Shanxi Province during the Ming and Qing dynasties was extremely famous for both its trading companies and distinctive courtyards. These courtyards, mainly located in and around Jinzhong, were built by a number of wealthy local merchants for their extended families. Among these castle-like courtyard houses, only a few have been well preserved and offer a glimpse into the architecture and traditional building techniques of the times, while others have fallen into disuse and decay.
Several famous and well-preserved courtyard houses are the Qiao family courtyard in the middle of Qiaojiabao village, the Qu family courtyard in Qi County, the Wang family courtyard at Lingshi County, and the Chang family courtyard at Yuci. Since Zhang Yimou choose the Qiao family courtyard to be the location of his movie Raise the Red Lantern it has become the most famous of the four, but that doesn’t mean the others are any less memorable, and in fact many say that the Wang family courtyard is, in fact, the best preserved and most interesting of these Shanxi merchant family homes.
The Qiao family courtyard.
1) The Qiao family courtyard
The Qiao family courtyard, located in the middle of Qiaojiabao Village, 30 kilometers northeast of the historic Pingyao city, was the residence of well-known local financier Qiao Zhiyong (乔致庸). The compound was first built during the 18th century, during the reign of the Qing Dynasty’s Emperor Qianlong, but was repaired and rebuilt many times throughout the 19th century. The courtyard estate covers 8,725 square meters and has 313 rooms within six large courtyards and 20 smaller courtyards.
This magnificent compound is laid out in the shape of the Chinese character “Xǐ” (囍), meaning “double happiness.” The compound impresses visitors not just for its size, but also for its exquisite craftsmanship displayed in the brick carvings, woodwork, murals, and inscribed tablets; the doors, windows, eaves, pillars, and railings are all beautifully crafted.
Location: Qiaojiabao village, Qi County, Shanxi Province
Opening hours: 08:00-18:30 (June-Sept); 08:00-17:30 (Oct-May)
Tel: 0354 5321 045
Price: 72 RMB
Getting there: Take a bus from Taiyuan long-distance bus station to Pingyao or Lingchuan and get off at Qiaojiabao village
2) The Qu family courtyard
The 300-year-old Qu family compound is also located within Qi County and is actually only 5 km away from Qiao family courtyard. It was the residence of well-known local financier Qu Benqiao (渠本翘), a famous merchant during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The compound covers a total of 5,300 square meters and has 240 rooms within three large courtyards and 19 smaller courtyards.
In 1993, the Qu compound was converted into the Shanxi Merchants (Jinshang) Culture Museum, and in September 1996, the Qu Family Grand Courtyard was opened to the public, including 28 showrooms and a series of seven exhibitions: the Jin Businesses Overview, Famous Trade Names, Famous Merchants, Actions of Patriotism, Business Events, Qu Family Stories and Origins of Jin Opera. By using various practicalities, pictures, models, sculptures and other modern media, the museum displays the nuances of Shanxi merchant’s culture and tries to restore its past glory.
Location: 31 Dong Dajie, Qi County, Jinzhong City, Shanxi Province
Opening hours: 08:00 – 18:00
Tel: 0354 5223 101
Price: 40 RMB
Getting there: Take bus from Taiyuan Jiannan bus station (建南汽车站) to Qi county (there is one every 1 hour)
3) Wang family courtyard
The Wang family courtyard, situated in Lingshi County, is 35 km from the ancient city of Pingyao. This residence was built during the reign of Emperor Kangxi and Emperor Jiaqing of the Qing Dynasty. The compound covers a total floor area of 250,000 square meters and there are altogether 213 small and large courtyards housing 2,078 rooms. The residence boasts a number of magnificent buildings, such as Gaojiaya, Hongmenbao, Chongningbao and ancestral temples. There are also five ancient forts that represent the five lucky animals in Chinese traditional culture; the dragon, phoenix, tortoise, unicorn and tiger.
The overall layout of the compound is in shape of the Chinese character for the family name “Wang” (王).
Location: Jingshengzhen, 12 kilometers of east of Lingshi County, Jinzhong City, Shanxi Province
Opening hours: 08:00-19:00 (summer); 08:00-17:00 (winter)
Tel: 0354 7722 122/7722 558
Price: 66 RMB
Getting there: Take bus from Taiyuan Jiannan Bus Station to Lingshi County and transfer to the No. 1 bus (should leave every 8 minutes, 2 RMB)
4) Chang family courtyard
The Chang family courtyard, which is located in Chewang Village, Yuci County, covers a total of 200,000 square meters, and has 3,500 rooms within 80 large courtyards and numerous smaller courtyards.
This courtyard’s layout is very much like the traditional Chinese courtyard houses in Beijing, and within every courtyard a wooden decorated archway was erected. Exquisite and beautifully colored drawings can be found throughout the complex.
Location: Chewang Village, Dongyang Township, Yuci District, Jinzhong City, Shanxi Province
Opening hour: 08:00-18:30
Tel: 0354 2756 789
Price: 60 RMB
Getting there: Take No. 901 bus from Taiyuan Railway Station and get off at Yuci, and then transfer to No. 12 bus
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Keywords: Qing Dynasty Traditional Family courtyards Raise the red lantern; traditional family courtyards; wang family courtyard
The bus route is correct for Chang Manor. I took this trip on June 12, 2015 starting from near Wushu Airport. It only took about 1 hour....it was Saturday...and there were no traffic problems. The manor is great, you can feel the history, when you climb the pagoda, or stand on the balconies you can get a nice view of the country side. I wish I had ground penetrating sonar, I bet there are still hidden treasures in it, and around there. The only problem....the place has too many vendors...and you know the Chinese standard of cleanliness is lower than most mammals... But, the exhibits are great.
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