Unusual Chinese dwellings excavated in the earth: the Yaodongs

By Stefania Danieli

Previously we introduced the Tulou, a particular typology of circular dwelling common in the southern province of Fujian (to know more about Tulou, please check our previous blog: http://chinarchblog.com/2014/03/07/weird-circular-buildings-into-the-forest-discovering-fujian-tulou-and-their-equalitarian-society/), but this time we will move to northern China to give a glance at another kind of traditional dwellings with quite unusual features.

Yaodong (Chinese: 窰洞) is a particular kind of house directly carved out of the earth. It can be realized from a hillside or horizontally excavating the soil creating a sort of “sunken courtyard”. Yaodongs are very common especially in Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces, because of the particular soil which characterizes the so-called Loess Plateau. Loess (or Löss) is a soil formed by wind sedimentation, it is highly porous and therefore easily to excavate, but in the same way it is also easy to erode. Loess is known as the “yellow earth” in Chinese language (黄土) because of its peculiar color and similarly the Yellow River came from loess.

Yaodongs have a very long history; it seems that the first form of underground dwellings can be dated back in the 2nd millenium BC. The most famous example of yaodong is Yan’an city, in Shaanxi province, renowned because it has been used by Mao Zedong as communists’ headquarters from 1935 to 1948.

Yadongs’ best quality is the insulation from temperature to sound: the earth surrounding the dwellings naturally guarantees warm winters and chilly summers. But some of the cons can be the houses are not well illuminated and can cause wetness.

The Yaodongs characterized by “sunken courtyards” worth a special mention because of their unusual shape: while we usually notice a town from a far distance because of its buildings, when approaching a town formed by this kind of Yaodong, we would not see any buildings, but we can only hear its sounds and/or maybe see the smoke apparently coming out from the ground!

23632d5Stefania was born and raised in Italy, where she took a BA in Languages and a MA in Business Communication at the University of Perugia. She fluently speaks both Mandarin and English, and by now has been living in China for over two years. Having been raised in a country rich of history and culture like Italy, she has always had a strong interest in art and architecture, which led her right through the Chinese landscape design industry. She is currently working as Marketing Director at Beijing’s based America Leedscape Planning and Design Co. Ltd.

One response to “Unusual Chinese dwellings excavated in the earth: the Yaodongs

  1. Pingback: Hidden treasures: 3 examples of Chinese rock-cut Buddhist architecture | China Architecture Blog·


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