This is a photo of my family’s siheyuan in Changhua, Taiwan. This classic Chinese architectural home is still occupied by our extended family today. This is a photo of a dark corridor leading into the open courtyard. I have many childhood memories here, spending time with my family, exploring the property and playing in the grass courtyard. This photo was taken on our tour of Japan and Taiwan in 2009.
A siheyuan (Chinese: 四合院; pinyin: sìhéyuàn; Wade–Giles: szu-ho-yüan) is a historical type of residence that was commonly found throughout China, most famously in Beijing. In English, siheyuan are sometimes referred to as Chinese quadrangles. The name literally means a courtyard surrounded by buildings on all four sides.
Throughout Chinese history, the siheyuan composition was the basic pattern used for residences, palaces, temples, monasteries, family businesses and government offices. In ancient times, a spacious siheyuan would be occupied by a single, usually large and extended family, signifying wealth and prosperity. Today, many remaining siheyuan are still used as housing complexes, but many lack modern amenities.
The four buildings of a siheyuan are normally positioned along the north-south and east-west axis. The building positioned to the north and facing the south is considered the main house (正房 zhèng-fáng). The buildings adjoining the main house and facing east and west are called side houses (廂房 xiāng-fáng). The northern, eastern and western buildings are connected by beautifully decorated pathways (廊 láng). These passages serve as shelters from the sunshine during the day, and provide a cool place to appreciate the view of the courtyard at night. The building that faces north is known as the opposite house (倒座房 dào-zuò-fáng). Behind the northern building, there would often be a separate backside building (后罩房 hòu-zhào-fáng), the only place where two-story buildings are allowed to be constructed for the traditional siheyuan.