Bai Dwelling and Xizhou

The town of Xizhou lies on the bank of Lake Erhai around 18km from the old city and is a place to see good examples of Bai dwelling. Xizhou was an ancient military fortress and a commercial center before 1949 where 140 capitalist families lived. The families here were wealthy and their houses were built to the best standard of Bai architecture. Many compounds of Bai houses were built here. They show the unique characteristics of Bai architecture such as the eaves, pillars and painted roofs of the houses. There are houses open to the public such as the house of the Yan family.

A Bai house is usually built in the same way. There is one main room and two side rooms, one each side. Facing the main room is a screening or shining wall. When the sun sets in the evening time this wall catches the light and reflects it, illuminating the whole area and giving natural light for longer in the day. This design is known as Sanfang Yizhaobi.

The reason given for such an unusual development is a simple one – the wind. The new city is sometimes called "the city of wind" because of the gales that often blow in the area. The worst wind comes from the west so the houses were built facing east away from the setting sun and this caused the house to be in darkness for longer in the evenings.

The Bai people are very proud of their devotion to decorating their houses. The houses are adorned with woodcarvings and marble sculptures where special consideration is given to the areas around the doorways and windows and also colourful pictures and coloured cloths. The gateway is used to represent the owners and the decorations on it symbolise such things as their religion or occupation.