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Notes on the Geography of China: Guangzhou: The Chen Clan Academy and Xiguan Houses

The Chen Clan Academy, extensively rebuilt in recent years, is high on the list of tourist attractions in Guangzhou; the similarly rebuilt Xiguan House, though also a museum, is less crowded.

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In 1888, work began on building the Chen (or Chan) Clan Academy of Classical Learning. This was an expensive undertaking, but the cost was spread over the 72 Chen Clans in Guangdong Province's 72 counties. Until 1905, clan boys could come here to live and study for the imperial examinations. When the exams were abolished in 1905, the academy became a conventional school for both boys and girls of the clan. In 1959, presumably in very poor condition, the school became the home of the provincial folk crafts center. Since 1988 it's been a state-protected historical monument.

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Main entrance, with a sign reading Chen Clan Academy.

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The layout is of halls and courtyards, arranged geometrically and traditionally: five halls wide, three halls deep.

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This is the hall that once held the clan's ancestral tablets, which were leaned against the red screen on the left.

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The tablets have vanished.

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An old photograph shows them in place. The souls of the departed were both here and in their graves, so worshipping here was as effective as worshipping there.

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The buildings are full of visual aids for the original students. The wooden screens here, each with an educational message, are the low-tech equivalent of computer screens today.

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From The Complete Story of the Tang Dynasty: Guo Ziyi receives congratulations on his birthday.

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From The Romance of the States of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty: permission has been granted to act as the prime minister of the Six States.

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A folktale:the dragon king and the eight immortals have an audience with the jade emperor.

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While Europeans lived on Shamian, the wealthiest Cantonese of the 19th Century built houses on the western side of the city, not far from the great curve of the Pearl River. There was a celebrated garden here, built by a mandarin named P'an Shih-ch'eng. The garden was called Lai Heung Yuen and, after vicissitudes, it opened as a public park in 1958. It's called Liwan or Liwanhu Park, and nearby is a rebuilt house from the past. It's a very strange house: half European, half Chinese.

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Inside, a very stylish circular staircase.

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Fused onto the European house is the real one. The style is called Xiguan, although this only means West Guang, as in "a house in the style of those at the west gate of Guangzhou."

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The layout consists of a line of long, narrow rooms joined along their long wall.

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The rooms are high, with lofts.

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Ground floors can be subdivided with screens.

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Or panels.

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Doorways create a corridor through the rooms, in this case bending around a bright sedan chair.

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The traditional entrance is not from the western courtyard but from the alley on the south of the house. It lies on the other side of the wall of the courtyard, seen here from a loft.

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The alley.

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The traditional door: a privacy screen and a security gate of sliding poles.


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