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Seventeen-House Complex of the Zheng’s
2016-09-07 17:28 Text Size: A A A

Located on the south of Ze Mountain in Xiepu town, Zhenhai District, Zheng Shi Shi Qi Fang (Seventeen-House Complex of the Zheng’s) is the biggest construction complex of the Ming and Qing Dynasties in China. There are two main versions with regard to the origin of the name. One is that “the Seventeen Houses”, referring to seventeen prominent families in a clan. The other is that the Seventeen Houses were built by the sixth-generation descendents of the posterity of a man called Duke Seventeen of the Zheng family in Xiepu in the Ming Dynasty. Whatever origin it has, both the exquisite and ingenious structure and rich historical connotations of the buildings have taken on distinct characteristics of the Ming and Qing Dynasties.

The complex is not far from the sea. The castle on Ze Mountain is 30 meters in height with a perimeter of more than 200 meters. There are two gates on the west and east sides which are built with boulder strips. Stepping on the highest place, one can observe the sea. While walking down the mountain along the courier road one can get straight into the complex. Overlooked from the mountain, the whole complex takes the shape of chessboard squares. The buildings are surrounded by Hao River, and every household is connected with the water system and faces the river. Clear waterways run around the households through ditches. This pattern of “every household has a port and every family is near a bridge” designed hundreds of years ago by the Zheng folks for their posterities is convenient in transportation and has the functions of burglary prevention, fire prevention and temperature adjustment.

The extant construction complex covers an area of more than 40,000 square meters just for Dazu House, Xiaojiu House, Lu House, Front Court of the Third House, the New House, Li House, Heng House, Houxin House and Luyan Zheng House. Apparently the houses are connected as a whole, and corridors, hall gates and courtyards of every household are linked, but actually the distinctions are clear. Some gate towers are decorated with patterns of plants and flowers, while others are pictured with animals like insects and birds. Plants can be divided into grasses and flowers, and for animals they are different in strength. The low-rank households are decorated with grass patterns, while the high ranks are decorated with flowers patterns, higher ranks with insect and bird pictures, and beast pictures are for the highest ranks. Brick carvings on eaves, crossbeams, wall corners and buttress walls also follow the pattern standard and violation whatsoever is strictly forbidden.

Corbiestep is a distinctive feature of the architectures in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Normally the corners of the gables are spread with plasters in other places of China. But in the “Seventeen Houses” the corners are decorated with all kinds of beast, insect and bird patterns, and have the division of three steps, four steps and five steps. It is said that the number of steps is the symbol of the official rank of the owner.

The architecture style can well represent the court-centered planning of the capital cities of feudal China: a 100-meter west-east long axis is the backbone of the whole complex and all the key buildings stand along it. Every house forms into a courtyard and all the courtyards are connected, showing an air of large-scale and imposing manner. Some of the buildings have decorations of crossbeams, winding corridors, painted beams and carved pillars. This palace and temple-imitating construction style shows the prominent social status of the owners of the houses. There are still many memorial gateways, horizontal inscribed boards, stone drums and flagpoles existing, and inscriptions like Both Father and Son Receive Official Positions and Both Father and Son Pass the Imperial Examination still can be seen in some of the houses. Besides, hundreds of ginkgo-made window decorations, latticed doors and slab stones with the pattern of Eight Centigrams (Baguio) on them are seen everywhere.

Like a piece of unprocessed jade, the residential complex is giving off more and more dazzling brilliance.

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