First directory of Beijing's traditional 'siheyuan' courtyard homes to be published

Nearly 1,000 logged, including those in 10 courtyards from Qing Dynasty found in mountains

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 4:10pm
UPDATED : Monday, 12 May, 2014, 4:40pm


The first ever official directory of siheyuan – the traditional courtyard homes of Beijing – is expected to be published by the end of this year.

Nearly 1,000 siheyuan have been logged, with owners’ details, floor plans, photographs, and accounts of their construction.

The directory, compiled by the Office of Beijing Geographical History, will provide the fullest record yet of what were the capital’s most important dwellings before the modern era.

But 100 have been omitted because their owners refused to collabourate.

Tan Liefei, the office’s deputy director and an editor of the directory, said some of these were well preserved, “structurally very complete” contained valuable ancient artifacts.

But they were owned or used by organisations or individuals who were not “cooperative” to the survey, he said.

However, more than 10 courtyards built in the Qing Dynasty had been discovered in the mountains, he added.

They were well preserved with grand structures and sophisticated decorations, some rivalling similar buildings in urban areas.

It is believed that Beijing has a total of more than 3,000 courtyard houses, but how to preserve them has become a controversial subject.

While some argue that they should be commercialised and converted into hotels or restaurants, some say their structures and interior decorations should be strictly preserved and used for non-profit purposes such as museums.

The condition of many siheyuan has deteriorated overt the years, with families adding illegal structures such as additional rooms or kitchens.

But well preserved and updated siheyuan have become the residences of the privileged, with average prices exceeding 100 million yuan (HK$126 million).