The traditional homeland of the Dong nationality is located in the adjacent mountainous areas of Guizhou, Hunan, and the Guangxi Autonomous Region in southwest China (Figure 1). The total Dong population exceeds 2.5 million: 1,400,344 inhabit Guizhou, 757,130 in Hunan, 295,673 in Guangxi, and 54,798 in Hubei.1 Located in mountain valleys, Dong villages are protected from strong winds and enjoy a warm and humid climate with an average temperature of 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 degrees C) (Figure 2). Agriculture is dependent on irrigation. Rice is planted on the flat fields, while cotton, tea bushes, and vegetables are grown on terraces on the hills. The mountainsides are covered with fir, pine, and fruit trees.2

Figure 1

Map of Sanjiang County in Guangxi Province (from Annals of the Nationalities in Sanjiang County, 2002, author's drawing)

Figure 1

Map of Sanjiang County in Guangxi Province (from Annals of the Nationalities in Sanjiang County, 2002, author's drawing)

Figure 2

Dwellings of Dudong Village, Sanjiang County, 2004 (author's photo)

Figure 2

Dwellings of Dudong Village, Sanjiang County, 2004 (author's photo)

The Dong are among the Chinese ethnic groups that live in elevated, multistory wooden houses called ganlans. In the Dong community, constructing a ganlan is far more than simple carpentry. A charm “开工大吉” (Starting with Auspicious Carpentry) on the entrance door indicates the lucky beginning of the carpenters' work.3 This auspicious date or time is usually celebrated with special rituals, called li, which have their origins in both secular and sacred behavior and human communication.4

All cultures attempt to find meaning in their relationship with the world. As Western cultures have utilized magic numbers, body metaphors, and blessing ceremonies in making architecture, so the Dongs conduct rituals such as "stealing the golden beam," to ensure the success of construction. Beyond preserving the traditional visual characteristics of their vernacular buildings and communities, these rituals may also ensure structural soundness, avoiding dangerous, untested construction. Emulating proven dimensioning of beams and bay spacing truly assures an auspicious and safe building. The Dong craftsmen and community members also perform ceremonies and make gifts to solidify the spiritual dimension of their architecture. Thanks to replicable rituals, their distinctive vernacular architecture and technology have been passed down through generations. Although ancient, many of these rituals are still practiced in the twenty-first century.5 Their origins may no longer be known, but they continue because of the persistence of belief in their power, telling a story whose original meaning has been partially lost.

Dong rituals are performed throughout the entire process of construction: while preparing materials, setting up the structure, and during the final stage of raising the "golden beam." These rituals occupy an important place in the lives of the people-both craftsmen and villagers. They play a critical role at every stage, expressing the awareness of time and space that defines the Dong sensibility of creating a building. The rituals also explicitly and repeatedly celebrate the themes of sacredness and good fortune, which they impart to the "new-born" structure.6

The Dong House

Dong villages are usually developed by familial communities. A village belongs to people of the same surname, usually comprising fifty to sixty families, but sometimes more than a hundred. Because of the mountain topography, their houses are scattered to make up the village.7 The sustained tradition of Dong building crafts, passed down by craft masters or parents, has ensured the continued predominance of their distinctive elevated timber buildings. With favorable orientation and geomancy, the ordinary house is believed to be marvelous.8

The Dong house usually has three floors, supported by a system of columns and beams, with each floor laid out according to its functions (Figure 3). The main (first) floor is raised a story above the ground level (jiakong ceng 架空层), which serves mainly as a shelter for livestock, a storeroom, and a workshop. The main floor accommodates a veranda, main hall, hearth, and bedroom. The veranda (lang 廊) is an open communal area and work place, which usually occupies two to three bays. The main hall (tangwu 堂屋) in the Dong house may be connected with the veranda, forming an undivided space, or separated, providing a location for the family shrine. The hearth room (huotang jian 火塘间) holds the hearth and functions as a communal place. Because of the strong sunshine and abundant rain, projecting eaves (chuyan 出檐) provide a shade and protect the wooden elements from rain damage. They also create a visually changeable façade. Almost every Dong house has an attic (gelou 阁楼) underneath the huge sloping roof, providing storage for grain and promoting ventilation.

Figure 3

Section and plans of a Dong house (from Xingqiang Zhang, ed., Guangxi Minzhu Chuantong Jianzhu Shilu 广西民族传统建筑实录 [The Record of Vernacular Architecture in Guangxi] [Nanning: Guanxi Kexue Jishu Press, 1991], 69). Key: 1. bedroom; 2. main hall (tangwu); 3. hearth room; 4. storage; 5. firewood stack; 6. pigsty

Figure 3

Section and plans of a Dong house (from Xingqiang Zhang, ed., Guangxi Minzhu Chuantong Jianzhu Shilu 广西民族传统建筑实录 [The Record of Vernacular Architecture in Guangxi] [Nanning: Guanxi Kexue Jishu Press, 1991], 69). Key: 1. bedroom; 2. main hall (tangwu); 3. hearth room; 4. storage; 5. firewood stack; 6. pigsty

The structure of Dong houses appears to be related to the chuandou (through-jointed) structural system popular in south China, distinguished from the tailiang (beams on top of columns) structure of temples in north China.9 In through-jointed structure, the crossbeams are mortised into the columns, and roof purlins rest directly on the top of columns. The columns are connected by crossbeams, together forming a rigid transversal frame. The desired number of frames are connected by longitudinal beams, and the interval of 2 to 4 meters between two frames defines the "bay" (jian 间). In the Dong building structure, the bay is the basic element. An odd number of bays (one, three, five, seven, or nine) is favored, and various bay numbers respond to the demand for buildings of particular heights and widths.10 Depending on the special needs of each family, various kinds of ganlans are created.11

Dong houses share common structural characteristics with landmark Dong drum towers and "Wind and Rain" bridges (Figure 4). Each frame comprises three or five columns of various types, with about 3 meters between them. Odd numbers of timber structural members are considered auspicious. The load of the whole roof is supported by a structural network-with beams resting on main columns-that transfer the load to the foundations. Purlins rest on principal columns (jinzhu 金柱), on eave columns (yanzhu 檐柱), and on melon columns (guazhu 瓜柱), which are connected by crossbeams (chuanfang 穿枋) supporting the cantilevered projecting eaves. All timber elements are connected by tenons and mortises. Interior movable walls are used only to enclose and divide the space.

Figure 4

The structural system of a typical Dong "Wind and Rain" bridge (author's drawing)

Figure 4

The structural system of a typical Dong "Wind and Rain" bridge (author's drawing)

Preparing the Building Materials

Columns, crossbeams, wall panels, fences, and window frames are usually made of timber taken from the abundant fir forests of the Dong region.12 Cutting wood in the mountain is perceived as a dangerous activity for the craftsmen. Moreover, if the mountain spirits become annoyed, the timber cutting will be unsuccessful. An auspicious day and time must therefore be selected, so as not to conflict with the evil currents that pervade the mountains.13 In the Dong view, ghosts exist within every day of human life. A legend of the Dong tells of a demon who is described as a ghost of the mountains. His shape is similar to a monkey, but with backward feet (heels in front and toes behind) and invisible to people. Because the Dong believe in the existence of these demon ghosts, when they cut trees or quarry stone from the mountain, they must worship these hidden spirits to avoid injury or retaliation. They also tell their children not to throw stones when they climb in the mountains or play in rivers, to keep from annoying the spirits.14

The ridge pole is called the golden beam (jinliang 金梁), and it is the crowning structural element of houses, bridges, and drum towers. The golden beam must be selected according to detailed criteria: the heavier the timber the better, for the golden beam symbolizes weighty gold or silver; the timber must be taken from one of a pair of twin trees-tall, thick, and rigid; and once the timber is selected and cut, it must not be disturbed by anyone. Nearby the selected twin conifers must stand a third, smaller tree, possibly suggesting a family group that consists of two parents trees and a child. Timber that has been damaged by a thunderstorm is prohibited from use; the homeowner could otherwise be punished by the heavens.15

The golden beam cannot simply be harvested, but must be "stolen" from the mountain in the early morning before the date chosen for the setting up of the frames (touliang 偷梁). The action is conducted by four young men in the middle of the night. Before the craftsmen begin to cut the trees with Lu Ban axes, they must recite an incantation to the mountain spirit: "Lu Ban axes held in our hands, we are now welcoming the wood spirit. The spirit is invited to the splendid house as a ruler, and blesses the master's fortune. The master will be rich and noble with fertility."16 The tree must be felled in a specific direction and cannot touch the ground. When the woodsmen leave, they transport the timber with some of its leaves still attached, symbolizing the notion that they have secured the whole tree. A red string is tied around the middle of the log, which is carried by two of the young men. The other two men place a lucky money bag on the stump of the tree, and set off fireworks in appreciation of the owner of the mountain, drawing his attention to retrieve the money. The timber should be carried on the shoulders of the same two young men. If they become exhausted, two other young men may relieve them, but contact with the earth is not allowed, and the timber must not be profaned during the journey to the building site.17

The phrase "stealing the golden beam" appears to imply that the piece of timber is made particularly valuable by being "stolen" from the deep forest, which is infested by wild animals, and from the mountain spirits who try to keep it. The people who manage to secure the beam have taken risks, which makes the beam more special, more precious, and more auspicious.

Working on the Timber Elements

The area of a three-story, three-bay house, erected from four frames (each of which has five columns) is about 300 to 400 square meters, and its construction requires hundreds of fir framing members cut to various lengths and diameters and provided with appropriate mortises and tenons. After calculating the height, the width, and the number of bays, the foreman marks in ink the timbers to be used for the beams and columns. For guidance, the foreman uses the Dong measuring ruler (zhanggan) and makes reference to small models (Figures 5, 6).18 When the mortises have been cut, the timbers must be piled in a special place where no one is allowed to enter; they are only moved again when setting up the frames for the house.

Figure 5

Dong rulers, Sanjiang, 2004 (Yang family collection, author's photo)

Figure 5

Dong rulers, Sanjiang, 2004 (Yang family collection, author's photo)

Figure 6

The new drum tower, Sanjiang County, model made by Yang Shiyu, Sanjiang, 2004 (Yang family collection, author's photo)

Figure 6

The new drum tower, Sanjiang County, model made by Yang Shiyu, Sanjiang, 2004 (Yang family collection, author's photo)

Each carpenter on the construction team hopes to become the foreman-the ink-marking craftsman-and each dreams most of all of being able to mark the timbers for the village's communal drum tower. Ink-marking craftsmen are held in the highest esteem by their families and villages.

When the timber beams and columns are being marked with ink, they are placed on trestles that the carpenter has set up at a favorable time and in a favorable orientation, in a procedure called "inviting the trestle" (qing muma 请木马) (Figure 7). The foreman burns incense in front of the pair of trestles, which he has set up on the site of the building with the help of the house owner. Once the golden beam has been "stolen" and arrives at the building site, the master must set off fireworks and carefully place it on the trestles, awaiting the ink marking (fa mo 发墨).

Figure 7

The golden beam settled on "invited" trestle, Sanjiang, 2006 (photo Ronald Knapp)

Figure 7

The golden beam settled on "invited" trestle, Sanjiang, 2006 (photo Ronald Knapp)

While "marking the ink," the two ends of the ink-string are held by the craftsman and the homeowner, snapping a line on the middle of the roof ridge pole. The foreman responsible for ink marking begins this work with an auspicious speech to the golden beam: "The jinliang [golden beam], it is big and long enough. Measured with the zhanggan [Dong ruler], not too long or not too short, it is the jinliang [golden beam] exactly. Supporting the whole house, it is secure and solid."19

The craftsman also directs auspicious words to the house owner: "with the aromatic smell of marking ink and its long string, we mark ink on the golden beam, and the master's family will be fortunate, wealthy, and enjoy a long life; with the ink marking, the master's family will be rich and noble, enjoying fortune and fertility. The built house will be splendid and solid forever like the sunrise."20

All the constituent timbers must be prepared within half a month, awaiting the dates for the construction of the frame (paishan 排扇) and setting up the building (shuwu 竖屋).21

Setting up the Building Structure

The structural system of the Dong house is a network of frames (paishan 排扇) connected by crossbeams (chuanfang 穿枋). Assembly of the frames occurs the day before setting up house (shuwu 竖屋), when each frame must be located in its exact position on the ground. Before positioning the frames, the head craftsman needs to "start the hammer" (fachui 发槌). He sets up an altar on the site-a square table with an incense burner and offerings on it. He burns paper money as an offering to all the spirits, particularly the carpenter spirit Lu Ban, requesting their blessing for the building work and for the master's fortune in the future. Then he holds a hammer tied with red string, with which he will work on the frame. With three knocks on the golden beam, he recites loudly:

What we hear is only the sound of the golden hammer,
The gigantic voice means flourish forever.
One knock of the hammer means fertility,
Two knocks of the hammer will be wealthy and noble,
Three knocks of the hammer will be prosperous,
With fortune and richness forever.22

The timber elements (the beams and columns of each frame) are then fixed in their proper positions, connected with crossbeams. If the skeleton of the house cannot be successfully set up at once, the master and the head craftsman will be severely disturbed. So for good luck, a ritual is performed before daybreak on the day that the structure is to be raised. The head craftsman holds a red cock in his left hand and a Lu Ban axe in his right. A dish of pork with three sticks of incense is set on the table. After burning the incense, he kills the cock with his axe and walks around the grounds of the house, sprinkling the cock's blood and uttering auspicious words.

The first stage of building the structure is to set up the frames (Figure 8). The most auspicious time to start this work is at 4 a.m. (yinshi 寅时), because the Dong song says that cocks sing at 4 a.m. and daybreak comes at 6 a.m. (miaoshi 卯时).23 Working in the dark of night, the carpenters must proceed under the light of torches. Every craftsman takes up his specified location and listens to commands from the foreman. First, the left frame of the main hall must be set up. When the head craftsman shouts "Set up!" the workers answer: "Yes!" Some support the frame and others pull on the ropes tied to it. With the booming of fireworks and the shouting of people, the frame is erected. When this frame is nearly set in its proper location, it is supported with a wooden ladder and fork. Then the right frame of the main hall is set up.

Figure 8

Setting up the frame, Sanjiang County, 1985 (photo Mei Lin, author's collection)

Figure 8

Setting up the frame, Sanjiang County, 1985 (photo Mei Lin, author's collection)

The second stage is to connect and stabilize the frames with crossbeams. It is critically important to connect these frames, which are still unstable. Some workers must climb to the tops of the columns and join the frames by inserting the tenons of the crossing beams into mortises. Raising each crossbeam requires three people. They stand on wooden ladders, and they lift the crossbeams with their hands. Getting ready, the head craftsman shouts, "opening the frame (kaishan 开扇)." The people on the ground pull the pair of frames which are to be joined in opposite directions with ropes. Those holding the crossbeam support it with one hand and rest their bodies on the frame. When the tenon of the crossing-beam is aligned with the mortise in the column, the head craftsman shouts, "connect the frames!" (heshan 合扇), and the frames and crossing-beam are slowly mated, as the people shout "Yes!" Having secured the pieces well, the craftsmen knock on the column with wooden hammers to make the tenons engage fully with the mortises. By early morning, when the first sunshine sheds its light on the earth, the whole structure of the house is set up; the new house has been fortunately born with the sun rising.

Raising the Golden Beam

Attention now turns to the most important structural ritual, which is "raising the beam" (shangliang 上梁), when the ridge pole (golden beam) is set on the top of the roof frame. Before the golden beam is raised, a mortise of about 10 by 10 centimeters must be cut in the middle of it (kai liangkou 开梁口) (Figure 9). Into this is placed rice, silver coins, vermilion, and tea. It is closed with the piece of timber. Then the craftsmen's bamboo ruler, a brush pen, a piece of colored thread, and a pair of chopsticks wrapped in a red cloth are nailed on top of the beam "mouth," guaranteeing that the homeowner will be fortunate, fertile, intelligent, and wealthy. While working, the craftsman must speak these auspicious words to the owner: "The golden beam, which is wrapped in the red cloth, sheds splendid light; and when it is fixed on the house, the house will fulfill fortune."24

Figure 9

Craftsmen preparing the golden beam before the "raising of the beam" ceremony, Sanjiang, 2002 (photo Mei Lin, author's collection)

Figure 9

Craftsmen preparing the golden beam before the "raising of the beam" ceremony, Sanjiang, 2002 (photo Mei Lin, author's collection)

At the predetermined moment, the head craftsman shouts: "Wenqu Xing (Civilian Spirit) and Wuqu Xing (Military Spirit) go on the top of the house please!"25 Then, two smart young men quickly climb to the top of the house, and they drop down a rope. People on the ground tie the rope to the ends of the golden beam. The head craftsman recites loudly:

"At the fortunate time, the sky and earth open to welcome the raising of the golden beam on the main hall. And with the golden rope tied firmly to both ends, the golden beam is going to be raised to the sky. From now on, the mountains will create wealth and nobility with the rising of the left end, and the best scholar will be born from the master's descendants with the rising of the right end. Please raise the golden beam!"26

The two young men, who are standing on the top of the frame, then pull the beam up and fix it on the top of the structure, waiting for the head craftsman to "set up the beam." At this moment, fireworks prepared by the householder and his relatives are set off to announce the ceremony to all spirits and villagers (Figure 10). Then the head craftsman "sets on the beam" (anliang 安梁), securely connecting it to the frame, while "stepping on the beam" (chailiang 踩梁) with a pair of new shoes. Climbing up the building frame, he sings the song:

Figure 10

Shangliang (the "raising of the golden beam" ceremony) for the new Wind and Rain Bridge, Sanjiang County, 2010 (video: Guangxi Education Committee)

Figure 10

Shangliang (the "raising of the golden beam" ceremony) for the new Wind and Rain Bridge, Sanjiang County, 2010 (video: Guangxi Education Committee)

With the first step on the ladder and two steps of walking,

the shed is full of pigs, sheep, cows, and horses.

Thousands of livestock show up in the daytime,

and millions of them come back in the night.

With the second step on the ladder and three steps of walking, many auspicious festivals arrive.

Thousands of guests present their gifts in the day,

and millions of lights will shine in the night.

With the third step on the ladder and four steps of walking,

the four directions belong to the wealthy spirits.

Wealth comes from the east and treasure comes from the west,

wealth is full in the house.27

He stops on the middle of the golden beam with the Lu Ban axe in his right hand and the Dong ruler in his left hand, and knocks the golden beam gently to fix it exactly. Then he continues:

With a book in the middle of the jinliang (golden beam),

The old people will enjoy everlasting health, and the young will enjoy good fortune.

With a pair of chopsticks in the middle of the jinliang,

The master will be rich and fertile forever.

With a bottle of ink in the middle of the jinliang,

The descendents will be awarded a golden medal in horse-racing.

With one chi cloth hung on the middle of the jinliang,

Abundant property will be delivered to the descendents.

Standing on the middle of the main hall,

I wish the master will enjoy good fortune.28

In the final stage of the ceremony, the craftsmen throw colored sticky rice cakes, prepared by the householder, to the people. A container filled with cakes, silver coins, and silver bangles is raised to the top of the beam. The head craftsman selects twelve bigger cakes and puts them on the jinliang with silver coins, bangles, and a lucky money bag. The house owner lays out a red cloth on the floor of the main hall to receive what the craftsman drops from the golden beam. To the homeowner, the most important thing has now been completed. He serves a meal to the ink marking craftsman, carpenters, and all the villagers. The head craftsmen, carpenters and song teachers are respected as noble guests and entertained by the family of the homeowner.

The shangliang ceremony focuses on the ridge pole, indicating that it is the most sacred element in these buildings. The golden beam symbolizes the human backbone, supporting the whole body, the building roof, or heaven, and it must be firm and secure. To ensure this, the building must be set up in the proper order and at a favorable time (Figure 11). Through ceremonies, performances, recitations, and the singing of auspicious songs by the villagers, the golden beam is enlisted in the campaign to eliminate evil, and its raising is seen to ensure the security and good fortune of the whole building and its occupants.

Figure 11

The chronological order of setting up a new Dong house (author's drawing). Key: 1. the structural frames are exactly positioned before zi hour at 12 midnight; 2. erection of the frames begins with the middle bay at 4 a.m.; 3. the whole structure is completed on the mao hour at 6 a.m.; 4. the shangliang ceremony after wu hour at 12 noon.

Figure 11

The chronological order of setting up a new Dong house (author's drawing). Key: 1. the structural frames are exactly positioned before zi hour at 12 midnight; 2. erection of the frames begins with the middle bay at 4 a.m.; 3. the whole structure is completed on the mao hour at 6 a.m.; 4. the shangliang ceremony after wu hour at 12 noon.

Opening the Door of Wealth

In the Dong house, the symbolic importance of the golden beam is rivaled only by that of the doors, and they, too, are associated with rituals. The entrance to the living room is especially important and is called "the door of wealth."

Dong doorways are distinctively decorated with two carved bosses or "nodes" attached to the lintel (da menchui 打门槌). The doorway of the Yang family house in Sanjiang is typical, marked with typical symbolism (Figure 12). Two cylindrical wooden nodes, approximately 15 centimeters in diameter, project about 30 centimeters from the top of the door frame. The left node is carved with a yang trigram image of three unbroken lines, standing for heaven, awareness, and creativity, and the right node bears a yin trigram of three broken lines, symbolizing the earth, willingness, and receptiveness.29

Figure 12

Yang family house in Sanjiang, with two nodes on the door lintel, 2004 (author's photos and drawings)

Figure 12

Yang family house in Sanjiang, with two nodes on the door lintel, 2004 (author's photos and drawings)

A ceremony named "opening the door of wealth" (kai caimen 开财门) must be performed before the householders move into the new house, celebrating the symbolic importance of the threshold. On a favorable date, a skit is enacted with dialogue between two respected middle-aged men. One plays the role of a "spirit of wealth" outside the new house while the craftsman appears inside the door as Lu Ban. The Spirit of Wealth knocks on the outside of the door and says, "A tree was cut and made a door with two panels, and one is a golden door and another is a silver door; I got the message from Yu Huang King, and come here on this auspicious date to open the door of wealth!"30 Then, he pushes open the door and continues, "while I push the door with my left hand, the golden rooster is singing; while I push the door with my right hand, the phoenix is present; when I cross the threshold with my left foot, a son is born in the house; and when I cross the threshold with my right foot, a pair of children are born here. When my two feet are inside the door, the descendants are noble and rich!"31 The door is opened, and a lucky red money bag is presented by the Spirit of Wealth to the house owner, symbolizing wealth and fortune. The Spirit of Wealth proceeds to the family hearth, lighting a fire. After these ceremonies, the house owner serves a feast to his guests around the hearth. The Spirit of Wealth, the Lu Ban craftsman, and friends drink the "wealthy and noble wine" (fu gui jiu 富贵酒) in the main hall, congratulating the master again with auspicious songs.32

The dialogue in the "opening the door of wealth" ceremony between the house owner and the Spirit of Wealth reflects the strong awareness of boundaries among the Dong, whether at the village gate or at the house door. The door communicates between the inside and outside, providing the passageway through which good energy and evil energy go in and out. The "opening the door of wealth" ceremony shows the house owner's desire to welcome fortune and security and block evil from the house. In return, the owner offers a meal to the "spirit" and the villagers who bring good fortune to him, expressing his appreciation and his hope to receive further blessings.

Conclusion

A Dong building is regarded as secure not only because it serves its basic function as physical shelter, but also because rituals have empowered it to shield its occupants from the invisible energies responsible for human suffering. Arnold Van Gennep has stated that "every new house is taboo until, by appropriate rites, it is made secular or profane."33 And Tony Atkin and Joseph Rykwert have added to this that, through sacrifice and ritual, a building becomes a model of the ordered world, of the cosmos.34

Time and space are usually experienced together in architecture, as they are in ritual, which can be described as formalized movement that occurs in both space and time. Dong building rituals are designed both to gain mastery over time by prediction and divination and to impose order on space.35

Time has always been related to concepts of the cosmos, most specifically in the perennial human quest to identify fortunate or unfortunate times and dates, and rituals mark such time-specific events as changes in social status and milestones in human life.36 Space-specific rituals such as those surrounding the construction of Dong houses are similar to rituals still evident in Western culture in the ground breaking, housewarming, and cornerstone ceremonies that celebrate auspicious architectural beginnings. Among the most common of these rituals is the "topping out" ceremony that celebrates the laying of the last concrete floor or the setting of the topmost steel beam in a high-rise building-the Western equivalent of raising the golden beam.

Notes

The data are from the Census Office of the State Council, Zhongguo Disici Renkou Pucha De Zhuyao Shuju 中国第四次人口普查的主要数据 (Data from the Fourth Population Census in China) (Beijing: Zhongguo Tongji Press, 1990).

See Gail Rossi and Paul Lau, A Hidden Civilization: The Dong People of China (Singapore: Hagley & Hoyle, 1991); Xian Guangwei 冼光位 Dongzu Tonglan (A General Survey of the Dong Nationality) 侗族通览 (Nanning: Guangxi Minzhu Press, 1995); D. Norman Geary, et al., The Kam People of China: Turning Nineteen (London: Routledge Curzon, 2003); and Xing Ruan Allegorical Architecture: Living Myth and Architectonics in Southern China (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2006).

Author's interview with Yang Shanren, in Sangjiang County in July of 2002, Yang Niankui in Nanning and Wu Hao in Liuzhou in August of 2004. Also see Xuemei Li, "The Life Bridge: An Anthropology of the Dong 'Wind and Rain' Bridge in Southern China" (PhD thesis, School of Architecture, University of Sheffield, 2007).

According to the Book of Rites, among all things by which men live, rites are the most important. With-out rites, there would be no means of regulating the services paid to the spirits of heaven and earth; no means of distinguishing the positions of ruler and subject, superior and inferior, old and young; no means of maintaining the relationships between man and woman, father and son, elder and younger brother; and of conducting the communication between families related in marriage. See Wu Hung, Monumentality in Early Chinese Art and Architecture (Palo Alto, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1995), 20; also see James Legge, Li Chi: Book of Rites (New York: University Books, 1967 [1885]), 2: 261.

The analysis in this paper is based on the author's fieldwork in Sanjiang County of Guangxi Province in southern China in 2004.

Ceremonies related to the construction of houses are extremely common in Southeast Asia, where they are believed to impart sacred status on the building. The house is regarded as a refuge from evil forces and influences, not only because it restricts the access of outsiders, but also because it has been cleansed of malign influences through the performance of religious rituals during its erection and upon completion. Cf. Andrew Turton, Architectural and Political Space in Thailand (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, 1978); N. L. Kana, The Order and Significance of the Savunese House (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1980); Jacques Dumarcay, The House in South-east Asia, trans. and ed. Michael Smithies (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1987); and Roxana Waterson, The Living House: An Anthropology of Architecture in South-East Asia (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1990).

Zhang Xingqiang, ed., Guangxi Minzu Chuantong Jianzhu Shilu 广西民族传统建筑实录 (The Record of Vernacular Architecture in Guangxi) (Nanning, Guanxi Kexue Jishu Press, 1991), 62. Each Dong dwelling houses two or three generations of the family. A son of the family will separate from his parents and build his own family when married. Thus, the village is enlarged.

Author's interview with Yang Shanren and Yang Yongqing in Maan Village at Sanjiang County in August of 2004.

Tailiang and chuandou were two types of timber structural system used in traditional Chinese architecture. The tailiang system was used in buildings and houses in northern China. A tailiang beam-column network is defined by the width of the building; the main beam is supported by the principal column, and short pillars rest on the main beam, forming the frame that supports the big roof. In a chuandou structure, the columns are set along the wide sides of the building, and roof purlins rest on the tops of columns directly. The columns are connected by crossbeams, forming a beam-column framework, and each frame is connected by crossbeams. Compared with tailiang structure, chuangdou structure is lighter and uses materials more economically. The diameter of a chuandou structural column is usually 20 to 30 cm, and that of cross-beam is 6 by 12 cm, or 10 by 20 cm. Cf. Dunzhen Liu, Zhongguo Gudai Jianzhu Shi 中国古代建筑史 (The History of Chinese Traditional Architecture) (Beijing: Zhingguo Jianzhu Gongye Press, 1980); Binjian Ma, Zhongguo Gujianzu Muzuo Yingzao Jishu 中国古建筑木作营造技术 (The Techniques of Timber Structure in Chinese Traditional Architecture) (Beijing: Kexue Press, 1991); and Yuhuan Zhang et al., eds., Zhongguo Gudai Jianzhu Jishushi 中国古代建筑技术史 (The Techniques of Chinese Traditional Architecture) (Beijing: Kexue Press, 2000).

The Lu Ban Jing, "Classic of Lu Ban," is a carpenter's manual compiled in the fifteenth century on the basis of materials dating from the Song and Yuan Dynasty. It is named for Lu Ban, a master craftsman of the fifth century BC who later came to be considered the patron saint of carpenters and other building workers. The Lu Ban Jing was considered to be full of ritual meaning and loaded with magical potency. Large sections of the book are concerned with ritual and magic, but more than half of its contents deal with the technical aspects of house building and the construction of furniture and implements. See Klaas Ruitenbeek, Carpentry and Building in Late Imperial China: A Study of The Fifteenth-Century Carpenter's Manual Lu Ban Jing (Leiden, New York and Cologne: E. J. Brill, 1996), 179.

Author's interview with Yang Shanren in 2004.

The whole story of a house's construction was told to the author by Yang Shanren in the summer of 2004. Also see Yu Dazhong, Dongzhu Minju 侗族民居 (The Dwellings of the Dong) (Guiyang: Huaxia Wenhua Yishu Press, 2001), 120–26.

Author's interview with Wu Shihua and Yang Shanren in Sanjiang County in 2004. Also see Ruitenbeek, Carpentry and Building, 155.

Author's interview with Yang Shanren in 2004. Also see Zhe Jun and Nian Haoxi, eds., Dongzu Minjian Wenhua Shenmeilun 侗族民间文化审美论 (Aesthetics of the Dong Folk Custom) (Nanning: Guanxi Renmen Press, 1994), 112–13.

Author's interview with Yang Shanren in 2004.

Author's interview with Wu Hao in August 2004.

Author's interview in the summer of 2004 with Yang Shanren and Yang Niankui in Maan Village at Sanjiang County, the second son of Yang Shanren, who used to be chosen to cut timbers for house building.

See Peter Blundell Jones and Xuemei Li, "What Can a Bridge Be? The Wind and Rain Bridges of the Dong," Journal of Architecture 13, no. 5 (2008), 565–84. The bridge model was made by the Dong carpenter Yang Shiyu in 2001 for the new drum tower of Sanjiang County.

Quotation from interview with Wu Hao in Liuzhou, August 2004. Author's translation.

Ibid.

Author's interview with Wu Shihua in the summer of 2004.

Yu, Dongzhu Minju, 121. All passages are author's translation.

Maoshi 卯时 is 6 a.m. and is associated with the season spring on the Fengshui compass.

Author's interview with Wu Hao in 2004.

Quotations from Yu, Dongzhu Minju, 127.

Ibid.

Ibid., 128–29.

Ibid., 129–30.

Fieldwork by the author at the Yang house at Sanjiang County in 2004.

Telephone interview with Wu Shihua in Nanning, August 2004, author's translation.

Telephone interview with Wu Shihua in Nanning, August 2004, author's translation.

Author's interview with Wu Shihua in 2004.

Arnold Van Gennep, The Rites of Passage, trans. Monika B. Vizedom and Gabrielle L. Caffee (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960).

Tony Atkin and Joseph Rykwert, Structure and Meaning in Human Settlements (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 2005).

Personal communication with Professor Peter Blundell Jones, Sheffield University, 2006.

See Van Gennep, Rites of Passage; Victor Witter Turner, The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-structure (New York: Aldine De Gruyter, 1969); and Maurice Bloch, Prey into Hunter: The Politics of Religious Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).