World Facts And Stats: Shansi Province, China

Houses in Shansi Province, China, are made to last 2,000 years.

Put aside the Long March, Maoism, the Cultural Revolution; put aside the invasions, conquests, disasters, and other major setbacks inflicted upon the Chinese people over their history. Despite all of these, the strength of family tradition remains a powerful anchor in many parts of the country. In mountainous Shansi province, near the northern Mongolia border, this is especially true. Here, indeed, houses are built to last 2000 years.

No crumbling foundations, flaking paint, and sagging eaves here; in Shansi many houses are carved in stone, literally. Even those people of Shansi who cannot manage to build one of these houses, devote much of their disposible income to improving the houses they have. Renovation and repair of houses takes precedence over new finery and fancy food. They take a very long view of life; today is their beginning of many tomorrows made possible only by careful planning during many yesterdays. Families are matters of millennia, far beyond a few generations.

In Shansi province two storey and one and a half storey houses are typical. They are built of stone, hand cut granite blocks. Many are vaulted cave homes built tier upon tier on ridges. Linked and layered, they defy the harsh elements of the region. The winter storms of northern China are as nothing. Let them blow.

The invasions of history, the Mongols from the north among them, have gone around the impenetrable mountains of Shansi, in much the same way water seeks its own course.

The houses pass from generation to generation. Some have been electrified, but this is not common. The communal culture, thought to be so revolutionary by Maoists and westerners alike, has been the norm in Shansi for generations. No big deal to them are common water wells, common sewage disposals, even shared crops were and still are aspects of daily life. Traditions,like the houses themselves, remain intact.

The house builders of Shansi are not structural engineers, any more than were the eastern Europeans in North America who constructed stack pole housing from jackpine and tamarack in the 19th and early 20th Century. The Shansi builders are stone cutters. The hardwoods for door and window frames are accepted as short-lived, fifty years to a century or so, and construction is designed to make replacement easy or even unnecessary. Granite door jambs and window frames - some houses have them. Certainly this makes moisture and rot lesser problems!

Vaulting the ceilings, another key feature of Shansi houses, eliminates need for support beams and opens interior space. Some two-story dwellings have interior load bearing walls. In most houses, these, too, are granite blocks.

The Pyramids have been around for a long time. Wind, sand and tourists are eroding them. Some Shansi houses have been around almost as long. The wind and harsh winter storms may beat upon them with ferocity. The footprints of tourists and the corrosiveness of sand storms are unknown. In any case, the granite is unyielding.

By Western standards, Shansi houses may seem primitive. Not so. When we bury our dead, our monuments, meant to be everlasting, are usually carved from granite. In Shansi, the people have made of granite a testament to life and its vibrant continuance.

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