Ancient China for Kids
No matter which dynasty family was in charge in ancient China, homes all over China had a lot in common. Houses were laid out in a similar way. Most houses had pounded earth foundations and timber frames, with walls and floors made of brick, earth, or wood. The actual layout of an ancient Chinese building was similar whether it was the home of a rich family, a poor family, a temple, or a palace. Differences came in size of the house, and in the interior design and decoration. But the layout itself was consistent.
Most ancient Chinese houses were arranged around a rectangular courtyard. The rich build 3 connecting wings or bays, like three sides of a window frame. The fourth side of the frame was usually a solid gate. This created a rectangular courtyard, protected on four sides by the earth and wood structure of the house and gate. The poor could not afford that big of a house. Instead, the poor build several small houses around an open rectangular space, creating a shared courtyard.
The main door into the complex or home (or palace or temple) always faced south. The ancient Chinese believed that the proper building materials (earth and wood), an enclosed interior courtyard, and a front door facing south all combined to offer the residents beneficial energy.
Inside the homes were sleeping areas. Eating areas were wherever they felt like putting them that day. On good weather days, the eating area might be found outside in courtyard. On not so good days, the ancient Chinese used portable screens to create various areas inside their home, including a place for the family to gather to eat a meal. The most important part of the home was the space set aside to honor the ancestors of the family who lived in that space. The family brought presents of food and things they made to place on the shrine. After making this offering, the food was eaten by the family, and the goods were shared.
Kitchens were usually in a little area or building, separate from the house. There was always a special nook in the kitchen with a little shrine for the kitchen god.
Most Chinese houses had very little furniture. The one thing they almost all had in common was the Kang bed. This was a raised platform with a space underneath to build a fire, or run pipes filled with hot air or water. This was also the sitting and eating space. The rich had much more elaborate furniture, with intricate and beautiful design and decoration. Furniture was used in the bedroom, the study, and the hall. Furniture was made of mahogany, red sandalwood, and blackwood. Along the wall in the bedroom were clothing racks. Folding screens were used everywhere throughout the house.
The hall was the general living space. The most expensive furniture was found in the hall. The ancestor shrine would be located somewhere in the hall, against one wall. The more wealth the owner of a home, the more elaborate the furniture, and the fancier the hall. The emperor's hall was the most ornate of all (or heads could roll.)
During Tang times, households in the large capital city of Ch'ang-an had baths, heaters, mechanical fans, fountains, ice-cooled rooms, mirrors, musical instruments such as the harp, ceramics, spoons, goblets of gold and silver. The rich were waited on by servants and slaves. The pagoda look became popular during T'ang times. Homes of the wealthy and of the nobles were very large, with several rooms, built of wood and brick. Farmers homes were made of sun dried brick and bamboo. They were very simple, one room homes.
Although many dynasties came and went in ancient China, the layout of homes, temples, and palaces remained very similar.