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Honoring the past

Updated: Apr 8, 2022 By Yang Feiyue and Sun Ruisheng China Daily Print
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A view of Yanlou, a structure from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), on the Yanmen Pass, featuring a double-eaved gable-and-hip roof and surrounded by a winding corridor. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Family influence has laid solid foundations for Yang Guiting's career, and even helped him build it. Restoring ancient buildings, not just the brickwork or the window frames and lintels, but bringing back their sense of presence, of purpose, has been Yang's calling.

Yang, in his 70s, has played a key role in restoring the charm and glory of historical buildings in Daixian county, Xinzhou city, Shanxi province.

The county, which is home to more than 400 examples of immovable cultural heritage, was recognized as a national-level historical and cultural location by the State Council in 1994.

Daixian lies at the foot of the Yanmen Pass of the Great Wall, long known for its precarious geological conditions.

"The county was a place of strategic importance and has seen major construction projects since the Song Dynasty (960-1279)," says Li Peigen, a local culture scholar in Daixian.

For more than 1,000 years, mass military defense systems, ancient government officials' mansions, temples and distinctive folk houses have, at various points, been erected in the county, Li says.

It has thus nurtured a multitude of skilled craftsmen, especially carpenters and plasterers, who have dedicated themselves to the development and maintenance of those major projects.

Yang was born in 1948 into one of the most prominent carpentry families-with a history stretching back 40 generations in the trade. His family has left its mark on ancient architecture, from the prairies of the Inner Mongolia autonomous region to coastal cities in the east of the country.

At the age of 16, he accompanied his father around the county, rising with the lark and building houses for locals. From the basic use of a saw and an adze (similar to an axe), to the drawing of a floor plan with a ruler, Yang quickly acquired a solid grasp of his father's expertise and the features of those ancient buildings.

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