Xi Guan, now the part of Liwan district north of the Pearl River, is a symbol of old Guangzhou. With its dim sum restaurants, historic Qilou buildings, mossy flagstone pavements and people full of stories, Xi Guan encapsulates the unique charm and beauty of Cantonese culture.
Not far from the Shangxiajiu Pedestrian Street in Liwan district, there is an old street called Feng Yuan. There, the Yaohua community, which is crisscrossed by nearly a hundred flagstone paths, is well-known and respected for its history and architecture.
Xi Guan residences and arches
The commonly-seen Xi Guan style (old Guangzhou) residences in the Yaohua community are miniatures of traditional Cantonese architecture.
The facade of a Xi Guan house was generally built with grey bricks, and the main wooden door is accompanied by a Tanglong (horizontal wooden bars) and a pair of 'café style' outer doors at the entrance. The interior is very symmetrically structured; from the front to the back of the house there are as follows: the portal, the hallway, the main hall, the first room, the second hall and the back room. There is also a patio and garden inside.
Main door of a typical Guangzhou Xi Guan residence. (Lifeofguangzhou.com)
Hardwood furniture, carved wooden ornaments, stained glass Manchu style windows, and many other Cantonese features come together to create an old Guangzhou style house. In the past, only the well-to-do families of businessmen or officials could live in these grand and magnificent places.
In addition to the Xi Guan houses, many Cantonese style arches were erected along the Feng Yuan Street. These arches were built to praise those who had made great contributions to society in ancient China. In the past, only the ruler of the country could authorize the construction of such arches.
Feng Yuan Street now has 12 arches, more than any other street in Guangzhou. The Feng Yuan Garden and Wenchang Garden community arches represent two different architectural styles. The former was built with rough ashlars (stones) according to ancient Western architectural models, while the latter includes a Tanglong door, fencing, glazed tiles and grey bricks, which represent the typical Xi Guan style.
The most famous arch in Feng Yuan stands at the entrance of the Curio Street. With a height rivaling a three story building, this wooden arch is made up of various Cantonese elements, such as grey tiles, wooden stakes and Chinese calligraphy.
Community Service Blooms in Yaohua
The Yaohua Community currently has a population of 5,958 people, 21.8% of which are senior citizens. They enjoy the occasional game of mahjong, but are more likely to be found at the Cantonese Opera Club or participating in activities organized by the Senior Peoples' Volunteer Team at places like the Yaohua Cultural Center. Built in 1985, is has been a home for community activities there for over 20 years.
Early in 1998, Yaohua joined hands with The Neighborhood Advice-Action Council from Hong Kong, which subsequently built a service center in the community – the first of its kind in Guangzhou. Many new and advanced community service ideas were introduced to Yaohua – as well as to the city – by the Council, including the establishment of a special center for mentally disabled people.
In such a socially conscious and increasingly harmonious environment, senior citizens were given a chance to display their philanthropic talents and the young were taught how to care for others.
A community that welcomes new ideas
The Feng Yuan Street community has always looked for new ways to improve its quality of life. In addition to being home to Guangzhou's first senior citizen volunteer team, it is also known as the first street in the city to promote education for national defense. This zeal for innovation has won the community many prestigious awards over the years.
Stained glass window is the typical element of the traditional Guangzhou Xi Guan residences. (Lifeofguangzhou.com)
(by Carrot Chan, Stephen Roach)