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ART & LEISURE: Cultural getaway
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Cultural getaway

By Nadia N.

BT 201602 130 48 Art Leisure 002A few years ago, the rest of the world had associated China with peace, serenity, ancient traditions and ages of wisdom. We were picturing old masters taking a walk across lakes, practicing wushu and coming back to their low, small houses with stone lions and lanterns at the doorway. But, now the serenity and old traditions, if not forgotten and lost, are popularised and overrun. Tourists and visitors are queuing up at the every cultural landmark and keeping their smartphones 'at the ready'. Frankly, it is almost impossible to separate from the noise and crowd and really see the beauty of traditional Chinese places.

But, if you manage to get away from the downtown and happen to be in distant XiQing Disctrict of Tianjin, you can visit the YangLiuQing and the Shi Family Residence (石家大院). This landmark is based in Yangliuqing Town, which is the former residence of Shi Yuanshi - the fourth son of one of the eight greatest masters of Tianjin. Yuanshi got his enormous wealth by graining and trading cotton along the Grand Canal. As a result, they bought a lot of land, built plenty of amazing houses, and opened shops, banks and factories to multiply their riches. During the reign of Emperor Jiaqing (1760 - 1820), the Shi family owned thousands of hectares of land and 500 houses.

The former residence of this prosperous and powerful man of the 19th century was built in 1875 in the best traditions of ancient Chinese architecture. This mansion is a network of stone corridors and 275 rooms that served as dining, resting, business and leisure spaces for the Shi Family.

On the east side of the courtyard, visitors can find themselves in a traditional single-story house with rooms around the four sides, which was once the living area. You can actually see their furniture, decor and interior, and imagine yourself as one of the Shi. All the folk art, paintings, crafts and other pieces represent the particular Tianjin-style furnishings and decorations. The rooms on the north side were dedicated to business meetings, the financial affairs of the family and accountancy. On the west side are major constructions, including spaces for worshipping Buddha, the family theatre (the biggest old private theater in North China) and the south reception room. And, of course, on both sides of the residence were special rooms for countless servants and maids.

Now the courtyard has been turned into a museum, and many little shops with large collections of folk art pieces - like Yanliuqing New Year pictures or brick sculptures - have sprouted around. The museum stores more than 700 pieces of traditional Yangliuqing woodblock prints, at least 10,000 New Year pictures collected since the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), with as many as 6,400 pieces of painting plates. There is definitely a lot to see, experience and explore in the Shi Family Courtyard Residence, especially because of the very few visitors it receives.

Another interesting fact about Yangliuqing: it is a celebrity among Chinese landmarks. Most of the historical Chinese dramas were shot here. And, if you happen to watch CCTV or any traditional-style movie you have all the chances to see familiar views of the Shi Family Courtyard Residence.


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