Beijing, September 2016 – The Liu Ancestral Hall Preservation and Renovation Project in China’s southeast Guizhou Province recently won an Honorable Mention in the 2016 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Awards for Cultural Heritage Conservation. The restoration of this historic building was part of the World Bank-funded Guizhou Cultural and Natural Heritage Protection and Development Project.
The Liu Ancestral Hall is located in Sanmentang Village, Tianzhu County in eastern Guizhou. More than 98 percent of the county’s population is Dong and Miao ethnic minorities. Sanmentang Village on the north shore of the Qingshui River is one of the oldest Dong villages in the area.
The Liu Ancestral Hall was built by the Liu family in 1875 during the Qing dynasty, dedicated to their ancestor Liu Wang, a heroic general under the Ming dynasty’s founder and first emperor Zhu Yuanzhang. It was expanded and renovated over time by later generations and used as a venue to worship ancestors, hold family meetings, and celebrate important occasions.
The historic building is a fusion of Chinese and Western architectural and decorative styles, due to the Southeast Asian influence. The Western-style facade of the Liu Ancestral Hall consists of an eagle with spread wings atop the main entrance, 44 mysterious Latin letters on the two stone columns, and two wall clocks with hands permanently pointing to the time of 9:02.
Inside, the building has kept the traditional wooden structure from the late Qing dynasty, decorated with elaborate sculptures and paintings, showing a wide range of subjects such as historical figures, mystical animals, landscapes and plants. These represent the highest achievement of decorative art of ancestral halls in this area.
The old building was also witness to the booming timber trade during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. At that time, timber was transported down the Qingshui River, and merchants often parked their boats at the docks near the Sanmengtang Village for a rest. The Liu Ancestral Hall also has features that reflect the traditions and customs of the Dong nationality.
However, time and the weather have taken their toll on the Liu Ancestral Hall. Environmental factors such as temperature, light and humidity caused deterioration of the architecture, resulting in peeling walls, broken roof tiles, missing parts, and cracks in the masonry and wood structure. The problem was aggravated by lack of maintenance, as the building has lost its original function since the 1950s. In more recent years, the growing number of tourists also had some disturbing effect on the historic building.