Sunken Courtyard Dwellings

A sunken courtyard dwelling in Henan Province

Green Buildings Made of Yellow Earth

Sunken courtyard dwellings are commonly seen along the Yellow River in Shaanxi, Shanxi and Henan provinces in northern China where the soil is super compact, almost like concrete. Though built with yellow earth, they are green buildings. Very green.

A typical sunken siheyuan would have a yard about 6 metres deep with an area size of more than 100 sqms. Around this private open space, 10 or 12 or 14 rooms are dug off the central courtyard, each three metres high from floor to the top of the arched ceiling, eight to twelve metres deep from the front door to the back of the wall.

An entrance to a traditional cave dwelling under the ground on Yellow Plateau in northern China

This traditional Yellow Earth-style residence has a history of over 2000 years. It utilises the materials readily available nearby, occupies the least farmland and leaves a minimum negative impact on the natural environment.

A door entering the sunken courtyard

A landscaped sunken courtyard fully opening to the sky

COMMENTS FROM GOOGLE PLUS

Feb 9, 2019

Eric Horrobin
I wonder if the issue of water would be dealt with by drainage? Modern times could use sump pump, but otherwise would need somehow to have water pass through the cave-dwelling.

Mile HsiangYang Lee

Looks like An ENTRY to A BUNKER CELL ๐Ÿ˜‚

There Could Be A WELL Dug Right in The Center of The SUBTERRANEAN HOUSE, Where RAIN WATER is Collected ๐Ÿ˜ƒ Most OLD CHINESE COURTYARD HOUSES have That in The OLD DAYS ๐Ÿ˜‰ In Each House ๐Ÿ˜Š

All Things Chineseย 
The Yellow Plateau region does not rain often and when rains it does not rain heavily and when on the occasions it rains heavily the highly compact thus dry soil in the courtyard would absorb the water in no time.

I believe some better equipped sunken dwellings do use drainage or water pit or open ditch but they may not be much use as the super dry soil in the courtyard would suck all the water as soon as it rains.

After three days of heavy rain, which is not common in north China’s Yellow Plateau region, there is no sign of flood in the sunken courtyard of a cave-dwelling, because the well and a patch of the landscaped area have functioned as an effective drainage system.

COMMENTS FROM GOOGLE PLUS

Feb 22, 2019

Rony Ton
้™คไบ†ๆœ‰ๆ•ˆ็š„ๆŽ’ๆฐด็ณป็ตฑ็š„ไฝœ็”จๅฐไนพๆธด็š„้ปƒๅœŸ้ซ˜ๅŽŸไพ†่ชช๏ผŒไธ่ฆ่ชชไธ‰ๅคฉ๏ผŒๅฐฑ็ฎ—ไธ‹ๅ€‹ๅๅคฉใ€ๅŠๅ€‹ๆœˆ็š„ๅคง้›จ๏ผŒไนŸๅƒๅคฉ้™็”˜้œ–๏ผŒ็พŽไธๅ‹ๆ”ถ

All Things Chinese
You’re absolutely right.๐ŸŒž

Eric Horrobin
So now there is water in the well. Nice ๐Ÿ˜

All Things Chineseย 
There should be water in the well even without rain, otherwise, what’s the point to have a well – The region’s seldom having decent rains.

Mile HsiangYang Lee
Nice ARBOR Above The WELL ๐Ÿ˜Š

All Things Chinese
Without raised brick border around, the soil can be easily washed into the well during the rain and the underground water can be contaminated. But with the border, it won’t be able to function as a drainage pit for the courtyard.

Eric Horrobin
So the water in the well is drinkable? Or used to water the garden.?

Mile HsiangYang Lee
Maybe Used for CONSUMPTION in BAD TIMES like DROUGHT ๐Ÿ˜ And RAIN + SNOW – Used in GOOD TIMES ๐Ÿ˜‰

Eric Horrobin
Ah Yes! Maybe a boil water advisory when necessary to use. ๐Ÿค”

Mile HsiangYang Lee
A WELL – The Water is Usually HARD WATER as Compared to PROCESSED WATER with FLUORIDE – Which is A SOFT WATER, Which We are Used to in NORTH AMERICAS ๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜๐Ÿ˜

All Things Chinese
I believe it’s drinkable after having distilled for a while.

Mile HsiangYang Leeย 
Distilled? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ I Guess, You Would Need A FLASK + A FUNNEL + A BEAKER + A GAS STOVE + A WIRE GAUZE etc etc ๐Ÿ˜‚ DISTILLATION PROCESS – I Learned That When I was 12 Years Old in The School Lab. It Almost Exploded in My Face ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

All Things Chinese
Chinese traditionally used large ceramic vets to store and distil water fetched from a river.

Mile HsiangYang Lee
Ahhhh… Like Those for SOY SAUCE + KIMCHI …..Waiting for FERMENTATION? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ๐Ÿ˜ฎ๐Ÿ˜ฎ๐Ÿ˜ฎ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

All Things Chinese
They put kind of stuff similar to alkali into the water which helps bring all junks down to the bottom.

Mile HsiangYang Lee
Alkali? ๐Ÿ˜ฎย VINEGAR, Right?

This traditional Yellow Earth-style residence has a history of over 2000 years. It utilizes the materials readily available nearby, occupies the least farmland and leaves a minimum negative impact on the natural environment.

With the ability to maintain a stable temperature during all seasons, being windproof, noise-proof and quake-resistant, it is an inspirational example of environmentally sustainable residential housing design that has its core concept rooted in a culture that respects and reflects the world around it.

The Decline of the Tradition

Entering the 21st century, the locals began to tore down the sunken residences and built on-ground houses.

The remains of a cave-dwelling and its courtyard in Shaanxi Province

COMMENTS FROM GOOGLE PLUS

March 7, 2019

Mile HsiangYang Lee
Abandoned? Old Village? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ SHANXI PROVINCE? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ All Scooped Up by ALIENS + DISSECTED for BIOPSY SAMPLES? ๐Ÿ˜ฑ

David Crosswell
There are many deserted, or near-deserted villages in China now. If there are any inhabitants, it’s the older people: the young ones have joined the rural drift, into the cities to find work.

Mile HsiangYang Lee
Sounds like JAPAN ๐Ÿ˜ The YOUNG are in BIG CITIES + Many Old One have Passed On – HOMES Abandoned ๐Ÿ˜ฉ JAPANESE GOVT is AUCTIONING Them Off. If You Want to LIVE in JAPAN + Could Afford JAPANESE COST of LIVING + LIFESTYLE, It’s A GOOD OPTION to Consider ๐Ÿ˜‰

SEAN PAN
To completely eliminate poverty in the whole country by 2020, there are custom made plans to urbanize those populations to where social services are available.

David Crosswell
Yes, but Japan wouldn’t be an option for me.

China, yes, but not Japan.

Mile HsiangYang Lee
Yes – CHINA is DIVERSE with Many CULTURES ๐Ÿ‘Œ JAPAN is Just NOT ๐Ÿ™… Even The MAJORITY HAN – CHINESE PEOPLE, The CULTURE + CUSTOMS + CUISINES + LINGUAL FRANCA + LINGO – It Varies from CITY to CITY, PROVINCE to PROVINCE ๐Ÿ˜‰ It’s Even More So for The Other 55 ETHNIC MINORITIES in CHINA – KOREAN, MONGOL, MANCHU, RUSSIAN, UIGHUR (TURKIC), KAZAKH (TURK – MONGOL), KRYGYST (TURK – MONGOL), HUI (CHINESE MOSLEM), HMONG (VIETNAMESE TRIBE), DAI (THAI) etc etc ๐Ÿ˜Ž Enjoy ๐Ÿ™‹

Just Curious – Why JAPAN is Not An OPTION? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ FUKUSHIMA? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

David Crosswell
Just not an option for me for a number of reasons. I’m steering more in the direction of the Xi-Putin thought process, and Japan is just a little too `American’.

Niggers Stink
China has tons of abandoned villages. The old ways are dying out and most look to the cities these days. Sad but that’s the future of Earth.

Iacovos Florides
Great for airsoft!

A Trend to Revive the Tradition

However, the trend starts to change now as more people have realised on-ground houses have issues with the local climate conditions which are extremely windy and dry. To start with, cracks would appear on the walls of the houses months after they were built.

Do you think the ancient Chinese on the Yellow Pleatues never knew there was such a thing as on-ground buildings? I don’t think so. But they chose to stay in their sunken residence, which must be for a good reason.

The interior of a living room in the cave-dwelling around a central sunken courtyard

Now, some have rediscovered the advantages of sunken courtyard dwellings. For one thing, cave residences are renowned for being warm in winter and cool in summer without a need to use air conditioning.

The interior of a bedroom in the cave-dwelling around a central sunken courtyard

COMMENTS FROM GOOGLE PLUS

Feb 10, 2019

Mile HsiangYang Lee
Is That CARPETED FLOORING?ย 

No HEARTH or A FIREPLACE? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

All Things Chinese
No, that’s a brick paving floor and bamboo mat fire bed.

The fire bed keeps warm all day heated by hot air underneath fed by a brick range stove next door through a brick channel between the two.

After all, the temperature in the cave is rather consistent all year round.

Mile HsiangYang Leeย 
BAMBOO MAT? Like JAPANESE TATAMI? FIRE BED? ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Ahh….Yes. I’ve Seen That in SHENYANG CITY – LIAONING PROVINCE – Just Across The Border to NORTH KOREA ๐Ÿ˜Š

All Things Chineseย 
Bamboo mats are commonly used in China during summer.

Have you ever slept on a fire bed? It must be very cosy.

When I visited Changchun, Jilin province, in winter, I lived in a modern flat with heating where there is no fire bed. I’ve never seen a real fire bed in my life. ;-(

Eric Horrobin
Why is it called fire bed? Is it really warm?? It may be a solution for the homeless people in American.

Wait it’s kept hot by the air from fire in the next room. D’uh I should pay attention when I read. ๐Ÿ˜„

All Things Chinese
Fire bed is unique in northern China where the temperature can be below minus 20+. When I visited Changchun in China’s northeast, it was -22 and I was told to cover every part of my body when going out including my face otherwise my nose or ears would fall off ;-D

The fire bed is built with bricks with a tunnel underneath. The bedroom (also a living room) is next to the kitchen, so on the other side of the wall is a brick stove range. When cooking, the hot air rolls through the tunnel to underneath the brick bed.

The bed keeps warm all day and the residents (especially women) would spend all their time on the bed sleeping, eating and doing needlework.

Do you see a small table on the bed? That is a dinner table.

On cold and long winter nights, the men would sit on the fire bed sipping warm rice wine and chewing roasted peanuts for hours in flicking candlelight.

When guests come, they are invited to sit on the bed by the table, sipping warm rice wine with the male host and the women in the family would make extra dishes like quick stir eggs and pickled pork or beef slices. Then the host and the guests would chat away and sometimes tell some ghost stories while kids are around to listen.

Before sleep, a woman would sweep the bed with a small broom just like you might sweep your kitchen floor.

Then everyone would sleep on the same fire bed and enjoy the wolf howling-like sound from the northwest wind outside and have sweet dreams.

The next morning when they open their eyes watching out through the window (fire beds are always next to the window), they find the land is draped in a white wedding gown …. wow …. snow!

I’ve never seen a real fire bed but I believe my description should be quite accurate.

A sunken village at night during Chinese New Year festival season

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