Siheyuan, Live in a China Style

The siheyuan (literally means four sides yard) is a typical form of ancient Chinese architecture, especially in the north of China. They are designed to make it as comfortable as possible to live in a climate that is at times inhospitable. For instance, the siheyuan are enclosed and inward facing to protect them from the harsh winter winds and the dust storms of spring. Their design also reflects the traditions of China, following the rules of feng shui and the patriarchal, Confucian tenants of order and heirarchy that were so important to society.

A standard siheyuan usually consists of houses on its four sides. It is normal for the four hourses to be positioned along the north-south, east-west axes. The room positioned to the north and facing the south is considered the main house and would traditionally have accomodated the head of the family. The rooms adjoining the main house are called “side houses" and were the quarters of the younger generations or less important members of the family. The room that faces north is known as the "opposite house" and would generally be where the servants lived or where the family would gather to relax, eat or study. 

The siheyuan's gate is usually at the southeastern corner according to the traditional concepts of the five elements that were believed to compose the universe, and the eight diagrams of divination. Normally there is a screen-wall inside the gate so that outsiders cannot see directly into the courtyard and it is also believed to protect the houses from evil spirits. Outside the gate of some large siheyuan, there is a pair of stone lions on each side. Such a residence offers space, comfort and quiet privacy. It is also good for security as well as protection against dust and storms. The gates are usually painted vermilion and have large copper door rings.

All the siheyuans, from their size and style one could tell whether they belonged to private individuals or the powerful and rich. The simple house of an ordinary person has only one courtyard. The mansion of a titled or very rich family would have two or more courtyards, one behind another, with the main building separated from the view of the southern building by a wall with a fancy gate or by a guoting (walk-through pavilion). Behind the main building there would be a lesser house in the rear and, connected with the main quadrangle, small "corner courtyards".

Not only residences but also ancient palaces, government offices, temples and monasteries were built basically on the pattern of the siheyuan, a common feature of traditional Chinese architecture.

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