China's Vernacular Architecture: House Form and Culture

China's Vernacular Architecture: House Form and Culture

China's Vernacular Architecture: House Form and Culture

China's Vernacular Architecture: House Form and Culture

Excerpt

This is not a book about ancient buildings in rural China, nor does it focus on the lavish homes of wealthy Chinese. Presented here are the contrasts between the old and the new, the conventional and the extraordinary, the inherited and the innovated, as these are seen today in the countryside of Zhejiang province. Here along the eastern seaboard, the rural environments and structures are inhabited by quite ordinary people who not only share a rich culture with all other Chinese but also have inherited vernacular traditions that themselves vary from place to place within this small province. The distinctive character of China's rural landscapes reflects in no small part the ways in which living and productive space have been composed. Most of these common places in the countryside are the work of anonymous builders who have been able to express morphologically the popular culture, the conventions, and the identity of each community. Many of the dwellings discussed in this book are of little architectural or historical significance. Yet even the simplest dwelling found in the countryside speaks of cultural values shared with the literati living in the cities and towns. These shared values are revealed in the particularly striking folk art tradition of Zhejiang.

This book addresses a number of questions. What is Zhejiang's vernacular architecture? What are its special characteristics and general relationship to the broad patterns of Chinese architecture ? In what patterns do ensembles of dwellings exist in villages and towns? How is space defined in a rural dwelling? What materials and building principles underlie vernacular architecture in Zhejiang? What are the sources and forms of exterior and interior ornamentation? What are the symbolic meanings of house construction, form, and decoration? In what general ways are house form and function changing? What patterns persist in spite of social change and new ways of living ? Broad questions of this type draw answers from many disciplines—cultural geography, architecture, folklore, art history, archaeology, and anthropology.

Zhejiang province, situated along the central portion of China's eastern coast, is among the country's smallest provinces. With an area of 101,800 square kilometers (39,305 square miles), Zhejiang is about the size of Kentucky or Virginia. Still, its current population of just over 40 million is nearly 50 percent greater than that of even the most populous American state, California. On this basis alone, Zhejiang today is a . . .

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