Dear Ms. Liang,
Our tour of Beijing finishes today and my husband and I wish to thank Barrin, our Beijing tour guide, our Beijing driver and your company for what has been the most memorable holiday that we have ever had. Barrin was at the airport to meet us and proved to be a most diligent, pleasant and informative host throughout the tour. Our driver took us through the heavy Beijing traffic every day and got us to our various places safely.
1. This courtyard is a private residence of the Zhu family. It can be dated to the Ming dynasty (1368 - 1644 ), and it is also one of the most complete existing courtyards in Beijing.
First let's look at its Ming Dynasty front gate and high steps. In the feudal society the number of the steps and the hexagonal poles protruding from the top beam were strictly regulated as a symbol of social rank. You can find the 4 steps leading up to the main gate, and the 4 poles protruding from the top beams, indicating the owner was a 3-rank army officer at that time. The gate is painted vermilion with copper door knockers. The gate is located at the southeastern corner of the courtyard built according to Fengshui.
2. Why the owner was an army officer, not a civil official? The stone piers ( mendun ) are an indication of position and wealth of the former occupants of a old hutong courtyard home in Beijing. If the stone piers were circular, then host was an army officer. If square, the host was a civil official. So the host of the Zhu Family was an army officer.
The rear parts of the stone piers are set astride the gate to either hold the gate and serve as the central axis.
3. Entering the front gate, you find a screen wall to shield the house from outsiders'view for privacy. Superstition holds that it also protects the house from evil spirits. Remember both the front gate and the screen wall are located in the southeast corner of the courtyard. Turn left, you enter the yard of the old courtyard.
4. The layout of the 300-year old courtyard
5. The building positioned to the north and facing the south is considered the main house. The main house receives the most sunlight, thus serving as the living room and bedroom of the owner or head of the family.
6. The western side rooms receive less sunshine, and serve as the rooms for eldest children or less important members of the family. Now the descendants of the courtyard still live in the the west rooms. You can see the western rooms from the outside.
7. The eastern side rooms receive the second less sunshine, and serve as the rooms for younger children or less important members of the family. Now most of the eatern rooms are vacant as showrooms. Still one of the eastern rooms is now used as a kitchen room.
8. The opposite rooms (or southern side rooms). The southern side rooms receive the least sunlight, and usually serve as a reception room and the servants' dwelling, or where the family would gather to relax, eat or study.
Take a pedcab and drive through the zigzag and narrow alleys or hutongs. Two people share one rickshaw.
Drop off at the the Silver Ingot Bridge ( Yinding Bridge ), a narrow channel joining Qianhai Lake and the Houhai Lake, the hub of Shichhai area with surrounding quiet hutongs. Walking along the Yandai Xiejie ( Tobacco Pipe Lean Street ), a quaint 800-year-old hutong located directly north of Yinding Bridge between Qianhai and Houhai and the south of the Drum Tower, used to be well-known for sellers of long-stemmed pipes, hence the name.
Ascending the 67-meter high and two-story Drum Tower dating from 1420 is sure to bring you back to the old Beijing by seeing the big drum tower and having bird's eye view of the surrounding communities of hutongs and siheyuan - existing traditional courtyards in Beijing.
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