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Home among Lucid Waters and Lush Mountains – Traditional Architecture in Zhejiang Province


What is traditional architecture? It’s the house cave beyond the Great Wall of a childhood memory; it’s the Water town in dreams with little bridges, brimming water, and cottages. Time passes, things change, but the ancient towns hidden in modern cities have gone through the years and become silent spokespersons of regional cultures. It’s fair to say that traditional architecture records the life memory of ancient China for thousands of years, and is a portrayal of Chinese culture, traditional architectural and social development.

With a rich cultural history, Zhejiang is considered as one of the most beautiful and picturesque cities in all of China thanks to its wonderful gardens and its ancient waterways. Since ancient times, by making full use of the natural conditions and geographic environment, residents of these towns accumulated rich experience of how to live with rivers and lakes in a harmonious way. The buildings with different styles on different land-forms represent Zhejiang people’s philosophy of life with a theory of human nature matters for thousands of years.  Whether it is the old house with white walls and black tiles on both sides of the river bank, the large courtyard house that multiple generations lived in, the mud house hidden in the mountains, or the stone building built by the sea, they have already become the synonym of home, silently guarding the original appearance of home in our hearts.

In collaboration with Zhejiang Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism, China Cultural Centre in Sydney launched the online exhibition “Homes among Lucid Waters and Lush Mountains · Traditional Architecture in Zhejiang Province” on our official website. The exhibition consists of five parts including “ Meeting Under the Eaves”, ”Living at the Sea”, “Water Towns in South of the Yangtze River”, “Aristocratic Families” and “Living at Mountains”. It introduces Zhejiang traditional architecture and it’s history by short videos, knowledge cards and VR exhibitions, to enhance the Australian people’s awareness of Zhejiang traditional culture, and to understand the richness and diversity of traditional Chinese heritage.

Meeting Under the Eave

Zhejiang, facing the East China Sea in the east, has long been described as a land with “70% mountains, 10% waters and 20% fields”. A place with its particular soil and water nurtures unique humanity, natural environment and lifestyle. People of the waterborne kingdom in Hangzhou-Jiangxing-Huzhou Plain lived an affluent and elegant life by trading on boats, local dwellings are typical reflections of such cultural characters.

The “Hometown of Chinese Ancient Stage Culture” is located in Ninghai, Zhejiang.  It is one of the most intact ancient stage protection areas in China. There are 125 ancient stages, 10 of which are listed as national key cultural relics protection units. During the Ming and Qing dynasties, there were stage in the new temples and ancestral halls in Ninghai. At its peak, there were more than 600, almost all over the villages in the county, and troupes were invited to perform during the festivals. It includes the main platform, the back seat and the tower. The ceiling is a component that shields the roof, and the dome-shaped ceiling on the roof is called “Zaojing”, each grid is a well , and is decorated with golden yellow sculptures and coloured paintings, hence the name Zaojing. Ninghai people commonly call it the chicken cage top. 

There are three parts to this online interactive exhibition: Narration(video), Craftsmanship (video below) and Jigsaw Architecture (puzzle). Click the image on top to access the online exhibition, alternatively click here.

PART 2 Living at the Sea

Innumerable small fishing villages are dotting among mountains and along the winding coastline of the East China Sea. Locals build solid houses with rocks and stones in which the narrow stone windows can prevent moisture in the air, and roof stones are used for resisting typhoons. Fisherman either go for fishing in the sea or for offshore aquaculture. 

Shitang Town, surrounded by the sea on three sides, has beautiful coastal scenery. The stone houses and roads are built on mountains per the level of terrain. In Xiaoruo Village, the houses are painted in various colors, which makes it look like a fairy tale town.  Visitors can also learn about local culture by visiting the planetarium and ship model exhibition hall (see video below).

There are three parts to this online interactive exhibition: Wenling Shitang Town(video below), Changyu Quarry (reading) and Stage Caissons (interactive exploration) . Click the image on top to access the online exhibition, alternatively click here.

PART 3 Water Towns in South of the Yangze River

The watery plain of Zhejiang is renowned as “land of fish and rice” and “home of silk”.  The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal transported rice, silk and salt from the south to other areas in China, so Hangzhou-Jiaxing-Huzhou Plain as become one of the richest regions in China. With a crisscrossed network of river, bridges and piers, most of the households are set along the rivers and boats are the most common means of transportation.

Established 750 years ago, the Nanxun Ancient Water Town developed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) into one of the richest towns in China. Silk was the product which brought enormous fortune to merchants in the town. With the arrival of the marine Silk Road, merchants not only did more and more business with westerners, but also learnt advanced science and ideas from their business partners. Local merchants admired both Chinese and Western culture, so they decided to build their houses according to both Chinese and western styles. Fortunately, Nanxun survived countless wars and revolutions over the last 750 years, and it is better preserved than most other ancient water towns. Unlike some other ancient water towns, Nanxun is still inhabited, and much less commercialised than other water towns. 

There are two parts to this online interactive exhibition: Xiaolian Garden(video below) and Nanxun Ancient Town (reading & interactive exploration). Click the image on top to access the online exhibition, alternatively click here.

PART 4 Aristocratic Families

In central Zhejinag lies the Jinhua-Quzhou Plain where the people toiled day after day but reaped little due to barren land. The densely populated area was home to the small families of clans that lived in the proximity to their ancestral halls in strict hierarchy. Despite the unforgiving land, people here worked hard and diligently and turned this barren land into a liveable place with picturesque mountains and rivers with their persistence and tenacity. 

Dongyang, a city in the middle of Zhejiang province, is famous for its woodcarving. It is one of the major centers of woodcarving production from the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties to the present. Dongyang woodcarving was in its development stages by the time of the Tang dynasty (618-907), but was most prosperous in the last two feudal dynasties — the Ming and the Qing. The artistic forms of Dongyang woodcarving with its distinctive gradations and superb carving are unique in the handicraft and art fields. Dongyang woodcarving, also sometimes called “white woodcarving” (white is the natural colour of the wood) and is second to none in terms of Chinese crafts. In terms of techniques, Dongyang woodcarving features a high relief, multi-layers, and a rich composition of pictures, presenting a great depth of dimension. The woodwork is mainly used to decorate houses and furniture with realistic depictions of galloping horses, cranes, lotus flowers and people. Shijiangzhuang Flower Hall is a residential hall of an aristocrat in Dongyang, made in the late Qing Dynasty (video below).

There are two parts to this online interactive exhibition: Lu’s Residence in Dongyang (interactive experience) and Shijiazhuang Flower Hall (video below). Click the image on top to access the online exhibition, alternatively click here.

PART 5 Life in the Mountains

The people in mountainous areas live on mountains. They paved ancient paths to turn enclosed mountains into convenient through fares; they ploughed steep slopes into terraced fields; they lived together in clans among beautiful landscape, planting mulberry and hemp, raising animals. The terraced fields stacked on the slopes constitute a wonderful combination of lines and colour blocks. 

Located on the southern hillside of Changsong Mountain, Songyang is named after its location. In the ancient Chinese, the southern hillside is regarded as yang. The history of Songyang can be traced back to the fourth year of Jian’an Period in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220), more than 1,800 years ago. The county lies in the largest mountainous plain in southwest Zhejiang surrounded by hills and mountains in four sides, and preserves more than 100 traditional villages. It’s a living ancient town where handicraft workshops are still operating, and where locals found plowing, drawing water, pasturing cattle and picking tealeaves are not just a ploy for luring tourists, but their authentic daily activities. The town, actually a county, is called Songyang, and it enjoys a reputation as “the most beautiful village in China” and was praised as “the last fairyland in Jiangnan” by Chinese National Geography.

There are two parts to this online interactive exhibition: Lu’s Residence in Songyang Ancient Dwellings(video below) and Lounge Bridge (reading). Click the image on top to access the online exhibition, alternatively click here.

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