Beijing, China - June 26, 2009

Shichahai Area
(Courtyard Houses)

The Shichahai area is the ideal destination. It is located situated in the west of old Beijing. It used to be part of the old Grand Canal of the Yuan Dynasty 600 years ago. And now it is circled by the former palaces of ministers, temples, well-kept Siheyuans (quadrangle) as well as residences of celebrities in the past.
Shichahai area still has the ambience of an ancient city, despite its modern setting. Its lake waters ripple and glitter around the many lotuses floating on its surface. Willows line the bank like a misty green curtain, as a trickle of people cross the 1,000-year-old bridge. The lakeshore is packed with young people chatting, drinking and generally relaxing as wood pigeons coo overhead. The place is well known a night spot as eastern Beijing's Sanlitun bar street in the embassy district. The view from Shichahai bar resembles a watercolor.
"Shichahai" literally means "ten temple lakes". Shichahai area oe Shichahai Lake is also the name of three connectd lakes - Qian Hai Lake, Houhai Lake and Xihai Lake. It used to be 10 temples around the lakes, hence Shichahai Lake. The Silver Ingot Bridge ( Yinding Bridge ), a narrow channel joining Qianhai Lake and the Houhai Lake, the hub of Shichhai area with surrounding quiet hutongs.
Lots of pubs or bars are built along the three lakes.

1. Siheyuan and its layout: It is a residence very popular in China, but most common in Beijing. The name literally means a courtyard house, a house enclosed by four walls, called a quadrangle. In Chinese history, the Siheyuan building was the basic system of the building for housing, palaces, temples, and government offices. There are three kinds of Siheyuan - small, medium and big courtyard houses. For small and simple Siheyuan, the main gate is open to the south; the main rooms in the north for grandparents are facing south; the corner rooms for grandchildren; the west rooms and east rooms are for sons or daughters; the rooms by the main gate facing north are used as the living room or studio. For medium and big courtyard houses, there are more than one yard, two, three or even more yards with lots of rooms for some high ranking officials or rich merchants. The layout of a typical courtyard is actually a vivid showcase of traditional Chinese morality. Why such a layout? Well, the four buildings in a single courtyard get different amount of sunlight. The northern rooms receives the most, thus using as the living room and bedroom for the eldest, usually the Siheyuan owner. The eastern and western rooms get less, and used as the rooms for the young or the guests. The southern rooms, just opposite the owner's rooms, get the least sunlight, and usually served as the rooms for service staff or studios. The northern, eastern and western rooms are linked by pretty decorated passages. These passages are used as shelters from the sunshine during the day, and offer a cool shade and have a good view of the courtyard at night. Behind the northern rooms, there would often be an independent building for unmarried daughters. In the old China, unmarried girls were not allowed directly to seen in the public, hence living in the most secret building in the courtyanrd house. What's more, a Sheyuan has a scientific, human-oriented feature. The wall in the north-western building are normally higher than the other walls to stop the inner building from the cold winds, blowing from the north-west side in the winter. The curved eaves helps the the accumulated rainwater flow along the curved rather than dropping direcctly down. The ridge-type rooftop gives much shade to have the rooms escape from the heat in the summer.
2. Siheyuan's present and future: Many of the city's residents in still live in the traditional courtyards within the second ring road, which featuring the limits of old Beijing. Part of the central part of Beijing is composed of hutongs or narrow lanes caused by the courtyards. The well preserved residential quadrangles are mainly scattered over the East District, West District, Xuanwu and Chongwen districts of the city. Those in the East and West districts are in the best condition. A number of good-shape courtyards are listed as the special protection Siheyuan areas by the local government. Furthermore, the building of highrises in the city proper are under the strict control. However, Beijing faces much problem of housing shortage. Beijing is a city that is growing both spatially with its population growing at a fast rate. Many old courtyards are being torn down to address problems of overcrowding, replaced by modern apartment blocks. So quite a few of those who have lived in the courtyards for generations have now moved to high-rise apartments of blocks in new residential areas.

Pukalani Palace Travel
Website Homepage