© 2016 by Harvard Visual China, affliated with Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts and Science

Afterthoughts

The experience of visiting Yinyu Tang is not only special by its own uniqueness, but also out of expectation in many ways. Having done extensive oral history fieldwork in Wannan (Southern part of Anhui province), I have always hold particular interest in the same area where Yinyu Tang originally came from. I was expecting a well preserved house with some traceable usage of its owner; however, I did not anticipate a house filled with memories of generations. From the yearly calendar on the wall of the courtyard, to the touching letter written by the son to his mother, even from the half opened Majiang box, we can vividly reconstruct some of the most mundane but cherished history of the extensive family. They lived their everyday life, like many other households of Wannan, which tell us how the change of history is felt and lived on the micro level.  ——Xingyi Wang

Berliner referred to Yin Yu Tang as a typical exhibit of Chinese traditional architecture which was embedded with important educational functions. It later aroused a question in the Q&A session that, considering the typical architectural type and its accompanied life style which Yin Yu Tang stands for are actually dying out in China due to the shock of modernity, how such educational function guaranteed its validity as well as comprehensiveness to convey realistic image of contemporary China to viewers who were entirely strange with this fast-developing country. Berliner expounded accordingly that Yin Yu Tang was regarded as an “exhibit”, which implied its nature as preservation of a single building in a particular region and particular period. The educational meaning thus lay in its enlightening function to stimulate consciousness of protection of disappearing material culture. Now multiple preservation projects were implemented in the region where Yin Yu Tang was originally located. And besides the mode of “integral moving” as Yin Yu Tang, varied approaches were put into practice to adapt to the needs of this time, which all echoed with the endeavor of Yin Yu Tang project from distance.  Berliner’s vivid description of Yin Yu Tang deeply touched me with manifestation of the vicissitude of this old house and all the incredible hardships the practitioners had gone through during the process of relocation. It presented a successful, though exclusive case, in which a single building was moved overseas as a whole to realize preservation. The case reveals both its advantage of preservation as a worship to the materials and their synchronic memories, and its disadvantage of preservation as a fragment which isolates the heritage from its milieu. Particularly from the perspective of critical conservation, I was inspired a lot by the lecture to reconsider the subjectivity of history and heritage.  ——Yanhan Zhang

“I hate when the foreigners robbed our national treasure and stuff.” My friend Eileen responded with such words after I told her about my visit to Yin Yu Tang, the traditional Chinese residential house which was literally moved from southeastern China to the U.S. This reminded me of a public condemnation towards Jackie Chan several years ago. He donated some historic sandalwood houses from Anhui Province in China to Singapore from his personal collection. Back then the public were outraged and criticized Jackie Chan as a traitor. Come on, we were robbed enough by the Eight-Nation Alliance. How can you willingly offer the foreigners our stuff? The feeling is like that you never pay attention to the old rabbit toy left in the shabby corner of your room, until the little girl who lives next door comes to visit you, sees the toy with light in her eyes, and asks whether she can have it in a sincere way you don’t know how to refuse but you simply hate it. I enjoyed the tour to Yin Yu Tang a lot. It makes more sense for me to see something different with its surroundings. If I were in Huizhou, I would definitely not choose to visit a house like this. It’s an average house, common residents’ house. And in China it would definitely not be preserved as well as in the U.S. And according to Min Guan, “it’s the most ugly house I have ever seen” (He meant comparing with other village houses of course). As someone who have traveled through thirteen traditional villages in southern China, he sure had the right to give such aesthetic judgement. But when Yin Yu Tang has been put in a western culture background, re-erected in Peabody Essex Museum located in Salem, Massachusetts, everything has changed. People started to pay attention to this not even charming average house. People started to pay attention to common people’s life, instead of just the privileged ones who always have power to tell the history. Now it’s the time when the past neglected groups are going to be heard as well. And Yin Yu Tang is the perfect example of how this could be achieved through critical conservation. ——Holly Yanan He

I was surprised to visit such an elegant house of the traditional Huizhou architecture style in the US. While those houses are being torn down to make way for modern homes in China, Yin Yu Tang has been preserved so well by re-erection here. The typical characteristics, such as  "horse head" walls and "sky well" interior courtyard, are excellent traditional practice to optimize the architectural design and make best use of natural resources to provide safe and comfort living environment. In addition, the house was rooted in its place and culture, being an excellent record of the history. Preservation of such a house has profound academic and practical merits in terms of architecture and history. ——Li Zhang

It was a wonderful visit to the Yin Yu Tang at the Peabody Essex Museum. The relocating and re-erecting of Yin Yu Tang highlight the duality of spiritual preservation and material construction. Spiritual absence and physical presence of this Chinese traditional house constitute an ordered history. In this semiotic space, visitors' experience is constructed by the narrative in order to reconstruct the scenes of the life in the past.  ——Yonghui Chen

It's hard to imagine a project so authentic and exquisite like Yin Yu Tang exists near Boston until you visit it in person. Nevertheless, we also enjoyed Safdie's expansion of the museum and the unique collections of New England art and culture. Thanks HVC for organizing this great tour! ——Yaqing Cai

This trip is sponsored by Harvard Visual China, including travel cost and museum admission. Space is limited to 20.