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Wang Family Grand Courtyard
2006-03-31 10:04:34

By Ivana

Wang Family Grand Courtyard

Acclaimed as the "First Folk Residence in Cathay", the Grand Courtyard of the Wangs is the largest-existing folk residence cluster in China and a model of the merchant family's residence in North China's Shanxi Province, demonstrating the quintessence of Chinese architectural art and cultural values. The famous architect Zheng Xiaoxie researched the place six times, describing it as a "priceless treasure not only for the nation, but also for the entire world."

Situated in Jingsheng Town, 12 km east of Lingshi County in the province, the Wang's Grand Courtyard is only 35 km from the Ancient City of Pingyao, which is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.

This luxurious residence covers about 45,000 square meters with 123 compounds and 1,118 rooms and took about half a century (1762-1811) to build.

Travel Story: A Visit to Wang's Grand Courtyard

The Wangs

Besides the unique constructions and the cultural bearings, what attract tourists most are the legends and tales about the Grand Courtyard's owner, the Wangs. The Wang clan originally lived in Taiyuan, capital of Shanxi Province, before their ancestor Wang Shi moved to Jingsheng during the reign of Emperor Huangqing (1312-1313) of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). 

Wang Family Grand Courtyard

After moving to Jingsheng, Wang Shi mainly engaged in agriculture, but also made bean curd. The business gradually thrived as a result of the family's hard work and business virtues. Some members began to attend school, making the Wangs a distinguished family in the town.

The Wangs prospered during the reigns of Emperors Kangxi (1662-1722), Qianlong (1736-1795), and Jiaqing (1796-1820) in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The family conducted large-scale constructions at the time, building many houses, ancestral temples, graveyards, stores, and workshops. Besides, they also set up some free private schools and barns, built roads and bridges, dug channels, offered relief to those people struck by disasters, and did some other philanthropic works. In this period alone, the family produced 12 top-ranking government officials.

Wang Family Grand Courtyard

The Wangs began to decline during Emperor Daoguang's Reign (1820-1850). Besides the social and political reasons, another important factor that led to their decline was the later generations' abandonment of the family's traditional values like diligence and thriftiness. They became increasingly luxurious; some gave up attending school, choosing instead to bribe their way into government positions; while others indulged in opium, leading to the erosion of the once-prosperous family. The few members of the family who still had shops and stores within the province or other big cities like Beijing and Tianjin before the outbreak of the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1937-1945) lost what little they had after the outbreak. The whole family moved southward after the Lugou Bridge Incident (or Marco Polo Bridge Incident, staged by Japanese imperialists in their attempt to control the whole of China, which marked the beginning of China's war against Japan). 

With a history of more than 680 years, the Wangs have lived on for 27 generations throughout all the ups and downs. Now there are some newly emerged talents in various fields from the Wangs. Upon gazing at the Wang Grand Courtyard, one can vividly feel the history of China in the past few centuries through the legend of one common family.

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