Re-creating ancient history

By Zhu Lixin and Ma Chenguang ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-06-10 07:33:34

Re-creating ancient history

Dun Lun Tang House is a Huizhou-style house reassembled by the ancient architecture restoration team with the Anhui Yuanquan Hui-Culture Museum in Hefei, Anhui province. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Team of specialists painstakingly restores Huizhou-style houses by replacing missing components with carefully crafted replicas, a complex job requiring patience and broad knowledge, as Zhu Lixin and Ma Chenguang report in Hefei.

As one of six members of an ancient architecture restoration team, Li Changyun has already spent eight months collaborating with his colleagues on reassembling an old, two-story residence that was removed from its original site in a rural village years ago. But the complicated work is far from completion.

Before working on the centuries-old Yuan De House, which literarily means house of great virtue, the team reassembled four such old residences in the private Anhui Yuanquan Hui-Culture Museum, located in Shushan district of Hefei, capital of East China's Anhui province.

Li, in his 60s, plays a key role on the team, which also includes a mason, a bricklayer, a painter and two others with carving and main structure expertise.

Like most of the traditional residences in southern Anhui province and a small part of northern Jiangxi province, which was known as Huizhou region before 1949, the house was mainly built with wooden components.

Li, a master carpenter for almost four decades, said that repairing ancient buildings is not an easy task, partly because many of the original components are missing or broken. So, replicas are made with old timber to fit neatly with the original ones.

"The joinery used in the buildings, as in most other such ancient Chinese architecture, is a complex system based on mortise-and-tenon principles to connect the wooden components of the timber frame," he said.

"The different pieces of wood are joined with carved wooden pegs. While a few nails were used to secure the rafters, the vast majority of the frame is held together without nails or glue."

Since the original components were all made by hand, almost no modern machines could be used in preparing the replicas. To qualify for the work, a carpenter must have mastery of more than 100 specific types of carpentry tools, "more than 30 of which are planes with different functions", Li said.

On Li's team, five of the six members are older than 60, with the remaining member being just 29. Xuan Fanqiu, head of the Yuanquan museum, said he chose the senior workers partly because they are more reliable in craftsmanship, in addition to the fact that "it was nearly impossible to find young people who are interested in and also good at the craftsman work".

"To qualify for restoration work of ancient buildings requires not only good skills, but also great patience and good knowledge of ancient buildings of different times," said Xuan, who gives the restoration workers professional guidance.

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