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Earthen houses of Fujian

Earthen houses of Fujian

Many Hakka earthen houses can be found in the south Fujian regions of Yongding, Longyan, Zhangping and Zhangzhou. The earthen houses are usually huge-each has 3 to 4 levels and reaches up to 13 meters in height. The outer walls, which are one to two meters thich, are made of clay and are very sturdy. These uniquely designed earthen houses are regarded as architectural gems of China’s residences. The three most symbolic types of earthen houses are the round earthen houses, rectangular earthen houses and the Wufeng (Five Phoenixes) earthen houses.
The people that built the earthen houses were the Hakkas, a group fo Han Chinese. During the periods of Wei and Jin, they migrated southwards due to wars and unrests. At that time, the cosiety was unstable, and robbery and theft were rampant. The earthen Houses facilitated the tradition living together in one community as an ethnic clan, and each of these fortress-like houses can accommodate a few hundreds of people. The earthen house was a perfect defense against attacks and trespasses.
The Hakkas have their roots in the central plains of China. Most of the first Hakkas that migrated south were scholars and officials from well-to-do families. It is a heritage that the Hakkas are still very proud of today. Even though their culture has chaged along with history, it is a culture that is closely linked to Chinese culture and tradition that is till strongly influenced by China’s feudal system and propriety.
The most representative of the circular earthen houses is Chenqi Building-located in Yongding County in the Fujian province. Chenqi Building was built in the Qing Dynasty during the 48th year of Emperor Kangxi’s reign in 1709. It took three years to build and has a diameter of 62.6 meters. Chengqi Building contains four concentric rings. The outer ring has four levels, with the ground level used as the kitchen, the second level used as store, and the third rings are single-level houses, and the entire innermost building is used as the ancestral hall, which is laid against the axis, along which the main gate is also situated.
For rectangular earthen houses, all the four sides of the house are three to four stories high. In the inner courtyard of the house and along the axis is where the ancestral hall is situated. In general, annexes are added within the periphery of the house and its inner courtyard, and they blend in extremely well with the earthen building –displaying the relationship between the principal and the subordinate. They are an indispensable part of the entire building structure and create a richly colorful spatial form and an elegant image in the colony of houses.
The ancestral hall placed right in the center of the rectangular earthen houses is for the consecrationg of the ancestor’s tablet and where sacrificial ceremonies are held. In the community, the ancestral hall is held in utmost reverence. Respecting the ancestors is a traditional value and a tie that binds kinship. Placing the ancestral hall right in the center of the inner courtyard of the house is not only in accordance to the ritual system of worship, but also-for the many Hakka migrants into Fujian-a meaningful connection to their roots.
The Wufeng building is a prominent style amongst the earthen houses. Three main halls are built along the axis. The lower hall is where the entrance is located and it is lower in terms of height. The central hall is the ancestral hall. It is used for receiving guests and for holding clan ceremonies. It is the center of the entire house and it is built higher than the rest of the houses in the house. The rear hall is the main hall comprising three to five levels-towering towards the northern end of the axis. It is the tallest building of the entire house and where the elder members of the family reside the three halls are connected via corridors, which formed two courtyards.
The Wufeng in the name refer to five birds of different colors-red, yellow, green, violet and white. They also denotes five directions-north, south, east, west and center-meaning that the house has an axis and form a whole with its left, right, front and back. From the exterior, the Wufeng building is multilayered-resembling a grand palace as well as a phoenix that is about to take off into the sky.
The Wufeng building is the earliest earthen house that appeared in Fujian. Hence, it is most closely related to the traditional building structures in the central plains in China. Gradually, it evolved into the rectangular earthen house and the round earthen house, which in most of them, the only thing that still connects it to traditional family values is the place of the ancestral hall within the house itself. this is most obvious for the circular houses. Other than the ancestral hall, which is held in great reverence, the rooms are assigned to the members of the household randomly, regardless of their seniority, the direction the room is facing or the position it is in. in the Five-Phoenixes building, the traditional ethical principals are in full swing. In this house, one can see that the layout of the house is representative of ethical principles and Confucius thinking.
Built out of earth into such massive looking fortress-like houses, and having being in existence for few hundred years while retaining its past glories, the earthen houses are awe-inspiring. To have a big family of a few hundred households all living harmoniously under one roof and living as a united community against attacks from external forces is something that wins praises all around.

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