Hui merchants thrived financially from the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279), right through to the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). So the rich Hui people were able to build ornate residential houses and most of them have been well preserved. The existing ancient buildings in the Huizhou region were built during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasties.
A typical Hui residence was a compound comprised of several buildings on four or three sides of an inner courtyard. The outer wall of the whole compound was called a horse-head wall, which is a type of wall that is painted white and has black tiled roofs. Usually the buildings were two-storeys high, but some bigger families had homes which were three-storeys high. The roofs of all of the buildings were on an incline towards the inner courtyard. Hui people believed that water was a symbol for wealth. So they wanted all of the rainwater to flow into their inner courtyard, which symbolized and hopefully foreshadowed wealth coming into the family.
In ancient China, the size and other qualities of any place of residence were officially stratified according to the owner’s social position. Any house constructed beyond these restrictions was considered an offence and the owners would receive due punishment. As a merchant, your social standing meant you were not allowed to build too big or too luxurious a house for your family. However, the cunning Hui merchants found another way to display their wealth.
Brick-sculptures, woodcuts and stone carvings are considered the three essential artistic components of Hui architecture. In a wealthy family’s mansion, you will find amazing carved decorations everywhere – on beams, windows, pillars, doors and even walls. You will find vivid animals, people, and flowers; you may even find that some of the pictures depict stories. The richer the family was the more elaborate and delicate the carvings were that decorated their mansion. The price of a piece of very good brick carving by a skilled craftsman might be equal to the price of an acre of field.
Try the traditional Hui style mansion hotels on our travel: Discover the Ancient Chinese Villages in the Huizhou Region