwellings of Northwest China


A cave dwelling is a special structure, a useful space formed not by addition, but by subtraction, i.e., subtracting certain things in nature. The Loess plateau is prevalent in the northwest and its neighboring regions, with the depth of the loess extending from 100 to 200 meters. With little seepage and a very strong vertical nature, this provides a very good precondition for the development of cave dwellings. At the same time, the natural condition of dry weather, little rain, cold winter and limited timber also creates an opportunity for the development and continuity of cave dwellings which are warm in winter, cool in summer, very economical and require no timber in construction.

There are three kinds -- cliff, ground and hoop cave dwellings.

The cliff cave dwelling is an earth cave dug horizontally along the vertical earth cliff. Each cave is about 3-4 meters wide and 5-9 meters deep. The straight wall is about 2-3 meters high. The top of the cave is dug into a semi-circular or slotted barrel arch. The various caves can lead to each other through tunnels between them. It is also possible to add another cave upon the cave, and the upper and lower caves can be linked to each other through a passage. 

The ground cave dwelling is a square or rectangular pit dug out of the level ground to form a ground yard. Then, a cave is dug horizontally on various walls of the pit, which is used mostly in sections lacking a natural precipice. A person standing on the level ground can only see the treetops of the ground yard and cannot see the houses.

A hoop cave dwelling is not a real cave, but only a cave-shaped house put up with brick or adobe on the level ground modeled after a cave dwelling. The hoop cave dwelling can be a single storey and it can also be a building. If the upper storey is also a hoop dwelling, it is called a "dwelling upon a dwelling". If the upper storey is a wooden structured house, it is called a "dwelling upon a house".

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