Dwelling compounds or quadrangles (Siheyuan) - the
enclosed, one-story courtyard houses that make up old
Beijing, feature a typical Chinese folk residential architecture.
A standard siheyuan usually falls into a rectangular
compound with one-story houses squarely facing the cardinal
points and a courtyard in middle.
A pair of stone lions usually stands in front of the
vermilion studded door with painted lintel on the top.
Decorative patterns are flowers and bird. Stepping over
a high wooden threshold, you will find a stone screen
standing ahead. It is built to avoid direct inspect from
outside and also believed to dispel evil spirits. The
next comes the outer courtyard, flanked by rooms to the
east and west. These serve as kitchens and servants' living
quarters. On the north end of the outer courtyard is the
"Main House" southward for enough daylight with
3-5 rooms. The up-turn eaves provide a pleasant shade
in summer. One room amid is for living or community purposes
with a smaller bedroom or studies beside. Through two
passages on each side of the Main House, one can enter
the inner yard. Rooms on each side were for married children
and their families. Greenery planted in the courtyard
presents an inner garden.
Some large compounds have two or more courtyards, inhabited
by an extended family with several generations. "Four
Generations under One Roof", a novel by the contemporary
writer Lao She, depicts Beijingers in the 1930s and 1940s
living in siheyuan.
Beijing still has about 400,000 residential quadrangles
now, mainly distributed over the East, West, Xuanwu and
Chongwen districts. The municipal government has earmarked
a number of dwelling compounds for protection.