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House Location and Landform

Tujia dwellings are mainly distributed in remote and backward Wuling mountainous area. Due to the complicated landform features, Tujia dwellings mostly are built around the mountain and at the foot of a mountain. The house is arranged in “-” of belt shape. Generally 20-30 houses form a residential unit (i.e. production group), 5-10 units form a big dwelling unit (village); many Tujia houses are beside the river and stream gully. The residential buildings nestling under a mountain and near a river solved problems of firewood, drinking water, fishing, hunting, etc. in the survival development of Tujia people and promoted the living and breeding of nation. 

Living in mountainous area, Tujia dwellings are surrounded by criss-cross ditches and rivers. Luxuriant forest maintains a lot of ground water pouring out from Dragon Cave (i.e. karst cave). River water is sufficient at all seasons and will never dry. It’s an very important aspect for living environment of Tujia People. Meanwhile, Tujia dwellings are close to field (flat region developed into paddy field). On the mountain behind the house, there is a large area of land developed for planting crops like buckwheat, beans, potato, etc. 

No matter big stockade village or single house, no matter a big family or small family, Tujia building is surrounded by greasewood (wild dense shrub trees) or other thistles and thorns (like chamfer thorn, Yama thorn, cat claw thorn, etc.) as the barrier for hindering outsider, livestock and wild animals. And usually it has a vegetable garden. Some houses are surrounded by dense blue bamboo, female bamboo, fishscale bamboo, bitter bamboo, parvifolia, etc. or other geomantic forests (like Japanese cinnamon fruit, plum, loquat, orange, peanut, willow, etc.). Looking from a distance, there are vast green trees forming a contrast with houses, which can prevent sandstorm and provide shade as well as beautify houses.

Tujia dwellings are almost wood and stone structure. Wooden houses are built on the ground with mountain stone as foundation: 1-2m long artificial stone substrate is used as “wall base” of outer wall wood. Stonemason processes natural stone into rectangular artificial stone and chisels out various beautiful patterns on the stone, and then inserts wooden plate in the thumb-wide seam of the stone (wooden partition of house, i.e. present wall). Secondly, use the specially grinded and carved square or round stone as “stone pier” as peripheral house pillar and other wooden posts for supporting beam. It’s very common for using artificial stone as foundation of wooden architecture of Tujia Nationality in southeast of Chongqing, which indicates that the appearance and damp-proof functions are very popular among Tujia people. 

Stone houses include plaster casting and brick setting. As for the plaster casting, firstly fix the wall wooden pillar of main subject, take two-layer bamboo wood as clamp mould (hollow structure with height about 50m, width about 20m, wooden pillar in the middle) and then evenly mix chopped straw and lime for grouting, after drying, remove the mould and gradually pour upward. Brick setting is different. Firstly, use the self-made brick wooden box as mould, use mud to make original mud brick of certain scale, visit craftsman to set out and use mixture (mud, lime and fine sand) for building wall (few people uses natural stone for building wall, i.e. stone house). Stone wall of Tujia dwellings in the southeast of Chongqing is usually higher than people and the wall top is covered by tile or straw. The structure is almost two floors (floor is paved with wooden plate for placing sundries or firewood but not for living, the top is the roof).

 From external structure, Tujia dwellings in southeast of Chongqing are almost “dustpan mouth shape” but not “quadrangle courtyard. i.e. Two-wall wing rooms are built at two sides of principal room evenly and orderly. The wing room or lower hall is almost “stilted building”. The lower floor contains livestock pen, toilet or wood house while the upper floor is for living. The flat earth-rock dam in front of principal room (for rich family, the dam is flattened and hardened by cement with mixture) is for drying grains, holding wedding and funeral, and acting as dojo for temporary assembly. Generally, there is “private plot” near the building for planting various daily vegetables and fruits. Beautiful flowers and grasses are planted at the land edge for appreciation. 

 No matter big or small, wide or narrow houses, Tujia dwellings in southeast of Chongqing must be provided with a “center sill” (supporting beam, there must be a crossbeam in the center of house) to align the gravity center of house and bear the house weight. The roof covered by tile almost has warped eaves and colorful pattern decoration. For rich family, the courtyard wall is built around the house (for protection) and there is gate for courtyard, which is called “entrance gate”. Generally, the entrance gate is in the same direction with door of central room. To prevent ominous things, fierce monsters like dragon and lion are engraved on the pillar of entrance gate or door of central room for preventing evil and protecting safety. 

Wooden and tile structure houses in Tujia dwellings are almost stilted housing. Several wooden pillars below the house support the upper body. (It’s called “Sun house” or “virtual house” by local people”. History of Wei Dynasty Liao Zhuan has record about stilted housing. As Tujia people are living in slope form mountainous area for a long term. Stilted housings are mainly built in slope. Tujia people use wooden pillar for supporting the house to keep wing room or lower hall in the same level with the principal room. The lower part is for livestock pen or stacking firewood and sundries. The stilted housings are almost built by skillful craftsman in the clan. Although it’s thrilling, it’s as stable as Mountain Tai. 

Internal Structure of House

There are generally central room, bedroom, wing room, kitchen, firewood house and livestock pen in Tujia dwellings in southeast of Chongqing. The middle room is called central room, which is not for living but for meeting guests or sacrificing ancestors and Gods as public place (with shrine and copper ceramic furnace). The central room door is generally “six-door”. In addition to central two doors, there are two small doors at both side, which are closed usually and opened at wedding and funeral. 

Rooms at both sides of central room are bedrooms. The left room is main bedroom and the right room is secondary bedroom or guest room. In main bedroom, it’s generally decorated with wooden floor slab, about 40m to the ground and equipped with step wood ladder or stone pier for passing. Dongxixianzhi written by Lu Ciyun in the Qing Dynasty has record about it. 

The external room close to bedroom is kitchen. The kitchen is generally big with “fire bed”.

For small kitchen, the “Fire bed” is built in another room. “Fire bed” is supported by four short wooden pillars of about 0.5m, 2m square platform is assembled by thick wooden plate. There is a concaved frame (fire place) of about 1m, and frame is filled with dust grey for insulation. Firewood is burning in the frame. Iron pot is hanging above the Fire bed, and y cast iron tripod is erected for supporting pot. The iron pot is used for cooking rice, stewing meat and frying dishes. There are several round grass stools made by straws around the Fire bed for entertaining guests. People can sit around and chat. During the reign of Emperor Shunzhi in Qing Dynasty, Fang Hengxian has record about it in Minority Documentary. At night, you can pave plank beside the furnace for sleeping and remove it in the morning (hence it’s called “fire bed”). 

Distribution Pattern of House

Tujia dwellings are mainly distributed in a community. The same surname and clan people live together for mutual care and help, and team work. In history, the clan residential form was necessary. Tujia people successfully resist against natural disaster, fight against wild animals, foreign intrusion, and develop agricultural production. Till now, the cluster layout is still obvious among Tujia dwellings. “Ran’s courtyard”, “Fanjiagou”, “Shi’s Toft”, “Guo’s Village”, “Zhoujiabao”, etc. are the echo of history. 

In the social development, scattered houses were gradually increasing. It’s mainly expanded by family expansion (it’s very common for a family has 4 to 6 children). Therefore, the original living environment for generations is smaller and smaller, the original production materials are saturated. People’s basic necessities are practical problems. When children grow up, they separate with previous generations, and move out to new and strange place for settlement in terms of starting career, getting married and living apart. From then on, the new layout of scattered house with different surnames and clans. Remaining names including “Sanhe Stockaded Village” (with three surnames), “Old House”, “Old Courtyard”, “New House”, “Up Ridge”, “Down Ridge”, Rock Foot”, etc. are the epitomes.

In addition, some separate houses are built in the wild. Most of houses were built by migrant from other places or tenant from far away. 

Features of House

Firstly, no matter big or small, wide or narrow, front or back, left or right, the center pillar for Tujia dwellings in southeast of Chongqing must be with “8”, such as 1.8 zhang (a unit of length), 1.28 zhang ,1.58 zhang. Local saying goes that “you want to be rich, you must use figure 8.”

Secondly, there are aisles and ditches (light drain ditch for dredging rainwater from eave.

If the ditch is covered by stone slab and other solid objects, or the ditch is deep, it’s called sewer) in all directions of house. The aisle is generally about 1m and higher than ground at the difference about 0.1-1.0m. Usually, the aisle width is average, and it’s only be wider before the central room, which is called “big aisle” (as the central room door may hold back above 1m, it’s more convenient for people passing by and handling materials.) 

Thirdly, basically, there is deity and Gods ancestral memorial tablet, “Heaven-Earth-Sovereign-Parent-Teacher” shrine, censer and couplet in the front of central room.

Fourthly, as for housing sculpture, from moisture-proof stone plinth, door base, wooden partition base to wooden pane guardrail, roof, eave and tile, Tujia dwellings in the southeast of Chongqing focuses on the sculpture. By painting or chiseling by craftsman or weaving, Tujia characteristic bright mountain and river grain, cloud grain, flower and grass grain, fish and shrimp grain, bird and beast grain, livestock grain, dragon and phoenix grain, fruit grain, etc. can be seen everywhere. 

Fifthly, the kitchen is equipped with “Kang” (a heatable brick bed, above the hearth, made by wood frame of 1m, hanging on the beam by straw rope or bamboo split). You can stack goods on “Kang”, and hang pork, game products, etc. below “Kang”. Smoke from the hearth can directly roast things above and below “Kang” (smoked pork, dried bean curd and sausage are made by this way). In addition, “fire bed” in general house also has “Kang”, with basically the same function.

Sixly, almost all Tujia dwellings in the southeast of Chongqing have “fire bed” and “roasting pit”. By comparison, “fire bed” is more common among Tujia houses, while “roasting pit” is fewer (a square shallow pit of about 1m excavated in the ground for getting warm or cooking or receiving guests, which is basically the same as “fire bed”).

Seventhly, livestock pen is close to the housing. Among Tujia dwellings in the southeast of Chongqing, livestock pen is almost near housing and kitchen. Tujia people are not afraid of the stink and mosquito in livestock pen, as they are fighting against local theft, monster and breeding livestock. Tujia people have deep feeling on livestock. Livestock is not only the family wealth but also the indispensible production materials (like cattle, mule, horse, chicken, duck, etc.) for survival and development, so livestock is very precious.

Eighthly, courtyard dam. no matter rich or poor, there is a private flat dam in front of Tujia dwellings in the southeast of Chongqing. It’s used for leisure, entertainment or drying materials.

Ninthly, stilted building. Few Tujia houses are built on flat ground. Once the ground is inclined, there must be stilted building. Stilted building is the special product of specific natural geological environment in special age. There is objective record in Old Book of Tang Nanman Zhua Nanpingliao: “there are poisonous weeds, chigger and snake in the mountain, so people live in building built in the mountain”. Meanwhile, stilted building is an architecture treasure of Tujia people showing to the world. Yuan Zhen, a poet in the Tang Dynasty, acclaimed it as the peak of perfection in his poem. Stilted building, with unique national, historical and cultural features, has become a dazzling bright and beautiful scenery line in Chinese even world architecture.