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Architecture History Travel

Bao Chengfu: A Quiet Haven Amidst a Bustling Town

on
June 6, 2018

“Mr. Yan, the goods we shipped to Hong Kong have all arrived without a hitch, please rest assured. Per your orders, we have prepared the accommodations for our guests today.

Our front door is wide open, the lobby in our courtyard is ready, the fountain in the parking area has been turned on, all ready for our guests’ arrival at noon.

Some of the businessmen have already arrived and are at your father’s courtyard. Mr. Yang Pinxiang of the Bright Merchant Company will stop by later. I heard that he found some interesting items during his travels and will bring a package to you soon!

We’ve arranged for our guests to stay in our Western-style courtyard this evening. I will help them get settled in when they arrive.”

 

Who exactly is Mr. Yan? To find the answer, one must search in his hometown of Xizhou, explore courtyards both big and small, and talk to both rich merchants and commoners.

Yan Baocheng was the second son of the Yan Family, the wealthiest merchant family in Xizhou and the head of the “Four Big Merchant Families.” His courtyard, named Bao Chengfu, is located at No. 3 Fuchun Road.

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Bao Chengfu’s Western-style Courtyard Under the Warm Winter Sun

 

In ancient times, a well-known saying circulated around the Dali region: “Dali is poor, Xizhou is rich.” This was especially true between the end of the Qing Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic of China, when business in Xizhou thrived. The wealthiest four families (known as the “Four Big Merchant Families”) all had business operations in Shanghai, Wuhan, and Hong Kong. The wealthiest family, the Yans, operated the “Yong Chang Xiang” Corporation that encompassed a total of six chain stores abroad and over seventy domestic shops. Through these stores, they sold cotton, yarn, tea, silk, cloth, satin, gold, silver, foreign currency, medicine, and even automobiles in the southern reaches of China, as well as throughout Burma and India.

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Yong Chang Xiang Corporation’s Distribution Map

The Xizhou Merchant families were well-regarded in the community. Elderly villagers still remember that whenever they did not have enough food or needed money to fix up their homes, they could always get assistance from these wealthy families. Yan Baocheng’s life is an exemplar of what elderly members of the community would call a “good life.” After graduating from Yunnan University in Political Science and Law at 19 years old, Yan became the governor of Eryuan and Binchuan County. During his tenure as governor, he elected not to receive a salary and even gave his own resources to support local charities. After returning to Dali, he and his father donated money for the construction of the Xizhou Primary School, the Xizhou Cangyi Library, and the Xizhou Hospital, and he invested in the Xizhou Power Plant, the Xiaguan Power Company, and the maintenance of the Three Pagodas of Dali. After leaving politics, Yan Baocheng went into business and held many positions such as: Assistant Manager of Yong Chang Xiang Corporation, Acting Manager of India and Burma Operations, Dianfu Bank Branch Manager, and Acting Chairman of the Board of Xiaguan Yulong Power Company.

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Yan Zizhen (Head of the Yan Family) is in the exact middle of the first row. Second from the right is Yan Baocheng, his second son.

Bao Chengfu, the home of Yan Baocheng, is located in the center of Xizhou Town (a two-minute walk from the town square), next to his father’s courtyard (now the Yan Family Museum). Construction on Bao Chengfu began in 1928 but was not finished until 1937. Though built in the age of machine tools, the Yans chose to have Bao Chengfu build entirely by hand. Not only was it a technically-challenging project, Mr. Yan’s design required many imported materials including terrazzo from Britain for the façade and cement from Hong Kong via the Yunnan-Burma and Yunnan-Vietnam Railway.

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Birds-Eye of Bao Chengfu

Baochengfu’s main building is a L-shaped development which covers an area of 1 square acre and has Xizhou’s largest courtyards. The two courtyards on the northern side of the compound are designed with the traditional “Three Rooms and One Reflecting Wall” style. The third courtyard, a beautiful garden that is full of natural light and lined with trees, lies on the south side of the site, and is where Mr. Yan used to receive his guests. Taken as a whole, Bao Chengfu gives off an air of tranquility, tidiness, and lightheartedness.

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Bao Chengfu’s northernmost courtyard is the largest in Xizhou.

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Bougainvillea blooms almost year-round just outside Bao Chengfu’s second gate

After the founding of the People’s Republic of China (1949), Bao Chengfu has changed hands several times and the remnants of different eras remain visible. After the Yan family moved out in 1952, Zhouqiao Company (a division of the army in charge of building bridges during the Sino-Vietnamese War) moved into the Bao Chengfu property. While most old courtyards in Xizhou suffered serious damage during the Cultural Revolution, Bao Chengfu was spared because of the military presence.

Following the troops’ withdrawal, the local government turned Bao Chengfu into a cultural and recreational center that was furnished with both an arcade for the village children as well as a movie theater. From 2008 to 2014, Bao Chengfu has been used as a site for three-course tea ceremony performances as well as a jade antique shop. In 2014, the Lindens began renovating Bao Chengfu to transform it into a quiet haven amidst the bustling town.

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Times have changed but Bao Chengfu is still a place of rest

After nearly two years of renovation, the Linden Centre opened Bao Chengfu to the public. The Lindens restored Bao Chengfu to its original architectural style and kept as many historical traces as possible, such as the Yan family motto, a hand-carved lattice door, and the slogan, “One Heart for the Revolution,” that was left during the Cultural Revolution.

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Preserved Hand-carved Lattice Doors

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Over 80 Year-Old Stone Wall

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“One Heart For The Revolution” slogan from the Cultural Revolution period

 

Each of our fourteen rooms is unique. Bao Chengfu features a unique blend of public spaces and gardens as well as private retreats and rooms. Local antiques and stone carvings collected from all over China are thoughtfully placed around Bao Chengfu and have become a unique feature of our courtyard. In a way, Bao Chengfu has become its own little community: private courtyards for quiet reflection, public gardens and a café for a few friends to get together for a drink, as well as spacious public areas to host activities such as movie screenings, Bai dance performances, and musical acts.

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We kept the original structure of each room intact during renovation, which means each room is uniquely shaped and decorated.

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A reading room that was created out of patio space

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Our conference room, which can easily host 20 people, overlooks the original Western-style courtyard and beautiful garden

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Outside of our conference room is our third courtyard. At night, we often project films onto the white reflecting wall for the community and our guests

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Antiques everywhere!

“Where there is a busy town, you’ll find good food.” In addition to its grand architecture, Bao Chengfu offers a foodie paradise. In our garden, we’ve built a cooking school and have a full menu for our guests to choose from. The food experience starts in the morning, when we bring our guests to the morning market to pick up fresh ingredients before returning to Bao Chengfu to cook up some delicious local dishes. Don’t want to cook yourself? Not a problem – we offer Crossing Bridge Noodles that are cooked in a rich free-range chicken broth with Yunnan delicacies (simmered overnight) as well as a curated selection of light foods, desserts, coffee, teas, and both creative and classic cocktails.

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Guiding guests through local cuisine

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The bar at Bao Chengfu provides a large variety of drinks

The Linden Centre’s vision for Bao Chengfu is not only that it returns to its former status as a peaceful haven amidst a bustling village but also that guests are able to connect deeply with Xizhou’s culture through Bao Chengfu. Thanks to the close ties we’ve built with the local community over the past 10 years, we are able to give our guests an intimate look into the daily village life. Every morning, we take guests on a tour to Xizhou’s morning market, winding through old alleyways, introducing Xizhou’s history and Bai architecture, as well as visiting a local cheese-maker as well as a rice cake factory. Every Saturday afternoon, we host an English Corner for local elementary schoolchildren interested in practicing conversational English. Guests are welcome to join in the fun!

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We’re always looking for creative ways to learn at English Corner!

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The Yellow Wall of Bao Chengfu gives off a quiet and carefree feeling in the setting sun

 

Finally, welcome to Bao Chengfu!

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