Chen Clan Academy
The Chen Clan Academy or Chen’s Ancestral Hall.
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Located right near the Chenjiaci Subway Station, in the western part of the city,, and with a floor space of 13,200 square meters in 19 buildings, the Chen Clan Academy is one of the famous historical sites typical of South China architecture. Built in 1636 in the late period of the Ming Dynasty with funds raised by the Chen families from 72 counties of Guangdong Province, It was a site for worship as well as a place for Chen children to stay while taking imperial examinations in Guangzhou. In the academy, the spacious halls interspaced by courtyards and connected by verandas are decorated with a good collection of beautiful and exquisite Guangdong folk arts and crafts. Stone carvings, brick-carvings, lime sculptures, wood-carvings and objects of iron casting can be found everywhere. Decorations of artistic wood-carvings are especially superb and exquisite. All carved out of wood, the four screens at the front entrance and the twelve big screens in its “Sage-Gathering Hall” appear magnificent and imposing, and can be rated as rare pieces of artistic wood-carvings. Beams and niches in the Academy are all decorated with delicate wood-carvings involving various interesting subjects. Wood-carvings of poems and pictures are mainly used to adorn the front-door walls, which seem to form a beautiful art gallery. Vivid in shape and life-like in appearance, the Shiwan ceramic figurines on the eaves are all made on themes taken from Chinese historical stories. This noted Ming-dynasty structure, once seriously damaged, has been renovated and restored to its original grandeur. It is the most complete and magnificent artistic structure in Guangdong Province still in existence.
After the abolition of the imperial examination in 1905, the Academy became the Chen Clan Industrial School. Later on it became the Liberal Arts and Normal School, the Guangdong Athletic Academy and a middle school, In 1957, the municipal government listed it as a cultural relic under protection. The State Council in 1988 listed it as a national relic under special preservation. The layout and architecture, that of a typical Academy of its day, remind the visitor of the dual function of the dual function of the mansion. The houses on either wing accommodated students preparing for exams or waiting for results. Yet the strictly symmetric layout and the grandiose style make it different from other academies in China. The axis-symmetric design is consistent with the traditional concept of “centering to be respected,” reflecting the authority of the Chen family’s ancestors and the purpose of bringing the clan. The rear building served as the ancestral hall, where there used to be more than 5,000 ancestral tablets on the high extended shrine. Large-scale ceremonies were held here every year, including the Lantern Festival sacrifice, the spring sacrifice and the autumn sacrifice. The family would come from across the province to celebrate. Buildings are interspaced by courtyards but connected with verandas, thus forming a magnificent complex of grand halls and broad gardens able to hold huge crowds. While the building structure reflects the origin and functions of the mansion, the Chen Clan Academy is best known for its architectural decorations, which not only show off the clan’s high level of 17th century folk arts and crafts. Each building is decorated inside and outside with vivid carvings in wood, brick or stone, ceramic and lime sculptures, iron castings and paintings. This illustrates the varied crafts of the region and era. On the 80-meter front wall of the academy, six enormous brick carvings stand out. Precisely wall of the academy, six enormous brick carvings stand out. Precisely connected by engraved smaller bricks, the carvings depict flowers, phoenixes, and plots of folk stories. The carving skills are so deft that the flakes can show different colours of black, white, cyanic and gray as the sunlight changes throughout the day. Other brick carvings can be found on the tops of the walls, doors, and windows and under the eaves. Most of the estates’ carvings are wood. Four large partition screens of double-sided wood-carvings stand in the hall of the front buildings, depicting stories on each side. The bright, green front garden is visible through the partitions. Similar screens dot the estate’s halls and rooms. Enormous lime sculptures in the Chen Clan Academy are also notable and reflect important skills found is the province. The lime sculptures on the roofs and walls were the result of ingenious artwork. The hills and waters depicted follow the building’s form, while animals and flowers protrude from the walls. Red and greens abound. On the top of one wall are six pairs of unicorns, all in red with big round eyes, ready to pounce. As the Chinese word for bat sounds similar to the one for good luck, bats in lime carvings are very common, too. Among the most beautiful works is the ceramic sculpture atop the middle-row Talents-Gathering Hall. The piece stands at 27 meters long and 3 meters high, depicting historic stories and fairy tails with towers, pavilions, flowers, fruits, birds and beasts. The human figures have strong colours and simple profiles. Stone carvings coat the doorposts, corridor poles, railings, wall skirts, pillar bases and stairs. Stone carvings are commonly used in Guangdong’s folk architecture, and the Academy collects the best of them, too. These carvings often depict flowers, fruits and branch-entwined birds. The styling of pillar Stone bases reflects the exceptional Stone decoration in Guangdong Province. Most of the Stone bases in ancient China were formed to look steady, but Chen Clan Academy shows that since the Qing Dynasty the trend has been towards decorative, light, and corset-like pillar bases. They are different from the round shape of pillar bases in northern China because here they are octagonal. The visitor is understandably overwhelmed by the decorative art throughout the halls of the estate.