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2007 Honourable Mention

Liu Family's Civil Residence

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Project TitleLiu Family Civil Residence

LocationXi Wen Xing Village, Shanxi Province, China

Size20,000 square metres

CostUS$ 750,000

Responsible PartySun Jucai

Heritage ArchitectZhang Haijun, Guo Buxin and Wang Liang

ContractorThe Wu Tai Shan Historical Construction Engineering Co.

Date of Completion: October 2005


Project Synopsis

Located in the mountains of Shanxi province, the Liu Family Civil Residence is an extensive, semi-fortified complex of buildings that constitute the ancestral seat of the extended Liu clan. Liu Zongyuan (773-819), a member of the clan, was a noted statesman and literatus during the Tang Dynasty who advocated a simpler, more direct literary style while also calling for an end to government corruption. He was sent into exile for his calls for political reform and consequently encouraged his descendants to avoid public life and to devote themselves to culture and learning in their home village. The Liu Family Civil Residence subsequently expanded over the next one thousand years and forty-three generations of the family.

The compound comprises palatial courtyard residences, gardens, a temple, monumental gates and several streets, forming what is in effect a small clan village. The structures date to several periods but are predominantly of the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1912). The complex is a rare and outstanding example of Chinese aristocratic architecture in a rural setting, generally considered to be the civil counterpart to the imperial architecture of the Forbidden City.

Prior to the start of restoration work in 2001, the structures of the compound were extensively damaged, due to neglect, particularly the roofs and upper registers of the mixed brick and ashlar masonry. Several structures, such as the gateway pavilions, had collapsed entirely. 

The Residence is a source of great pride for the Liu clan, members of which still reside within its walls. The family remains the custodian of a valuable collection of classical Chinese paintings and calligraphy amassed over the centuries, mostly gifts to the family from various accomplished literati who visited high-ranking members of the clan in their mountain retreat.

Conservation Approach

The conservation effort aimed to restore the former grand appearance of the settlement. The major architectural restoration work was focused on three main buildings:  the Guan Di Temple, the Kui Xing Pavilion and Wen Chang Pavilion.

The spiritual centre of the settlement, the Guan Di Temple, had fallen into severe decay with cracks appearing in the masonry walls, collapsed rooflines and broken tiling. Several former entrances had been walled up entirely. Conservation work shored up the masonry and removed graffiti that had accumulated on the exterior walls. The intricate multi-layer wooden structure of the roofs was rebuilt, roof tiles were replaced as necessary and ridge decorative elements were recreated. Wooden columns were repainted using traditional techniques. Trees were planted within the courtyard, reinvigorating the previously derelict compound, while reopened entrances restored the original functioning of the temple.

Due to the advanced state of deterioration, wholesale reconstruction was called for in certain cases, for example, the pavilion astride the main gate of the settlement, which was rebuilt in materials and a style faithful to the original work. Major interventions to the roofline, including the repair of monumental roofs and gateways, reproduced the former stately aspect of the complex. 

Defaced or missing inscriptions on calligraphic panels, such as those on the Si Ma Di Gate and the entrance of the Wen Chang Mansion, were retouched or reproduced, restoring the literal and figurative meanings of the inhabited space in accordance with Chinese literati custom of naming places within the natural and manmade landscape.

In addition to the architectural restoration, the overall setting was restored, including old caves, stone bridges and public passageways.  Three old streets were repaired, namely He Dong Shi Ze, Si Ma Di and Cheng Xian Fang.  

With the cooperation of the government, academics and various experts, and with the financial backing of a philanthropist, a long-term protection plan was drawn up which formed the basis for the restoration work. The work was undertaken by qualified artisans and builders under the close supervision of cultural and architectural experts. The project has been recognized by the national authorities as an exemplary restoration of an historical village and the Residence has been acclaimed as a national cultural relic.

Conservation and the Community

Besides being a monument of major architectural merit and a record of cultivated Chinese domestic life in the imperial era, the Liu Family Civil Residence also remains the home of the extended Liu clan. As such, the conservation, particularly of public and high-use areas such as streets and gateways has made a major contribution to the quality of life of the clan as a whole. The replacement of the cobbles that once covered the streets, for instance, has facilitated both tourist and local traffic throughout the settlement; before the restoration most thoroughfares in the complex had deteriorated into mud tracks. Generally speaking, the increased attractiveness of the settlement as a tourist destination has had a significant economic benefit to the community as well.

The conservation of the Residence has also provided a dynamic teaching tool for bringing to life the history and culture of Shanxi Province, particularly for children. As custodians and residents of the complex, the Liu clan retains a key role in ensuring the ongoing vitality of their home, a physical testament to continuity in Chinese history and culture.

Quote from the Project Team

“The carvings and sculptures tell the stories of Chinese history, and embody its wisdom and ideas. This is the great cultural heritage of China, and of the world.”