Wang's Compound

This compound is situated some 150 kilometers (93.2 miles) south of Taiyuan. The Wang business enterprise commenced during the Ming Dynasty and was a flourishing conglomerate by the middle of the Qing Dynasty, encompassing farming and commerce as well as politics. A massive mansion was built as a monument to the glory of this powerful family. The construction lasted for more than half a century and the building extended over an area of 31,956 square meters (7.9 acres), four times the size of the Qiao compound. Consisting of 54 courtyards and 1,052 rooms, the Wang compound is the epitome of Oriental domestic architecture.

The buildings have been set into the hillside and protected by a fortified curtain wall upon a loess ramp, thus creating a veritable castle. The east gate faces the Mianshan Mountain which rises to 2,000 meters in height (6,562 feet), while the buildings inside are divided into three distinct groups known as the Gaojiaya, the Hongmenbao and the Ancestral Temples.

The Gaojiaya, or East Courtyards, has a series of dwelling houses that are walled off in the form of an irregular castle, while they each retain the traditional layout of the hall in front with the bedchamber to the rear. Gates stand at each of the four cardinal points, providing access to the various courtyards. The buildings are spread in tiers up the mountainside and are aligned in six parallel complexes. In the centre there are the three main courtyards, which vary in size. The complex to the east is the kitchen, while those on the west served as the private family school and the garden. A secret passage leads into the garden's flower cellar, which provided access in an emergency. At the north of the complex there is a row of thirteen cave dwellings. These command the highest position overlooking the entire area and served also as a watchtower. The arrangement of courtyard within a courtyard, door after door and house above house creates a labyrinthine world.
 
A stone bridge crossing a moat leads from the Gaojiaya to the Hongmenbao or West Courtyards. These form another complete and well-designed castle complex, that measures 105 meters (344 feet) in width from east to west and 180 meters (591 feet) long from south to north. The fact that this complex has only one gate, the door of which is painted red, has given rise to its name - Hongmenbao which means Red Gate Castle. The curtain wall is 8 meters (26 feet) high on its outer side but only 4 meters (13 feet) high from within. Constructed from grey bricks and some 2 meters (6.7 feet) thick, the wall has a battlement top. Within the main courtyards there are cave dwellings over which a second storey has been built. Movement within the castle is facilitated by a street that runs lengthways and which is intersected by three running crosswise. The pattern they form is the same as the Chinese character 'Wang' , the family name.
 
Despite their distinguished position, the Wang family had humble origins and the mansion combines the dignity of a noble style of architecture with that of a popular style used by ordinary people. The decoration throughout makes a wide use of the images of pine trees, bamboo and plum blossom as these are held by scholars to be the symbols of human virtue.

Artistic Achievements
The buildings of the Wang Compound are adorned and surrounded by a rich display of sculpture and carvings. This fantastic collection includes work in stone, brick and wood. Ranging from the eaves of houses, roof ridges, the interlocking joints of timbers, wall screens, window frames, shrines and decorative stone drums there is a profusion of carving.
 
Stone Carving
Striking horizontal tablets exhibit styles that include scrolls, epitaphs, and foliage. These appear in bas-relief, high relief and intaglios. Deserving special notice is the Pattra leaf tablet that is placed on the wall of a lane within the private school. This is a particularly fine and rare piece of stonework. The tablet has the form of a curved leaf with intricately worked veins.

There are only two remaining examples of this kind of work in existence, the other being in the Forbidden City in Beijing.
The stone pedestals that support timbers and act as a damp proof course to ward off decay are modelled in the shapes of lanterns, drums, vases, hexagons and the like. Stone lions, capstones, mounting blocks that were used by horsemen, and the door pillars are all exquisitely sculpted. In the main, the designs depict historical events and moral tales. An example on the left shows Madame Tang breast feeding her infant son, who is being enticed away by a servant with a rattle. Also in the picture is her sister-in-law who is attending upon her husband's aged parents. This feature on a cornerstone advocates the loyalty of women to their family.

Brick Carvings
These appear mainly on screen walls, chimneys, roof ridges, door lintels and parapets. Subjects include floral patterns, auspicious animals and birds and Taoist images.

A notable example of this form of decoration upon a screen wall is known as 'Five Blessings support the God of Longevity'. The shield like design consists of two outer concentric circles containing a key pattern. The central boss is the symbol of the God of Longevity and this is supported within the outer circles by five bats. The bat has a particular significance as the Chinese word 'fu' which means 'bat' also means 'good fortune'. The 'five blessings' are these bats as they are a symbol for good fortune and happiness.

Wood Carvings
The skills of the wood carver are displayed in the ingenious patterns of lattice windows. The windows are devised in this way to facilitate ventilation while the decoration forms silhouette pictures to please the eye. Many other wood carvings adorn wall panels, curtain rails, arches and cross beams.