“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.