One of the many attractions for visitors to the Huizhou region of China (modern day Huangshan and Xuancheng cities in Anhui and Wuyuan County in Jiangxi) is the beautiful architecture. The white walls and dark grey tiles have become famous around the world as typically Chinese. One distinctive feature of Huizhou architecture is the stepped roof, known in Chinese as as 马头墙 (Mǎ tóu qiáng): horse head wall.
Read on to find out more!
They have an important function
Horse head walls were built to help stop the spread of fires, as they are higher than the roof and serve as a barrier between one house and the next.
They got their name due to their resemblance to horse heads…
… especially in the sense of a group of galloping horses, but they are also known as fire walls, wind and fire walls, or fire prevention walls.
The name ‘horse head wall’ has a very positive association
Horses are auspicious animals in China, symbolising power and wealth. They were used in the military and only extremely wealthy people were able to afford them.
Horse head walls can come in various different styles
For example, at the point of each ‘head’ there could be a ‘golden seal’ design (a seal being the official stamp of the emperor or high-ranking official), or a chao hu 朝笏 (a kind of bamboo board used in rituals and ceremonies). The roof type used would have indicated the status of the owner. For example, if the horse head wall was topped with a chao hu it showed that the owner hoped to pass the imperial examination.
A horse head wall generally has two or three ‘steps’
For larger houses, because of the front and rear halls, the number of steps can be as many as five, which is a symbol of wealth and honor known as the Five Sacred Mountains (五岳朝天 Wǔyuè cháotiān).
Have you ever seen horse head walls? Let us know in the comments below. We would love to hear your thoughts and insights on traditional Chinese culture!
– Cultural Keys
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Cultural Keys helps you access, understand and enjoy life in China through traditional Chinese culture. Click here to read more about Cultural Keys and what we can do for you, your school, company or group to help you get more out of your time in China!