In addition to all the merchant homes in Pingyao, the most successful families built compounds out of town. The best known of those is the Qiao Family Courtyard, Qiao Jia Dayuan.
Still fairly unknown to foreign visitors, the once-private complexes have only opened to the public in recent years. Following the filming of a number of movies such as “Raise the Red Lantern” by Zhang Yimou, and “Qiao’s Grand Courtyard”, the Qiao home has a much higher profile.
The first courtyard was started in 1755 by Qiao Guifa, who made his money selling tea and bean curd. Subsequent generations added additional courtyards, and it grew into the huge complex visible today.
The compound covers an area of 20,000sq meters, and has six courtyards containing over three hundred rooms.
Zombies and other annoyances
The place is popular with rural tour groups who’ve never seen a foreigner before, so the whole visit was punctuated with unfriendly stares, shouting, pointing, jeering and cat calls.
This trio below couldn’t see anything wrong with following me round for some time, taking photos and videos whilst scowling. When I later snapped a photo back at them they got even more irate and started throwing litter on the ground (…!?)
Another middle-aged tour group silenced their megaphone-wielding guide to point me out. As one they advanced unsmiling with their cameras outstretched and crying “Waiguoren, waiguoren” (foreigner, foreigner), like a bunch of zombies advancing on their victim chanting “Brains…brains”.
This was a bit much and I had nowhere to escape to so I asked them to stop, which they didn’t, but by their reaction you’d think I’d told them to “go f**k themselves”. Which was tempting. I was much politer and more accommodating when I could speak less Mandarin…
In most countries, this interest is passed off as curiosity and ignorance, and that’s often true, but in Shanxi it’s done in such an unfriendly fashion it’s hard to be polite.
It was about now we both decided we’d had enough of Shanxi and were ready to move on.
Qiao Family Courtyard Visitor Tips
The complex is easily reached by bus or taxi, and is probably slightly closer to Pingyao than Taiyuan
However you arrive, the reality is the 10-minute walk to the courtyard is lined with innumerable stalls selling a very narrow selection of goods. The exit path is similarly long and dull and drinks are only on sale in the car park.
Entrance is 72rmb and allow a couple of hours, if the fellow visitors don’t drive you away.