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Notes on the Geography of China: Baisha and Longcheng

Baisha and Longcheng are villages a few miles north of Lijiang but close enough to feel the effects of that town's new wealth.  They, too, must now navigate between the Scylla of tradition and the Charybdis of change.

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China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 1

This part of Yunnan boasts very impressive farmsteads and farmers who don't miss a beat when the wheat is ripe and it's time to get started on a summer crop.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 2

Bundled wheat hung out to dry.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 3

The farmsteads have a massive wooden frame, filled in with adobe bricks laid on stone foundations.

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Another example.

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The farmsteads open on a courtyard. 

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This is the same house as in the previous picture, but with the barn in view. Note the elegant but functional stone footings under each column.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 7

Another example: grain aloft, fuel stacked below.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 8

Loading the loft: motor vehicles are very common, especially small tractors.

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The classic Chinese hand-tractor, commonly enclosed now.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 10

Ladder and baskets.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 11

There are some very elegant buildings in Baisha, such as this one near the village school.  It hints at the village's history: Baisha was the cultural center of the Naxi until the establishment in the 13th century of Lijiang.

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The building even has a spirit or slab staircase, such as those found in Beijing.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 13

Luckily, there was nobody around, which intensifies the atmosphere.

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Tiptoe around.

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Next door, the school.

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Longcheng is grappling with the same choice of tradition and change.  Here, carpenters still trim planks with adzes.

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Others use bucksaws.  Again: elegant stone footings under each column.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 18

It takes a lot of wood to make this kind of building, with its transverse tie-beams mortised into pillars.  (In Chinese, this technique is called chuandoushi.) Almost all the purlins rest directly on a pillar.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 19

It has been argued (for example by Ronald Knapp, in China's Traditional Rural Architecture, 1986, p. 71) that this method of framing allows smaller timbers to be used than the conventional pillar-and-beam method, where beams are supported by posts only at the ends of the beams (tailiang, or pillar and beam), but the timber dimensions used here call that explanation into doubt.  Perhaps the use of this complex system is instead an adaptation to the region's frequent and severe earthquakes.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 20

Here, an assortment of traditional materials has been employed, including stone, mortar, and local tile.

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A new building.

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The barns, too, take a lot of wood.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 23

In the past, there was no alternative.  Now, people have money from Lijiang, in this case from the sale there of dyed fabric. The blue is traditional for blouses, pants, and aprons.  Light and dark halves represented night and day; embroidered circles, stars.

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Newer patterns.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 25

Plenty of blue in Longcheng's market square.

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With money, people want to show off their wealth by adopting the materials and styles they associate with big cities.

China: Baisha and Longcheng picture 27

The options now include concrete and rebar, almost certainly cheaper than the traditional wood frame but less tolerant of earthquakes and lethal to the tourism upon which the village increasingly depends for its livelihood.


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