Miao Intangible Cultural Heritage —— Diaojiao Architecture

By Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

Museum of Ethnic Cultures, Minzu University of China

Laying stones on the
mountainside, raising timbers among the trees. Diaojiao architecture reflects
the Miao emphasis on harmony with nature, and seamlessly integrates these
mountain villages into the highland landscape

Diaojiao Architecture in the Mountain 1 by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Diaojiao Architecture in the Mountain 4 by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Wisdom of Mountain Life

The Diajiao buildings of the Miao are supremely practical in design, economizing both space and materials. Because they are built with joints instead of nails, nearly the entire building can be disassembled to be moved, or to recycle its materials into new structures. 

Diaojiao Architecture in the Mountain 3 by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Deep in the Leigong and Yueliang mountain ranges of southeastern Guizhou, Miao villages with row upon row of wooden houses, rise above terraced fields and leafy ravines.

Profile of the Diaojiao Architecture by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

The architecture of these mountain-top villages, has adapted to the rocky soil and damp weather.

Profile of the Diaojiao Architecture by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

On these steep, foggy hillsides it is dangerous to dig foundations, and brick buildings grow soggy and unlivable in the torrential rains. The Miao style “Diaojiao” houses solve these problems.

Profile of the Diaojiao Architecture by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

In a three story home, the lower level is for livestock, People live on the second floor, and the third is storage.

Mortise and Tenon by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

The house is built using “Chuandou” post-and-lintel construction, securing heavy fir beams with interlocking joints rather than nails.

Corridor, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Colored “Beauty’s Railing”, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

The balconies of the Miao diaojiao houses are enclosed by a bench with a curved back that also serves as a railing, called ghab xil in Miao. Because women often sit here to do embroidery, it is colloquially known as the “beauty’s railing”.

Beauty’s Railing, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

In fact, the ghab xil is a multipurpose balcony where people relax after a day of working in the fields, enjoying the cool air and striking view, telling Miao folktales and singing traditional folksongs. During festivals, this is also where mothers will help their daughters put on their silver jewelry.

Wooden Ox Horn on the Door Frame, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

The wooden ox horn on the door frame is an auspicious decoration for keeping out bad spirits.

Doorknob in the Shape of Ox Horn, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

Inside of the Diaojiao Architecture under Construction by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Inside

Boards of Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata), Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

The wooden structure is made from Chinese fir (Cunninghamia lanceolata), which, once dried, is light enough to carry great distances.

Instruction of the Diaojiao Architecture, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

During the great migrations of Miao history, a house could be disassembled and carried to a new site, then reassembled in a day or two, creating entire villages overnight.

Smoothing a Board with a Long Hand Plane, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Smoothing a Board with a Short Hand Plane, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Boards Ready for Use, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Fireplace in the Main Room, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

The second floor is devoted to daily life. It is normally made up of several bedrooms arranged around a central living room. It is taboo for non-family members to enter the bedrooms, but guests may sit in the main room, which is spacious with high ceilings. In the middle is a fireplace, around which families normally eat.

Ceramic Flower on the Floor, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

This light and airy space is where they come to relax after a long day of hard work, and often they end up singing and dancing late into the night.

Chiseling (profile) by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Carpentry

Skilled Miao carpenters build these houses without blueprints, using only simple tools. They begin by digging a two-tiered foundation on the hill side. On the lower level they sink pilars that will support the overhanging upper floors. 

Carpenter 1, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Carpenter 2, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Toolbox, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

Basically all the tools needed to build a Diaojiao building can fit in this small iron box.

Chisels, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

Chisels

Unloading the Wood, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Getting off the Gnarls, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Getting off the Gnarls in Cooperation, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Smoothing the Wood (feature), Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Smoothing the Wood in Cooperation, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Ink Line, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Drawing the Line with Carpenter's Steel Square, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Drawing the Line with Ink Line 2, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Drawing the Line with Ink Line 3, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Measuring the Line, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Sawing the Wood, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

Chiseling (front) by Austin KramerOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Chiseling (profile), Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Ax and Chisel, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Carpenter's "Transcript"-- Pig's Jawbone, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

Every time the carpenter finishes a Diaojiao building, the owner's family presents a pig's head as a token of gratitude. The carpenter keeps the jawbones and display them on the door. As a result, these jawbones of pigs are the carpenter's "transcript", them keep record of the carpenter's work and show if he is good at his job.

Building up the Diaojiao Architecture 1 by Shi KaibaoOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

Building up the Diaojiao Architecture

Carpenters making all the pillars and boards is only the first step, putting them together is an important event not only for the family but also for the village usually during the Spring Festival.

Ritual 1 by Shi KaibaoOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

A ritual is performed before work starts.

Ritual 2 by Shi KaibaoOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

The offerings include the Four Treasures of the Study (writing brush, Chinese ink, paper and ink stone) representing good education of the family, yellow papers which symbolize money, calendars, grains and carpenter's tools.

Carrying the Major Beam by Shi KaibaoOriginal Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/

The men who care the beam are all brothers of the wife.

Building up the Diaojiao Architecture 2, Shi Kaibao, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

All the villagers bring their good wishes for the family and the new Diaojiao building along with gifts. Almost every man of the village come to help putting up the building.

Building up the Diaojiao Architecture 4, Shi Kaibao, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

Every Diaojiao building is a group effort of the village.

Building up the Diaojiao Architecture 3, Shi Kaibao, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more
Diaojiao Architecture in the Mountain 5, Austin Kramer, Original Source: http://bwg.muc.edu.cn/
Show lessRead more

The Miao has a long history of agriculture, fields for farming are precious in the mountains. The Diaojiao Architecture is a economical but multi-functional housing which saves a great amount of space for farming.

Credits: Story

In Collaboration with Riverbend Academy of Hmongology, Guizhou, China

--- Exhibition Crew ---

Culture Consultants: Yang Peide, An Hong
Project Coordinator: Cecilia Xiong
Exhibition Curator: Lin Wen (linwen@muc.edu.cn)
Chief Photographer: Austin Kramer
Other Photographers: Huang Xiaohai, Shi Kaibao, Lin Wen
Content Writer: Lin Wen
Translator: Austin Kramer, Li Yi, Liu Qing, Lin Wen
Proofreader: Austin Kramer
Video Clip Editor: Lin Wen

--- Mini Documentary Film Crew ---

Director: Lu Ying
Assistant Director: Zhang Te
Video Photographer: Zhi Yuehui, Zhang Te, Ji Xiang
Film Editor: Lu Ying, Zhi Yuehui, Suiwu Changjun
Script Writer: Yang Peide
Script Editor: Lin Wen
Color Adjust: Zhong Rujie, Zhi Yuehui
Music: Audio Jungle
Recording: Chenguang Recording Studio

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
Explore more
Google apps