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A Visit to Wang's Grand Courtyard
2005-07-28 16:32:34

Text and Photos by Zhang Li

I had heard much about the renowned Wang's Grand Courtyard and this time's Shanxi Tour gave me a chance to discover the Grand Courtyard myself.

Traveling from the Lingshi Exit of the Dayun Expressway for just 2 km, we reached our destination.

The entrance gate of the Grand Courtyard did not impress me much, even a little below my anticipation and I expected it to be as majestic and grand as it was named. How would the things behind the humble gate look? Would it turn out to be just a fantasy?

Having not much time to doubt the value of this tour, I walked through the gate and entered Wang's Grand Courtyard. Actually the further I stepped into the yard, the better the place began to look.

Ms. Liu was our tour guide. She has worked there for eight years and now has become one of the most knowledgeable tour guides at the garden.

The first place we visited was the Gao Jia Ya Architectural Complex.

According to her, so far three huge architectural complexes of Wang's Grand Courtyard have been opened to the public, namely Gaojiaya, Red-Gate Fort and Piety-righteousness Ancestral Temple.

The Gao Jia Ya Architectural Complex was built by Wang Rucong and Wang Rucheng, the Wang's 17th generation, from the 1st year to the 16th year of Jiaqing (1796-1811). Covering 19572sq.m, the Complex has 35 courtyards and 342 rooms, all of which are well designed and functioned. The exquisite brick, wood and stone carvings may even shame the craftworks of today.    

Among the courtyards, the Ningrui Residence impressed me most. The courtyard style began in the Western Zhou Dynasty (from 11th century -771 BC), with the halls in the front and the bedrooms at the back. On the second floor was the room for the owner's daughter. Although the rooms former resident, probably a beautiful young lady, has long passed away, I could still feel her gentle and elegant disposition by those elegant furnishings.

Our next stop was the Red Gate Fort. If not led by an experienced tour guide, most of us, I guess, would get lost in this labyrinth-like castle. Ms. Liu told us the overall layout of the Red-Gate Fort Architectural Complex was carefully arranged and you could find a Chinese character "Wang" with a glimpse of a dragon visible from a bird's eye view.

Within the same Fort, courtyard houses are of various styles reflecting the different dispositions and different lifestyles of their former owners. Some of them are sumptuous and luxurious, while some are quiet, small but still exquisite.

The Simple but Elegant House (or Suxinju) is the former residence of Wang Ruming living in the 17th century. As you may have guessed from the name you will find few luxurious decoration or furniture in his yard and may assume its owner, Wang Ruming, to have been a nobody in Wang's family. Yet you would be wrong. Actually he was then in charge of the salt carriage, which was a rather lucrative official position in Qing Dynasty. But he never went out of his way to court fortune and always asked his descendents to live a simple and humble life.

At Wang's Museum, also in Red-gate Fort, Ms. Liu gave us a short presentation of the history of the Wang family, especially the branch in Shanxi. The Wang family has 27 generations going back farther than 680 years. Back in 1312 to1313, after having moved from Taiyuan, ancestor Wang Shi began to engage in farming and commerce and the Wang family expanded gradually. Then he began to hold offices and later the Wang's became a local distinguished family. The Wang family entered its heyday in the period of Kangxi, Qianlong and Jiaqing, from 1661 to 1820. In the eighteenth century (the period of Daoguang), Wang's family gradually decline. In 1996 the last generation of the Wangs moved out of their age-old residence and the Grand Courtyard was opened to the public the following year.


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