We left Xi’an and flew to Tiayuan where on our first day we visited the house of the Qiao family in Qixian County in Shanxi Province 54 Km south of Taiyuan. Viewed from above, the Qiao Compound looks very much like the double Chinese character of ‘xi’, (喜喜)which means (double) happiness and luck. This is often quoted but we do not know whether this was the original plan, whether it just happened, or whether as the house was enlarged someone had the idea of doing it to make this.
As one enters through the main gate, an eighty-meter long paved path leads to the main hall, at the western end of which, is the ancestral temple of the family. Another important feature here is the fact that the roof of every house is connected. This makes it easier for guards to protect the buildings. What’s more, apparently the 140-plus chimneys on the roof all vary from each other in their design. Unfortunately we only learnt this afterwards and do not really remember seeing any chimneys. The Qiao Compound gained its renown not only for its large scale but also for the exquisite craftsmanship reflected in the brick carving, woodcarving and murals.
The house claims to be the only private house of its kind and it is used for the filming of a historical TV series (Qiao’s Grand Courtyard) which is extremely popular in the whole of China as well as the film Raise the Red Lantern.
There is no flagpole nor are there stone lions outside the gate, but the tall walls show the prestige of the owner. Facing the gate of the house there is a screen consisting of a hundred forms of the character for “shòu” which means longevity.
The screen ‘zhaobi’ had two purposes, one is for decoration, another is to guard the house and avoid ‘suspicion’. (This backs up what we were told in Shangdong Province. Such screens prevented evil spirits from entering as they cannot go round corners.) The screen was dedicated to the “earth god”, there is a small niche below where the “earth god” sat.
This post is an extract of my mother’s travel journal written during a tour of China in 2013.
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