In 2008, we bought some land south of Bangkok in hopes of building a Chinese Courtyard House 四合院。 After much internet search and seeing a few examples in the area where we lived in Leshan District of Sichuan Province, we decided to take our summer vacation and find examples of such houses in China. The best place to find them is obviously Beijing but we had seen several there and knew that they had lost their architectural impact because of the building surrounding them. We decided to take our vacation in Shanxi province where we could look at these houses without the distraction of modern buildings surrounding them.
Since I had two students who came from Shanxi, I began to gather information from them about the trip, places to visit and the houses we wanted to see. The two female students were excited that we were going to come to visit them during the summer vacation. Our plans were finalized and we would be starting at the lower part of Shanxi and working our way up to Taiyuan which would give us the opportunity to visit many of the courtyard houses.
Flying to Shaanxi Province July 10,2009
The closest airport to Chengdu is Yuncheng 运城市. My student who lived in Linfen 临汾市 told me this was how she got home. She flew to Yuncheng and then took a bus to her home about four hours away. A rather inexpensive way to start our search for our dream house. In addition, Yuncheng was the center piece in one of my favorite Chinese movies - Inn of the Sixth Happiness with Ingmar Bergmann. This is a true story about the life of Englishwoman Gladys Alyward, a missionary who spent most of her life in Yuncheng.
We arrived quite late in the evening so could not see anything other than the inside of the airport taxi. It took about forty minutes to get to the city (population around 5,000,000). On the way, Sunee visited with the taxi driver about sites in and around the city. When she asked about possible courtyard houses, he excitedly told us that a new courtyard mansion had just recently been opened not far from the city. It was called the Lee Mansion. We decided to visit the mansion first thing the next day.
We checked into the hotel the taxi suggested and went out to explore around the hotel and find something to eat. The people were friendly and we settled on some familiar dishes of noodles Shanxi style.
First night dinner
Our room was old but huge. It had a large living room and two separate bedrooms. In the living room was a electronic mahjong table ready to be used. Since we really did not know how to play, we spent a few minutes checking out ancient mahjong on a totally automatic electronic mahjong table. I do know that Sichuan mahjong is not the same as Shanxi mahjong. The room was large but rather run down and, of course, the price was right- 150 yuan for the first night in a strange town.
Lee Family Manor
The next morning (July 11, 2009) we got up early and caught a bus to Lee Manor. Well, let me just say that we caught a bus to the area of the Lee Mansion. All we saw was a huge sign welcoming us to the mansion. Nothing else
Lee Huge Entrance
Lee Welcoming Sign
After trying to figure out the lay of the land, we decided to call the number provided by the sign. A man immediately came out to pick us up with a tourist golf cart. The man was very friendly and was happy to see us after charging us six yuan each for the ride.
The Lee Mansion complex was divided into two parts - old mansion stuff and newly built museum-like stuff. Check out the obvious touristy buildings and architecture which was just completed this year to draw some visitors.
The Main Entrance
New Red Door
All Newly Minted Buidlings
A Newly Carved Stone Mural
A Close Look At a Carving
More New Buildings
A New Wooden Door
Chinese Door Knocker Closeup
Not the KInd of Building Courtyard we wanted
New Courtyard building
Lee Family Daily Activity Watercolor
Sculpture of Lee Family
Old Hitching Post
Bronze of a family worker
Courtyard Yard View
Posing But Getting Really Bored
It was a good thing we got in for half price because of our ages because up to this point, we were not excited by what we had seen. Emei City and most of the larger towns in Sichuan have already built replicas of what appears to be Ming-style buildings to draw tourists. This was simply boring!
To the back of this new area was what appeared to be older buildings so we headed in the direction of the pagoda we saw in the distance.
A Pagoda in the back of the new buildings
Finally a building that may have been an original
An ancient stele. Things are looking up for our Courtyard Adventure
These turtles on the stele are for rubbing so this one is old
Wrong! This is a freshly carved waterbarrel
This next set of buildings were a mixture of old and renovated. We seem to be getting close to something old.
The Typical Chinese Oval Interior Door
This area displayed the Western Influence on the Lee Family
The Entrance to the real Lee Mansion - about 15 feet below the surface
Ancient Engraving done for you now of the Lee Mansion
Original Stone Doors
Real Old Carvings
Fantastic Wooden Doors
As you probably have guessed, we are now in the real Lee Mansion. The stuff on top and to the front was added to enhance the ability to draw the local Chinese tourists. For us it was boring and overdone, telling over and over how great and socially beneficial the Lee Family had been to the local community. That is probably why the Lees lived so far away from Yuncheng. The real Courtyard House begins.
Beautifully Done Woodcarvings
A Real Shanxi Courtyard Section
We slowly began to realize that a mansion in ancient China may have been made up of a bunch of classical Chinese court yards. There were at least five that we counted in this complex. The Chinese wealthy and nobility must not have built huge residences all at once but added on court yard sections as their families grew or their wealth increased. I am just guessing based on what we were seeing with the Lee Mansion. Will remember to look closely and ask questions as we visit other such mansions.
Stone Oval Door
Shanxi and Shaanxi are famous for their location on the loess plateau 黄土高原。We saw this loess in our many trips to Xian where there were lots of cave houses. It seems that the Lee Mansion was dug down into this loess and that explains why it was quite a distance from Yuncheng and set below the new area above.
A Cave Room
Nice Carved Entry
The area that differentiated the real Lee Mansion from the tourist site was stark in its contrast. One walks through a series of long allies that lead to a park that is being renovated. It is surrounded by a new brick wall where the pagoda we saw earlier stands. It was not quite finished but the park will have a beautiful pond with all the Chinese trimmings when it is done.
An Octagon Window
Allies Leading Away from the Real Mansion
An Oval Window with Park View
A Rickshaw Prop
Getting Back to the New Section
Good Luck_Gold Coins
It was hot so we were considering heading out but noticed the apparent kids theme park across the parking lot. This was obviously set up to draw in Chinese families. I talked Sunee into walking the great distance in the hot sun to check it out. We were both disappointed as it was really for kids
Kids' Theme Park
A Huge Red Entrance
Red Door Lion
ART PHOTO - Swaying Wall
ART PHOTO - Hitching Post
Gothic Catholic Church of Yuncheng
We arrived back in Yuncheng by bus at around 2 PM and went looking for the Catholic church that was one of the four remaining Gothic cathedrals in China. It was situated on a large hill overlooking the northwest section of the city. It was built in 1935 and became famous for its architectural design. The Catholics first came to Yuncheng when Italian Jesuits arrived in the mid 1600s. The church did not disappoint.
Definitely a Gothic Cathedral
Mary with Jesus in a Chinese gazebo
The stunning interior
Guan Wang Temple
This very old Buddhist temple was right across the street from the Catholic church. Not sure who Guan Wang was but the temple looked to be Song Dynasty. It made for some interesting pictures.
Guan Wang Temple
Very Old Carved dragons
The Temple Wall
A Great Looking Wooden Monk
The Temple Courtyard
ART PHOTO: Leaning Bike
Dragon Pole And Lantern
After spending about an hour in the temple, we headed back to our hotel and had a late Yuncheng lunch. The Lee Mansion turned out to be pretty good with about five or so courtyard sections. The Catholic church was beautiful and the Buddhist Temple was old and very photogenic. A good day.
A Late Lunch
Pujiu And Ying Ying Pagoda
Once upon a time during the Tang Dynasty, a lady with her young daughter YingYIng 盈盈 was traveling to Chang'An and took rest in the local temple near Puchiu. Also in the temple resting and on his way to Chang'an was a young scholar by the name of Zhang Sheng. During their visit to the temple, they fell in love. Thus begins the Romance of The West Chamber, a celebrated novel written during the Yuan Dynasty. Welcome to Puchiu Temple and the YingYing Pagoda named in honor of the above young lady.
We left Yuncheng very early in a care we rented to take us to Puchiu. Puchiu is a small nondescript town with very few things to see. Few that is if one is not counting the famous Puchiu Temple with the Ying Ying Pagoda of West Chamber Fame. It was worth the trip.
On the way we came across a very large funeral procession. There were hundreds of mourners dressed in white spread out along the road for several hundred meters.
We got settled in a small hotel in the middle of town and immediately found a bus to the Pujiu Temple.
The YingYing Pagoda and Pujiu Temple
Always On Guard
Have To Buy Tickets
Buy A Lock And Leave It
The Big Bell
A Happy And Fat Buddha
A Nice Bronze near the top of the entrance
A Painted Buddha
This is a monk that Sunee visited with and he was very friendly
It is hot in July in China and Sunee was hot.
This temple complex was built on what appeared to be loess and remained while the surrounding area was gradually worn down by farming or normal wear as the temple was very ancient going back to the Tang Dynasty. At least the location had a temple on it throughout its history.
The Temple Area Stairs
I asked about a very nice sign under a roof. Sunee told me what it said and it was boring. Mostly just rules for tourists. How disappointing!
A nice roofed Sign
An Orange Buddha
Pagoda up close. It is nice and has a weird echo effect if pounded on with stones. Legend has it that the guy who built it hid a couple of gold frogs in it and so people tap the building looking for a hollow place in it.
Ying Ying Pagoda
A Dark Buddha
We finished looking over the Puchiu Temple then negotiated a ride in a cute three wheeled vehicle to take us to some more of the sites in the area. The Guang Lou is one of the best examples of
Guangque Attic was originally built during the Northern Zhou Dynasty and destroyed during the Yuan Dynasy. The current one was built on the original site. Sunee was not interested so I paid my money and walked about a mile to the structure from the main entrance. I thought it was worth the walk.
Guangque Attic Close
Intricate Painting on the Front
There were elevators to take the tourists to the various floors. I caught it to the top floor for a magnificent view of the area. In addition, we were entertained by a lovely lady playing the gucheng.
When I walked back to our rented three-wheeler, Sunee was very hot so we took a few minutes to get water and then headed for some cave houses that were in the area. I wanted to see cave houses while in Shanxi. Most of the cave houses were long gone and only a few remained.
Abandoned Cave House
This is the top of an ancient stele that was laying around near these cave houses.
Back to Pujiu for lunch and then we tried to get a bus ticket to Luoyang in Henan Province about six to eight hours away. Sunee demanded we go visit the ShaoLin Temple so it was off to Luoyang. Got lucky and found a bus that would be leaving at around 6 am the next morning. Near the bus station we found some interesting bronze X-rated statues. This is just a more modest example.