The culture that encompasses ancestral halls in China has a long history. In ancient China, temples played an important role in social life allowing the worship of ancestors as well as managing and enlightening the clansmen. The Chen Clan Academy is one of the most marvelous and best preserved ancestral halls representing the folk art of southern China.
Located on Zhongshan 7th Road, it was established during the Qing dynasty in 1894 with funding from members of 72 Chen clans, and thus served to accommodate the families’ young candidates as they prepared for the imperial examinations. Later it became the clan’s private school and eventually a middle school after the founding of Communist China.
Today it houses the Guangdong Folk Art Museum.
The 19 buildings, nine halls and six courtyards of the academy are symmetric in design totaling 13,000 sq. m. The complex forms along a north-south axis facing southward. Many consider it to be a classic example of the region's Lingnan architecture, characterized by a balanced layout that is richly decorated.
On the main axis, the main entrance, gathering hall and the back hall are all separated with courtyards. The gathering hall, or Juxian Hall, was a place for meeting and education for Chen clansmen and now it is used as an ancestral hall, which allows ID carrying locals with the Chen surname to enter without charge. It is 27.84 meters wide and 16.7 meters deep with 21 main beams and 6 stone carved columns and classic scenes from old dramas storyboard 12 engraved folding screens.
The most distinguishable feature of the Chen Clan Academy is the 11 carved ridges set on the nine halls. Each ridge portrays a theme taken from famous traditional dramas, and the ridge crest on the roof of the Juxian Hall has the largest scale and most delicate work. This ridge is an impressive 27 meters long, 2.9 meters wide, and 4.26 meters high containing a total of 224 figures.
While the building itself was sculpted artfully, the collection inside magnifies the importance of the site. Southern China wood and brick carvings, pottery, plasters and iron engravings preserve the area’s history.
For these reasons the Chen Clan Academy was added to the country’s list of top level cultural relics in 1988 and honored as one of the eight most beautiful landscapes in the city in 2002.
Transportation: Metro Line 1 Chen Clan Academy (陈家祠站)
(By Tan Wanbin and Stephen Roberts)