Yin Yu Tang
“Yin Yu Tang” is the name of a house built 200 years ago in the small village of Huang Cun in southeastern China, approximately two hundred and fifty miles from the city of Shanghai. The owner, a prosperous merchant, was a member of a locally prominent family surnamed Huang. Their home village sits among the hills in the Huizhou region, long known for its enterprising merchants, imposing mountains, and distinctive architecture.
The name “Yin Yu Tang” has several meanings; one refers to the owner’s wish that this house would shelter his descendants far into the future. That wish was fulfilled. Yin Yu Tang was home to eight generations of the Huang family. At any one time, as many as thirty people, from three different generations, lived here—almost all women and children. The young men worked as merchants in cities a distance from the village to support their families. The journey to these cities was dangerous and the men lived there for extended periods of time, sometimes for as long as six years. In their absence, the women, children, and the elderly were the primary residents of the house. While caring for the younger and older generations, the women maintained the sixteen-bedroom home, farmed vegetables, and raised chickens and pigs.
The home appears now as it was when it was last occupied in the early 1980s. In 1996, the Huang family descendants, who were living in other towns, decided that no one from their family would be returning to live in their ancestral village. To preserve Yin Yu Tang, the Huang family gave their blessing to move the house to the United States, and eventually to the Peabody Essex Museum, as part of a cultural exchange project with the local government.
Yin Yu Tang was oriented in the village of Huang Cun according to the principles of the Chinese practice of feng shui to ensure a harmonious relationship with the landscape. Typically, Chinese homes face south, letting in sunlight and more yang, or masculine energy. Yin Yu Tang, however, was positioned facing to the north and towards the direction that the village stream flowed into the village, considered to symbolize prosperity, with the rolling hills behind. These geographical features made the unusual position of Yin Yu Tang more auspicious.