Brief Introduction To The Former Residence Of Hu Xueyan
Hu Xueyan, whose personal name is Guangyong (1823-1885), is a native of Hangzhou yet his ancestral home originated in Jixi of Anhui Province. He worked as an apprentice in a private bank in Hangzhou in his early youth. And with the help of Wang Youling, cookware, the then military governor of Zhejiang Province, Hu set up Fukang Bank of his own. As he had rendered meritorious services to General Zuo Zongtang in cracking down civil rebellion, the imperial court conferred him the rank of governor and granted him to wear red-topped official hat and yellow mandarin jacket. In the prime of his prosperity, he managed to handle such lines as private banking, provisions, real estate, pawnbroking as well as the import and export of munitions and raw silk. Later, he founded the famous Huqingyu Chinese Medicine Pharmacy and became the richest merchant with the government-conferred official rank at that time.
The residence of Hu Xueyan was set up in 1872 (the eleventh year during Emperor Tong Zhi’s reign of the Qing Dynasty), costing a huge sum of money. It covers an area of 10.8 mu with the built-up area of 5,815 square meters. In 1899 (the twenty-fifth year during Emperor Guang Xu’s reign), the descendants of the Hu family sold this residence as mortgage to Wen Yu, assistant minister of Ministry of Penalty and grand secretary, to pay for their debts. Later, the possession of the house was transferred to the Jiang. The residence complex is composed of thirteen units, which can be divided into three sections. The structures along the main axis consist of Sedan Hall, Screen Hall, One-Hundred-Lion Tower (Main Hall) as well as the rear garden framed by Four-Sided Halls in the east and the west. Carrying on construction style and etiquette of traditional Chinese architecture, the residence complex is comparatively standard yet not entirely stereotyped, with some unsymmetrical variations in structural planning and components. The residential section lies in the eastern side of the residence, which is made up of a few naturally and tightly arranged courtyards by means of ingenious changes. The overt corridors and covert lanes in this section are dotted with ponds, rockery, pavilions, terraces and towers, which makes the section like a labyrinth. Zhiyuan Garden in the western section is the essence of gardens in the residence. Scenery with hills and waters is adopted as the theme of the garden so that the waters and space inter-infiltrate and appear partly separated or partly connected. With towers leaning against the hill on the higher side and halls standing by the ponds on the lower side, the natural and harmonious landscape forms a sharp contrast with rhythm. The rockery in Zhiyuan Garden is the largest existing artificial karst cave in China. Highlighted by local features, the whole garden is a typical example of gardens in Southeast China.
The construction craftsmanship is exquisite in brick-carving, woodcarving, stone-carving, lime carving and colored drawings. In particular, top-grade lumbers such as red sandalwood, sourwood, nanmu, ginkgo, hoop pine and Chinese beech were chosen as building materials in large quantities. The residence is an excellent structure of the late Qing Dynasty, which could be regarded as the first and the most luxurious one of the great Chinese merchant at the end of the Qing Dynasty.