28 March 2007

17 Yunnan: Dali - Xizhou

With this year's Asian Architecture Class Trip again, we headed for the Main Land China.
We did not aim to see the 'proper' China which is the north where the central government is situated. Rather, we went to Yunnan, the southern province next to Tibet, Burma, Laos, Vietnam, almost attached to Thailand.

The geography of Yunnan is mostly mountains with very fertilized land. People are several ethic groups including some of the hill tribes. They do agriculture on steps along the hills - very beautiful landscape all around. The most impressive thing to me is that, all the buildings, either big or small, rural or city, flat or mountain landscape, are built upon the same typology of Chinese Courtyard House. The typology of a house here is more or less the same as in Beijing, more than a thousand kilometers away. It seems to me that the successful 'centralized' system of Chinese culture works on every level.

Dali, the center of the old Nan Chao Empire (อาณาจักรน่านเจ้า) - a very might Empire long before the arrival of the Chinese central government, was our first stop. The city is situated in between gigantic mountains and a gigantic lake that created a super fertilized land. The new city is not so much different from any other Chinese going-to-be metropolis with super high-rise and traffic jam. While the old city is small and very cute. The main area of the old city is planned in grid system with the main axis of North/South where all the shops and important tourists spots are. To please tourists, mostly the Chinese themselves, the old city is decorated with super lighting at night - very Chinese indeed.

Dali's morning market. Life of the real people there are still very quite and peaceful.

Another super spot of Dali is the Buddhism Chong Sheng Monastery with the three pagodas (you will see its picture from every book of Chinese History of Architecture). It was built during Tang Period, around ca. 850. Another point I noticed here in Yunnan is that, there are still a lot religious places around. It is very different from Beijing or Shanghai where I hardly see any Buddhism temple or small shrine or any superstition signs or traces.... This Chong Sheng Temple seems to be still active as a religious institution too.

I also found a very nice book on History of Chinese Architecture here in Dali small bookstore. The book is a lifetime research of Prof. Liang Ssu-ch'eng - the first leading Chinese Architectural Historian - since beginning of the 20th century. He did a lot of measure works and drawings. Very impressive indeed.

On the way from Dali to Lijiang, we stopped at a small village called Xizhou where we got a recommendation from P'Natee of Ong-Art Architects about a very nice house. It was not so clear to our guide where exactly the house was. So she took us to a wrong one with tourist activities of performance and selling teas. But we were so stubborn. With very vague faxed images of the house, we forced our guide to asked the real real local... Finally we found the house - Chao Family House. It is a three-courtyard house in the village compound. We had to walk along a very labyrinth path to get there.

At the house, we did a small measure work on the proportion of the house and its courtyards.

From the side linear corridor, we could see the rhythm of the space of dark and light that signifies the public (courtyard = light) and the private (room = dark). Very nice light and space. Too bad that we did not have too much time to spend there... Next time then.

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