What Were Ancient Chinese Houses Like?

Ancient Chinese houses were built using sun-dried bricks, wood and pounded earth, very often around a central courtyard. There are a number of ancient architectural types, including Siheyuan and Tulou, with most stressing the importance of "feng shui," which is defense and harmony with the natural environment.

The Siheyuan style of housing, which was common in Beijing, was characterized by several symmetrically arranged units or modules around one or more courtyards. The courtyards would be entirely enclosed on all sides by buildings or exterior walls, the only break in which would be the south-facing main entrance.

Toward the main entrance, the rooms would become progressively less prestigious in their function. Tucked away at the north of a typical Siheyuan, for instance, behind the master bedroom, were rooms for unwed daughters. Closer to the gate were the servants' quarters and work areas.

The Tulou style of housing has been popular among more rural communities for many centuries, particularly in the southern province of Fujian. These donut-shaped structures are likewise geared for defense, made with rammed earth exteriors. Broken only by narrow windows and a single entrance, the circular outer walls enclose timber interiors and a central open-air courtyard. The roofing, which follows the donut shape of the structure, is slate.