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Xiguan Mansions

Xiguan Mansions are folk residences typical of the Lingnan region. Commonly known as the "Old Great Houses", they were built at Xiguan (present-day Liwan District) by noble families and wealthy merchants in Guangzhou at the end of the Qing Dynasty. The architectural forms of the mansions emerged during the reigns of Emperors Tongzhi and Guangxu of the late Qing Dynasty (1862-1908), and were immensely popular in the mid- and late-1900s and the 1920s.

Xiguan Mansions are clustered around Fengyuan Road, Baohua Street, Duobao Street, and Duobao neighborhood. There were 800 such mansions at the turn of the Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China, but less than 100 have survived the rigors of time, and only 10 of them have been preserved in decent conditions.

Historically, the most famous Xiguan Mansions were Liang Zizheng's Mansion, located at 18 North Baoyuan Street, Deng Gongbao's Mansion on Duobao Road, and the Zhong family's garden on Baohua Road. Most of the magnificent mansions and gardens have disappeared, and the only famous mansion that remains today is the Xiaohuafang House (literally, "a small gaily-painted pleasure-boat house").

Located at the Lizhi Bay, the house was first built in the 28th year of the reign of Emperor Guangxu of the Qing Dynasty (1902). Shaped like a circular garden, the mansion was made of white granite, and its smooth and shiny walls were made of polished grey tiles from Dongguan. The mansion has rooms on the periphery and a lush garden in the middle, exuding a sense of elegance typical of Lingnan architecture. Its south-facing front gate stands on Sanlian Straight Street, while its north-facing back door is located on Fengyuan Street. The stone plaque above the front gate bears an inscription of the mansion's name in the calligraphy of Su Ruohu, a leading calligrapher of the Qing Dynasty.

Walking into the front gate, visitors will see an elaborate wooden and glass screen featuring ornate carvings. Behind the screen is the lobby, and in front of the screen is an east-west corridor. The corridor has a hemispherical pavilion, named "the Poetic Realm Pavilion". To the western side of the pavilion stands "the Boat Hall", shaped like a gaily-painted pleasure boat, hence the mansion's name. In the house, there is a wooden plaque bearing the inscription of the words "White Pond and Red Litchi Pond West" in the calligraphy of Ruan Yuan. The side of the mansion facing the Liwan Creek has blue etched glass windows. To the west side of the mansion stands a south-facing "family temple" (an ancestral hall).

Among the traditional Xiguan Mansions, scholar Li Wentian's mansion is the most distinctive. Located at Duobao neighborhood in Xiguan, this particular mansion dates back more than 100 years. It was originally a sizable hexangular house with a gross floor area of 3,800 square meters, and had a large lobby supported by four columns, but only its Scholar Book Pavilion remains today. The mansion originally comprised a main hall, side rooms, a lobby, an outer corridor, a study, and a lobby facing the courtyard. Standing at a secluded spot by the Duobao Creek, the house inspired awe. In addition to this house, Xiguan Mansions can still be found on Duobao Road, Fengyuan Road, and West Longjin Road. And this area has been designated by the Guangzhou Municipal Government as a historical neighborhood under protection.

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