Saturday, April 30, 2011


I arrived here in the dark at 6am which was freezing and hopped on an electric cart taxi which made me twice as cold. Luckily the hostel let me in my room to sleep a couple of hours and when I emerged it was like a different world. The sun was out and people were bustling and selling things. Pingyao is famous for its great adobe city walls and it is lovely walking around with the locals all travelling around on bicycles and it is not as touristy as Lijiang. I had some really filling dumplings which really hit the spot for breakfast ( I think the lady in the shop was suprised I ate all of them) and some local specialties for lunch - delicious date balls and a variety of mushrooms in a delicious sauce with rice. Mushrooms are fantastic in China.

People bustling and selling things among traditional buildings

The hostel where I stayed - traditional courtyard style

The electric carts that were a bit of a chilly way to travel

The famous city walls built from adobe and still standing

Friday, April 8, 2011

Final Case Study (this trip anyway) New Generation Yaodong Cave Dwellings

I initially thought these houses were made out of concrete block and were not actually my case study at all. I asked if there were other houses nearby made out of earth and not concrete but the residents insisted that these were the only houses like this designed by Xi'an University. After interviewing Professor Wang Jun at Xi'an University, he informed me that the houses are in fact made out of stone with an earth roof but they are clad internally and externally in concrete as the government wanted the houses to look more modern. This is of course means that the earth can't breath and cracking was evident in the ceiling finish. Everybody I interviewed said it was important to them to live in a Yaodong house and they preferred it to an apartment (even the young couple said this). However people who had moved here from more traditional Yaodong (especially the lady in House no.1) said that the house was a lot cooler in Winter than the original and she sometimes wondered if she should move back. The convenience of not living in the hillside was attractive to many. The houses cost 70,000rmb (about £7000 at current exchange rates) to buy in 2001 but would be much more today as China has seen a phenomenal increase in house prices over the last few years. I think these houses are in general a success, particularly from a cultural perspective and a community perspective. Building in terraces represents the original Yaodong communities and seems to keep people together. It is a shame that more could not have been made of the thermal mass properties of the original Yaodong. To increase stability in an earthquake (a worry in the original design) the walls are built of stone but still retaining the original arch formed of earth. However having visited my Marcelo Cortes case study in Santiago I know that it is possible to build houses out of earth that do stand up in an earthquake. Marcelo Cortes's houses are still intact after the February 2010 earthquake in Chile that completely devastated Concepcion and knocked down a highway bridge in Santiago.

House no.1 with the lady who owns the house and her son with Wang Ping Ping and Yan Xiaoying either side

The main room of the house with the stove pipe exiting the building through the window in a traditional design

House no. 2 showing the pipe entering the K'ang bed

House no.2 main room

The tenant of House no. 2, he lives alone

The tenants of House no.3 in the main room, a couple in their fifties and a grandfather

Tenants in House no. 4 a young couple with a young baby, here they had guests

These Yaodong are 2 story, however the lower rooms seem to be mostly rented out while the owner lives in the upper rooms. It is easy to connect two or three Yaodong to form one dwelling by knocking through. The owner therefore lives in three Yaodong at first floor level while he has 3 sets of tenants living below.

Looking into House no.5 from the outside 'balcony space'

Inside House no. 5 still with traditinal stove but without the K'ang bed which the owner misses

The owner of House no.5 and the landlord for houses 2 - 4.

The Yaodong terrace

An board showing the intended scheme for this building site. It is interesting that the traditional Yaodong arch will be incorporated into such a large design

On the bus back to Xi'an, the loess plateau terraces and you can just see a Yaodong community set in the hillside below

If you look closely you can see some cave dwelling here too

Another Yaodong community, you can see further Yaodong terraces being built in front, some out of earth but many newer ones out of concrete

Chairman Mao and Yaodong Cave Dwellings

I met up with the two English students in Yan'an called Wang Ping Ping and Yan Xiaoying. Or rather they came and found me in a hotel because I got lost on a bus. They then took me out for lunch which was delicious (local handmade noodles in a spicy sauce with meatballs) and they insisted on paying (much to my protests!). Then we visited Chairman Mao's humble abode while forming the Communist Party, there is a hotel nearby offering the opportunity to 'live as Mao did' albeit in a luxurious hotel room in the style of the Yaodong, I declined this offer as it was about 10 times what I could pay for a hotel around the corner. The girls then took me to a small Yaodong community set into the hillside just on the edge of Yan'an town, it is interesting to see people still living like this when so many have moved to apartment blocks. Many people I later interviewed said how important this type of dwelling is to them culturally and financially. The original Yaodong are still warmer in winter than the New Generation Yaodong, possibly due to the thickness of walls and the fact that they are still connected to the hillside. The New Generation Yaodong form separate terraces away from the hillside. The traditional Yaodong still uses a K'ang bed which is a large bed heated below from the pipework coming from the stove. This combined with the solid earth walls keeps the dwellings warm in winter on very low cost. The K'ang beds are large enough to sleep a whole family and people sit on the during the day to carry out household tasks.

Inside the hall where Mao and his comrades had many meetings to set up the Communist Party. Chinese flock from all over China to have their picture taken here

Inside the cave dwellings where Chairman Mao and his comrades lived

This one has a timber beam structure that I have not seen in other Yaodong

The Yaodong where Chairman Mao and the Communist Party first had meetings

Chairman Mao in the beginning

Traditional Yaodong just on the edge of Yan'an town

Close up of door way with traditional paper windows and a smoke vent/chimney above right

Inside, K'ang bed to the right

A Yaodong community

Yan'an city in contrast against Yaodong cave dwellings in the hillside
The new ' Yaodong style' hotel built out of concrete

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I had a lot of fun in this city, mostly thanks to my couchsurfing host Marui. There were two other British girls also staying with Marui and they met me from the train. It was good to wander the streets in a new city with someone other than myself and have a good laugh with people who have the same sense of humour! We walked around the city walls and ran around the city trying to find the right bus, asking all kinds of people for directions (it is always a bet on whether the Chinese person will understand your Chinese the first or the 8th time you say the same thing!) in the rain and eventually made it back to Marui's just in time for hot pot - delicious! We also tried all sorts of snake wine concoctions and some other things that I think it is best I know not what they are. I do know that I was very merry.

My case study in China nearly did not go ahead at all except for the help of Marui. The day before I arrived in Xi'an my case study contact at Xi'an University announced that she and the professor I needed to interview were off on a 10 day conference. They were my only link with my case study and I thought I would not be able to go ahead with my research. However, after explaining my crisis to Marui, she managed to find a couple of Chinese English students (through a friend of a friend who's husband knew an English teacher!) who could help me translate my interviews. But they only had tomorrow free and the town where I was to meet them (and where my case studies were based) was a 5 hour bus ride away. So off I went at the crack of dawn to Yan'an. After a very successful and very fun day in Yan'an, I returned the next day to Xi'an in the hope of finding a professor at Xi'an university to interview who might know something about my case study. I was planning just to turn up by myself and hope someone spoke some English, but Marui came to my rescue once again and after us both getting our hair cut (important things first!) we went off to the university where after much questioning we eventually managed to find a professor who had also worked on the project. He gave me a really informative interview, without which my case study would have been rather weak. All translated by Marui of course. I was incredibly lucky to meet her!

Xi'an city walls

The neighbouring buildings

The terracotta army

Big Goose Pagoda

Marui in front of one of the bronze statues intended to show the tough nature of the Xi'an (Northern) people