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Qiao's Compound
Qiao's Compound: 
Shanxi - Pingyao; 
Travel in Pingyao, Shanxi It is no surprise to learn that a country with a continuous 5000 year old civilisation should be blessed with a number of historic houses as well as its fine heritage of imperial, religious and civic buildings. While the palaces, temples, pagodas and walled cities with their bell and drum towers are well publicised, there is also a wealth of ancient villages and noteworthy houses built long ago by wealthy merchants and business men. Typical of these are the houses to be found in Shanxi Province, which are representative of the wealth attained by the Shanxi Merchants. The larger of these mansions are the Chinese equivalent of the English castle, the French chateau and the German schloss.

The Shanxi Merchants

Shanxi Province occupies the mountainous region between the central plain and the northern desert. The routes through it provided the means whereby the Han Chinese of the central plains could communicate with the desert tribes living beyond the border. Trading links, dating from the first century BC, flourished during the Sui and Tang Dynasties. The strong family loyalties of those living in Shanxi coupled with the ethics of diligence, thrift, and teamwork brought about a thriving merchant culture that endured for some 500 years, until the late Ming period (1368-1644). True to their roots, these merchants would bring their wealth back to the places where their families had long been settled and they built fine, extensive mansions.

Today, there are still some 1,300 sites where such houses can be found. Surrounded by walls that enclose a compound, the individual buildings within are set around quadrangles. They are usually two storeys in height and constructed from brick and timber. Among the best preserved of these compounds in the centre of Shanxi are Qiao's Compound, Wang's Compound and Cao's Compound.

Qiao's Compound

Located sixty kilometers (37.3 miles) south of Taiyuan, the provincial capital, and some twenty kilometers (12.4 miles) north of Pingyao, this Compound was built in 1756 during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The buildings continue to be well maintained despite the fact that the Qiao family had ceased to have any influence since the 1940's.

The family enjoyed a prestigious status during the reign of the Emperor Qianlong (1735-96), one of its patriarchs having been a famous trader, whose travels had taken him far off into foreign lands. The family included banking among its activities and this meant their commercial influence spread beyond Shanxi Province, their private banks being a nation-wide enterprise. The compound's inner courtyards and passageways have been designed to form the shape of the Chinese character for the words 'double happiness' (shuang xi). The architecture has virtually an encyclopaedic range, displaying a vast array of contrasting roof styles which vary from gentle slopes to high peaks which swoop down in elegant curves.

This mansion covers some 4,220 square yards and consists of six main courtyards and twenty minor ones. There are 313 rooms which are set on a north-south axis. An 80 meter (87 yards) long passageway runs from east to west, dividing the complex in halves. At the western end stands the ancestral temple of the Qiao family.

The compound is contained within a 10 meter (33 feet) high wall that has parapets and battlements on the top. At each of the four corners there is a watch tower that completes the defences that protect the sealed and private world of the mansion. Within the wall a road has been constructed around three of its sides to give ready access to the various buildings which between them have an array of some 140 chimneys, each with a unique design.

The main entrance is through an elaborate gateway, complete with a tower, which opens to the east. Above the door the family motto is inscribed and which reads 'Descendants be righteous, brothers show mutual care and so may the family prosper.' Beyond the gate there a screen wall on which is carved the figure of Longevity. It was this mansion that was used as the setting for the famous film 'Raise the Red Lanterns'.

Getting there: From Taiyuan take a small bus to the village of Dongguan in Qi County, a journey of approximately one hour (50 km). A day trip can include other sights in the area such as the Yantao Temple, the Nine Gorges Scenic Area, the Qu Family Compound as well as the Ancient Ming and Qing Streets which can be found in neighbouring towns.

Cao's Compound

For over 400 years during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the activities at the Cao Jia Dayuan, or Cao Family Compound exerted a tremendous political and economic influence over what is today Taigu County, not far from Taiyuan.. The compound is laid out in the form of the Chinese character 'shou' which means 'longevity.' The residence contains a total of 277 rooms. Known now as the Sando Tang Museum, it houses an exhibition of the old family porcelain and pearls.

Getting there: The Cao Jia Dayuan makes a good day trip from Taiyuan. A bus ride of about two hours will take you to Taigu County. From there a cab ride will take you the 5 km to Beiguang Village.

Admission Fee:  35
Travel in Pingyao
City Wall of Pingyao
Qiao's Compound
The Ancient Ming and Qing Streets
The Temple of the City God
Hotel in Pingyao
About Shanxi
Datong City
Pingyao City
Taiyuan City