Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 4 years 5 months ago


Continuing on from Phase 2 where I found helpful resources, I will be starting Phase 3. In this phase, I will gather helpful information. Some of this information will be background information, which I found in Shanghai, while some of it will be from sources I found in Phase 2. 

Background Information (from Phase 1):

Many of the Bai houses in Xizhou are beautifully constructed and decorated. They are some of the best examples of traditional Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) architecture in China.[1]  They have the Bai touch of more decorations, including colorful pictures, gardens, more use of marble decorations, upturned eaves, and brighter colors.[1] Bai people usually decorate their gateways to their gardens and houses. A traditionally Bai house would have a wall called the “shining wall.” This wall reflects the sun’s light into the yard, as it sets. So the wall is called the "shining wall." There are four big Bai clans named Yan, Dong, Yang and Yin[1]. Each clan builds and decorates their houses differently.

Chinese ancient architecture uses different structural materials such as: civil construction, brick work, timber construction and bamboo construction [2]. Though Ancient Chinese architecture was mainly timberwork, wooden posts, beams, lintels and joists make up the framework of a house[5]. China had a unique way of building their walls. Walls served soley to separate the rooms[5]. Though they did not bear the weight of the whole house[5]. As a famous saying goes, Chinese houses will still stand when their walls collapse.[5]. Chinese developed their own architectural way of painting[5]. Colored glaze roofs, windows with exquisite applique design and beautiful flower patterns on wooden pillars reflect the high-level of the craftsmen's handicraft and their rich imagination.
There are various styles of architecture, which include: palace, tower, temple, garden, religious, garden, general and mausoleum, which can be generally grouped into imperial architecture[2]. I am not really going to look into detail of gardens or places, but instead commoner, religious, and imperial. 


The houses of commoners, merchants or farmers, tended to follow a set pattern. The center of the building would be a shrine for deities and ancestors, which would also be used during festivities[8]. On its two sides were bedrooms for the elders. The two wings of the building (known as "guardian dragons" by the Chinese) were for the junior members of the family, as well as the living room, dining room, and kitchen[8]. Though sometimes the living room could be very close to the center[8]

Sometimes the extended familie grew so large, that one or even two extra pairs of "wings" had to be built[3]. Merchants and bureaucrats, however, preferred to close off the front with an imposing front gate[3]. All buildings were legally regulated, and the law held that the number of stories, the length of the building and the colours used depended on the owner's class[3]. Some commoners had to build communal fortresses called Tulou for protection against bandits[3]


There were certain architectural features that were reserved solely for buildings built for the Emperor. One example is the use of yellow roof tiles, yellow having been the Imperial color (yellow roof tiles still adorn most of the buildings within the Forbidden City)[3]. The Chinese 5-clawed dragon, adopted by the first Ming emperor for his personal use, was used as decoration on beams, pillars, and doors of Imperial architecture[3]. An interesting fact is that the dragon was never used on roofs of imperial buildings[3].


In most cases, Buddhist architecture follows the imperial style. A large Buddhist monastery normally has a front hall where the statue of a Bodhisattva is located[3]. Followed by a great hall, housing the statues of the Buddhas[3]. Living quaters for the monks and the nuns are located at the two sides[3]. Some of the greatest examples of thiese types of temples, come from the 18th century Puning Temple and Putuo Zaongcheng Temple[3]. Some ways their architecture expressed religious beliefs was through the roof. Temple roofs are curved because Buddhists believed that this helped ward off evil spirits; which were believed to assume the form of straight lines[4]. Temple roofs were made of glazed ceramic tiles, and the roof arch comes from the elegantly fitted rafters that are jointed together[4].

Roofs are very important in Chinese architecture. Not only do they provide shelterfor their enhabitants, but they also have deeper meanings. For example, Buddhists believed that curved temple roofs helped ward off evil spirits that were in the form of straight lines[4]. Also, Symbolism is present in the colors of the eaves, roofing materials and roof top decorations. A roof usually has wave-like tiles that run horizontally, and vertical round ridges that run vertically[4]. The vertical ridges are symbolic of bamboo, which represents youth and longevity, green roofs symbolize bamboo shafts, which, in turn, also represent youth and longevity[4]

Wealthy homes and palaces had particularly elaborate roofs. One example is the Forbidden City and the 13 Ming tombs outside of Beijing. They have roof tiles of brilliant yellow, green and red. The ridges of each roof are topped with figures of mythical creatures and the most intricate designs almost always pointing southeast[4]. However, there are some disatvantages to having such decorations on the roof. The weight can eventually bring down the entire complex, this is why the Chinese have added an additional column to support the weight under the outer edges[4]. This reduces the bracket system to a mere decoration. The wooden columns of the buildings, as well as the surfaces of the walls, tend to be red in color[3]. Black is also a famous color often used in pagodas, as it was believed that the gods are inspired by the black color to descend to the earth[3].The brackets are also decorated by elaborate paintings with bright colors and eye-catching designs[4]

Paifang, or arch in English, is a stone or wooden archway mainly built to celebrate the great achievements of a family's ancestors[7,6,]. It also exhibits folk customs of ancient China[6], and is often constructed in front of a tomb, temple, and ancestral hall[7]. Many beautiful lucky birds or beasts, exquisite flower patterns, or characters written by celebrities are carved on the archs[7]. The sacred emotions of the ancient Chinese rest on Paifang, building a Paifang is a very solemn event; various emotions, praising, honoring, commemorating, praying or blessing were happens through those arches[6]. The structure mirrors ancient ethics and traditional norms of ancient China[6]. Paifangs witnesses history, many Paifangs were built to commemorate historical events and important historic figures, thus those structures are of great importance in the research of Chinese history[6]. Though a Paifang is deemed as memorial architecture, it has also holds other functions, such as, marking and decorating.


Information From 3-5's:
Information Form Local Contacts:

Today I only did one interview. I went to the museum that was originally the Yan house. Zhang lao shi, a guide at the museum, was the person I interviewed; Ye Ling was my teacher support and translator. 

Architecture is a very broad topic, and I have decided that I want to focus in on roofs. I knew from my background research that the roofs of houses were held up by pillars, instead of the walls. But Mr. Zhang gave me more information about the pillars. Chang du shi is the name of the pillars that run vertically and support the actual roof. They decide the height of the house, and provide the main support. The other type of pillars runs horizontally along the roof. These are called tai liang shi, and they decide the length of the rooms. These pillars also support the roof. 

I also learned more about the symbolism of roofs. I have observed that many of the chinese roofs are curved. From my background research, I learned that some chinese believed that demons were in the form of straight lines. They thought curved roofs would ward of evil spirits. What Mr. Zhang told me was similar. He said that when the roofs were curved inward, the good comes to the house. This also is along the lines that curved lines ward off evil and brings good. Roofs that are curved inwards also symbolize a bird’s wings as it flies. The Chinese also thought that curved roofs were beautiful. They believed that flat roofs were boring.

Another feature that the roofs here have, are their unique tiling. Instead of flat tiles, the roofs here have curved tiles. They are like half circles and at the ends there is a circle tile. The curved tiles and overlap each other so there are long cylinder looking things on the roof. The cylinder looking things (that lie horizontal) have space between them. When it rains, the rains will run of the curved surface and into the channel like space between them. Because the channel like space between the cylinders is also curved, the rain will flow smoothly off the roof. The curved tiles are very efficient and allows there to be no leaks in the roof. I also learned that the circles like things at the ends of the cylinders are called wa dan. I have observed that there are pictures on the wa dan. I learned that the pictures on them are generally lucky animals or other items that the Chinese believe to bring good luck. I also learned that in ancient China, the pictures were more complicated, and now the pictures are simple.

Mr. Zhang also informed me that the constructions were also like the architects. The people who build the houses are very experienced. They make the layout and all the plans for the house. For example, because the height of the house is decided by the height of chuang du shi (the vertical pillars), the construction workers knew they had to make some of the pillars taller than the others in order to make the roof curved. So as they are building the frame of the house, they are also preparing for the roof’s curve[8].



Today I interviewed Mr. He. He is a guard here at Yangzhouran. He did not seem to know much about Bai roofs though. He did, however, give me some information about how the roofs are constructed. The horizontal pillars (tai liang shi) run the length of the house. Rafters are then placed on the pillars. After that, the tiles go on. There are two types of tiles, the curved ones that go on the top, and the planks that the curved tiles lay on. Both of these tiles are made of ceramic. He also told me about some of the wa dan. He said that some of the patters on the wa dan meant long life, and others were lucky[10]



Today is a Friday, and we did not actually have any inquiry time. We were focusing on making connections with the locals, as our Service Learning Project is coming up. My group decided to try making a connection to Zhang lao shi, and in order to do that without being to awkward and weird, I decided to ask him a question about architecture. I learned that the tail on the end of the roof is there to symbolize Chi Wei. He is one of the nine sons of the water dragon. This dragon liked to be in high places where he could look around over long distances. On the roofs, he can look over such distances. Also, because he is the son of the water dragon, people believe that having him on the roof will prevent fires[8].



Today I interviewed Mr. Yang. He is a guard at the Linden Centre. He provided me with some information about Bai roofs. Some things that he said differed from what some past contacts said, though. According to him, the curve of the roofs is so that the end of the roofs does not point to important rooms. If the curve were not there, the tips of the roof would point down, and at a room. This is disrespectful, so the roofs now point up instead. He also said that the higher the curve, the better. This curve is also believed to bring good fortune.                                                                                            

Going off of this, sometimes the roofs do not have a tail at all. Not only is it bad to point the roof’s tail to important rooms in one’s own house, but also it is also disrespectful to point the tail to another’s home. Sometimes, instead of just pointing the roof up, people change the tips of their houses and make them arches, or other shapes.

Mr. Yang also informed me that the roofs have two layers. The first layer is the support. This includes the pillars and rafters, they both hold up the roof. The second layer includes the tiles. The tiles are curved and channel any rainwater off the roof. Under the topic of rain, Mr. Yang also explained how a steep roof is better than a roof that is almost flat. The angle of the roof will affect hoe fast the rain will flow off the roof. If the roof is steep, the rain will be allowed to flow off faster than if the roof was not steep[11].  



Today I interviewed A-Biao. He is a construction worker, and he has done renovation at the Linden Centre and Yangzhouran. What he said did not quite match up to my other interviews. It seems that people may have different views on the roofs and what they mean. A-Biao said that the roof curves for beauty. I then asked about how some roofs here do not have curves, but rather “lumps” or arches. I learned that these “lumps” as I have calling them, are actually called juan long. He told me that people do this, so that in comparison, their roof is lower than others roofs. He also said that it brings good fortune.

During this interview, I asked about the paintings on the roof. A-Biao said that these painting used to have meaning. Depending on a family’s class, the paintings would vary. But nowadays, people pick the paintings on their roofs based on how good it looks. Another ting he told me that lost its meaning was the wa dan. According to A-Biao, the there were specific pictures the wa dan featured in the past if your family was wealthy. And now, like the paintings, the pictures are decided by what looks good.

I also got some information about how the construction workers are also the architects. He said that when the constructions build a building, they do not need to draw anything. They are all very experienced and know exactly how they need to build the house. In Xizhou, the construction workers are also the architects. A-Biao also explained that he did not go to school to learn construction, other older construction works taught him[12]



Today I interviewed Mr. Zhao. He is one of the guards here at Yangzhouran, along with Mr. He. He told me how there are two different styles of support for the roofs. There is a new technique, and as old one. The new one is designed to hold up the balcony’s covering, as well as the roof for the actual building, it is called si zhi lou di. This requires two pillars that hold up the regular roof that cover the building. It also requires two other pillars that hold up the balcony and the covering of the balcony. These four pillars are in a row, and depending on how big the room is, various amounts of these four pillars would be used to hold up the roof. The old style includes 7 pillars that support the roof, and it is called qi jaw wu xing.

Mr. Zhao also gave me some insight on what kinds of materials are used to make the roofs. He said that all the tiles are made of clay. There is also grass mixed into the clay to make it sticker, this allows the ceramic to be stronger. As the tiles are made from clay, they are also fired, similar to how pottery is fired.

As I have asked before in other interviews, I also asked Mr. Zhao about the symbolism off the roofs. He told me, like others have, that the curve there for decoration and beauty. Though he also said that the curve protects the wall below it from rain. The curve reaches out over the wall and can capture rain, this keeps the wall dry. I also learned from this interview that the wa dans are mainly for show. They are there for decoration. However, Mr. Zhao informed me that sometimes there are symbols that have meaning on them. An example I was given was tai ji, though it is commonly known as ying yang. This half black, half white circle represents balance. It also wards off evil. Tai ji, or ying yang is featured on some wa dans in order to bring balance and goodness. Another thing that supplied some symbolism in roofs, are the paintings on the sides of the roofs. Mr. Zhao told me that they were for good luck and good fortune. Though they are also just decoration.

Another concept I talked to Mr. Zhao about was why some houses have curves, while others have lumps (or as I established in a previous interview, juan long). He told me that this was an effort in making sure rain flows off the roof. Because juan long takes the form of curved arches, this allows rain to easily flow off it and into the “ditches” made by the other tiles. He did not mention any other use for it besides an efficient way to let rain flow off. Mr. Zhao also said that no culture was expressed in the roofs[13]



Today I did two interviews; one of them was with Mr. Du, an antique dealer. I was not planning on talking to any antique dealers, but it proved to be helpful. I mainly learned about the tiles on the roofs. Mr. Du had some wa dans in his possession that dated back to the Ming dynasty. He explained that they had bats on it, and that bats brought good fortune. I then asked why many wa dans had dots bordering them. He informed me that the dots were to keep the good fortune or luck in. This means that the goodness would stay there, and it would also ward of evil.

Mr. Du also showed me another ancient wa dan that had a picture of a sun. He said this represented life, as without the sun, we would not be living. The sun provides food for plants, and they in turn provided food for animals, including humans. This wa dan also had dots around it. I was interested in the wa dan, and learned that it had come from an old Buddhist temple by a Muslin mosque. I really liked this particular wa dan, and I purchased it when I finished my interview[14].

The second interview I did was with Ms. Liu and Mr. Yang. They are a local couple that we Microcampus students had the pleasure running into. They did not seem to know much about the symbolism of the roofs though. They just said that the curve was for decoration. They also said that the wa dans were just for decorations, or to protect the house from rain. Though after I questioned about it, the couple also said that they could be for good luck or good fortune.

However, they provided me with a bit of insight of the construction of the roofs. Some of the information was similar to what I have heard before. First, the horizontal pillars (tai liang shi) are set in place. Then, the rafters are placed on top of the pillars. The rafters are held to the pillars with clay and plaster. After that, the tiles are placed on the rafters. The bottom tiles that are not as curved, are called di wa. And the really curved tiles that are placed on top of the di wa are called tou wa. These tiles are held together with clay.


I learned that the Bai Minority people have a unique way of building the support of the house and roof. While others nail pillars together, the Bai people have a different method. They cut a hole in the vertical pillar, and the horizontal pillar runs through the other pillar. This allows the frame of the house to be built without using any nails[15]


Today I was able to do two interviews. I interviewed Mr. Shi, he is a shop owner who I saw was redoing a roof in Sifangjie. He wants to move his shop from its narrow building to the building he was redoing the roof for. I was able to intervie him and learn more about the construction process of the roof.

I started off by asking about the wa dans, and he only said they were for decoration. The curved shape of the tiles was to allow the roof and house to be “rain proof”, as the rain would flow off the curved surface. Mr. Shi also told me that they use lime to hold the tiles together. I learned from past interviews that the tiles were actually held together with clay, so I questioned him about it. He said that in the olden times they used clay to hold the tiles together, but now they are using more modern things.

After discussing the tiles, I asked about the structure of the roof. I know that the roof is made up of pillars and rafters, and Mr. Shi told me that the amount of rafters would depend on the size of the tiles. If the tiles are bigger, the number of rafters would go down. From a different interview, I learned that the pillars are not held together by nails. Instead, there is a hole in one pillar, and another pillar runs through the hole. He said that on the building he was fixing the roof for was a mix of the traditional way and a more modern way. The pillars of the house were put together using the traditional way with the holes, and the rafters that the tiles would later be put onto were nailed to the supporting pillars[16]


Mr. Bai was my second interview. He is renovation worker who is working on Baochengfu. This is the place the next Microcampus students will be living at, and it was originally built by the Yan’s son. Similar to Mr. Shi, Mr. Bai did not seem to know a lot about the symbolism of the roofs, as he only stated that the wa dans were for decorations, but he knew about the construction. He informed me that the tiles are layered and overlap. They them use lime and cement to hold the tiles toge


He also told me about how the structure of the building is being built. I asked if they were building the house using the traditional way (where no nails are used), and he said that they were. They are using the way where there are holes in of pillar, and another pillar runs through it. When I asked why they were doing it in a more complex way, he told me that using nails was instable[17].  



Today I interviewed Zhang lao shi again. I wanted to ask more specific questions, and he seems to be my most reliable source. I asked him if any kind of chinese culture was represented in the roofs, and he told me that there was none. Only beliefs, such as things that bring good luck are evident. But he told me that there were two parts to the roof, the decorations and the functions. The functions included things such as the use of the curved tiles, while the decorations may include wa dans.

While there may be no culture expressed in the roof, there is still meaning. During the Qing dynasty, the roof could show what kind of class family was living in that house. The richer families could afford more complex designs such that were distinguishable from simpler roofs. This may include exquisite wood carding that border the roof, or complex wa dan designs. By looking for the complexity of the roof, you could get an idea of what class the family living there was. Though in modern Xizhou, the roofs are generally the same, and you cannot tell class from them any longer. But if you go the Linden Centre or a protected house such as the museum itself, you will be able to see that the designs are more complex.


I also learned a how Bai roofs are unique. There is still no culture expressed in the roofs, but there are some decorations that other places do not use. An example of this is the six-sided bricks. This type of brick is actually quite common for the chinese, but it is not generally used on the side of the roof. If you look around in Xizhou, you will observe that these bricks are quite commonly found on the roofs. I learned that the six sides represent a turtles back. These bricks are ceramic, and made from fired clay, similar to the roof tiles, and to pottery. In ancient times, during war, the people did not use fired clay for bricks. Instead, they used regular clay mixed with grass. This did not actually have any problems, but when rainy season came around, houses and roofs were destroyed.

Another thing about the roofs that is unique to the Bai people is the full covering of the roof. The roof of a house will stretch out over the walls of the house to protect the house of rain. Generally, the part of the roof that is hanging over the wall has an uncovered bottom. But the Bai people cover that part and create a flat surface on the underside of the outstretched roof. When this underside is uncovered, the horizontal pillars and rafters are exposed to the elements and may take damage. With this covered, the pillars will be protected and will be in better condition.


I also asked about the wa dans I had seen at Mr. Du’s. I showed him a picture and he told me that they were of birds and not of bats. He said the birds represented someone leaving. It also was meant to say goo luck and safe travels to the person leaving. The dots that border the wa dan are for decoration, and are represented after the beads that monks use when chanting. Also, the wa dan that Mr. Du had told me was a sun, was actually a type of flower according to Zhang lao shi. It is called ju hua and represents manner, poise and respect. Ju hua appears in decorative paintings and carvings along with other meaningful flowers. An example is the lotus and shou zi fu. Lotuses represent purity, and shou zi fu are for long life[9]

Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1):  


1. How do the Bai people make their roofs?

The traditional Chinese houses in general, there are pillars that hold up the roof. These pillars are the support for the roof, and if the walls were to be knocked down, the roof and pillars may still stand. The tiles of the roof overlap each other and are placed on the rafters. 


2. What materials do they use?

The pillars used to support the roofs are made out of wood. The rafters that are placed onto the pillars are also made form wood. The curved roof tiles are ceramic. Similar to pottery, clay is molded in to the shape of the tile, and then fired. Also, clay mixed with grass is used to hold the tiles to the rafters, and the rafters to the pillars. 


3. What have been some things that have changed overtime? 

I have learned that the symbolism seems to have lost some of its meaning. Over time, the meaning of the wa dan (the of the roof tile ends) has changed. In the past, some of the pictures on the wa dan we "reserved" for those in a high class. Depending on you class, the pictures on the wa dan would be different. You would be able to tell what type of class a family was by looking at their roof. But now, people just choose the wa dans by what they think looks good. 


4. Are they resorting to modern technology, or following the traditional ways?

The more local people seem to be resorting to more modern ways, it seems. A traditional Bai house is built without using nails, as there were not really available in the ancient times. But it when I was going around, a man was building the roof with nails, as it is easier. Though others, such as the workers at Baochengfu, still use the traditional way of building the roof support. 


5. How does their religious beliefs affect the way a building is built?

It seems that there is not really an effect of religion. The way the roof is shaped with its unique curve was mainly for beauty and decoration. And the techniques for building the support for the roof did not have anything to de with culture. Rather, it was just for efficiently and function. 


6. How does their beliefs affect their decorations?

Because the Chinese people believe that a certain animals or plants are lucky, they tend to show up a bit in their decorations. For example, wa dan, the circle ending tile on the roofs hold pictures on them. When I asked around about them people told me that they were for good fortune and such. Depending on what a certain family believes, or maybe what they find pretty, the decorations on the roofs will be different. 


7. How do their roofs differ from other countries'? 

From what I learned, most of the architecture behind the roof was just an effort to look good. The curves on the roofs hold meaning for some, but for many it is just for beauty. Other countries may not care how elegant their roofs are, but the Chinese seem to care. 


8. How does Bai Minority roofs differ from other Chinese roofs?

There is a traditional way to construct the frame of a Bai person's home. This technique is unique to the Bai people. When building their houses, they do not use nails. Instead, they do something more complex; they carve a hole out of one pillar and run another pillar though it. This allows the structure for the roof to be made without any nails. Also, the Bai people cover up the exposed parts of the pillars. When the roof stretches out over the walls of a building, the under part of the pillars are usually exposed. But the Bai takes an effort to cover it up and keep the pillars in better condition. 


9. Who designs the buildings?

The construction workers design the buildings. Everyone is very experienced and they know how to build and plan. One worker I talked to said that the construction workers are also the architects. The houses are all built in a similar way. This allows one to become very practiced with building houses. Though the workers do ask their boss if they want anything to be built in a specific way. 


10. Who builds the building?

In the village, there are workers who are specifically construction workers. Their job is to build or renovate homes and buildings. Everyone seems very experienced, and it seems as though locals know enough to be able to redo some parts of their homes themselves. I saw one man who was a shop owner redoing a roof himself, even though it is not he job. 


1. Online: Houses of Bai People in Xizhou, http://, accessed 11 November 2014 

2. Online: Chinese Architecture Styles, http://, accessed 11 November 2014

3. Online: Chinese Architecture Styles,, accessed 23 November 2014

4. Online: China's Spectacular Roofs,, accessed 12 November 2014

5. Online: Ancient Chinese Architecture,, accessed 13 November 2014

6. Online: Chinese Unique Architecture,, accessed 13 November 2014

7. Online: Chinese Architecture Culture,, accessed 13 November 2014

8. Online: Commoner Architecture,, accessed 23 November 2014

9. Zhang lao shi, the head of the Yan house museum. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen Lee. 27 November 2014 and 29 November 2014

10. Mr. He, a gaurd at Yangzhouran. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen Lee. 28 November 2014

11. Mr. Yang, a guard at the Linden Centre. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen Lee. 1 December 2014

12. A-Biao, he did renovation for the Linden Centre and Yangzhouran. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen Lee. 2 December 2014

13. Mr. Zhao, a gourd at Yangzhouran. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen Lee. 3 December 2014

14. Mr. Du, an antique dealer. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen Lee. 4 December 2014

15. Ms. Liu and Mr. Yang, a local couple. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen Lee. 4 Dcember 2014

16. Mr. Shi, a Muslim shop owner. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen Lee. 8 December 2014

17. Mr. Bai, a renovation worker at Baochengfu. Personal Interview conducted by Kristen Lee. 8 December 2014

The next phase will be Phase 4. I will be preparing to share my learning, as well as reflecting on it. 

My name is Kristen, and I am 13 years old. I am in 8th grade at SAS Pudong. Before moving to Shanghai last year, I had only ever lived in Glendale, California. Though I am a quarter Chinese, quarter Japanese, and half Korean, I sadly do not speak any language besides English. I have an older brother who also attends SAS, and is in 11th grade; we don't get along well. I also hate spiders and scary movies. Some of my hobbies include reading, drawing, and watching T.V. I am currently in Xizhou, and it already feels like a second home. I am very excited to experience more of Xizhou as the trip goes on.