In the heart of Baxin | Ancient Architecture

Here is the third part of my travel accounts into the heart of Baxin (坝心), a small town between Jianshui (建水) and Shiping (石屏) in Honghe prefecture (红河州). The universe put Master Wang and thanks to his help, I got to see the forgotten Huilan pavilion and the secularised Guangyin temple.

It is also thanks to Master Wang that I had the opportunity to visit a few centuries-old courtyard houses in the main village of Baxin which were very similar to the ones I had seen in Baoxiu (宝秀), but with a ‘modern’ twist.

Baxin, Honghe, Yunnan

Ancient Architecture

After he had parked his tuk-tuk in one of the alleys of the village, I follow him in a maze of narrow lanes. After passing through a gate under renovation, we enter into an incredible courtyard.

The owner, a man in his sixties explained to me how, his house which was built some time towards the end of the Qing dynasty (without giving a precise date, he estimated his house to be 150 to 200 years old) while his wife and daughter were busy cooking for lunch.

I was absolutely amazed by the dougong (斗拱), this structure of crossed beams on which rests the roof : the beams are meticulously sculpted with kirins (麒麟), dragons and other gold leaf-plated miniature scenes.

 

Baxin, Honghe, Yunnan

The owner explains that the house went through a few radical transformation during the Communist era. From what I understood of the owner’s explanations (he spoke a more in a heavily accented Yunnan dialect than the standard Mandarin I learnt), the original owner was a wealth man who was expropriated (没收) in the early 1950s and three families got to share this courtyard.

The house was thus transformed to fit the need of several households. Divisions were made, brick walls were erected and some rooms were also expanded. We see all that in the picture. One of the twin lions on which rests the roof’s column is now embedded into wall that acts as a divider between two households.

Embedded in the wall.

Embedded in the wall.

Carved doors.

Carved doors.

 

As you see from the picture, the screen doors, like the dougong,were impressively carved with (what appears to me as) gold leaf-plated dragons, kirins, birds and other auspicious animals with floral patterns. One of them was unfortunately painted in green, but the other three look like they are genuine.

Even though the courtyard was impressively messy (the owner was stocking – or hoarding – a collection of heteroclite objects ranging form pierced bamboo baskets, plastic bags, and machinery) this courtyard was a tiny museum of Chinese antics.

A close-up of the dougong's details

A close-up of the dougong’s details

Yet, in the streets of Baxin, there are very few of these ancient courtyard left. Master Wang explains that people do not want to live in these old houses any more. As soon as the have enough money, people tear them down and replace them with a concrete and brick house, with air-conditioning.

Most of Master Wang’s income goes towards paying and education to his son so that he can have good future. He says that, even if he had enough money, he would not destroy his 200 year old house.

Baxin, Honghe, Yunnan