Old Villas for a Century, a Glimpse of Beidaihe
Reporters: Wang Jiangang, Zhao Yongxin, Zhao Fengnian, Zhang Na, Lang Youfeng from Beidaihe TV channel
Introduction: In search of the treasure left by time and history. Welcome back to the serial report “I love my hometown - generous gifts from its history”. In the coastal area of Beidaihe, people can easily see lines of old villas among the trees. Their design, material and style are extraordinary. Today our reporter will show you these villas, their architecture and their histories.
Zhang Na: “On the front porch, I sat alone on a comfortable big chair. My naked chest, barefoot and messy hair were teased by the breeze from time to time.”. Xu Zhimo, a famous poet, wrote these verses during his vacation to Beidaihe in 1924. At the time, Beidaihe was already a holiday resort for Chinese and foreigners. They spent their free time between the beach and the villas.
Main text:The unforgettable Beidaihe villa groups were built at the end of the 19th century. In 1893, the British railway engineer Claude William Kinder, who built the Tianjin-Shanhaiguan Railway, discovered Beidaihe’s seaside with its clear sky, soft sand and calm tide. He widely publicized this paradise among foreigners in Beijing and Tianjin. He attracted many foreigners to build villas in Beidaihe for vacation homes. The "Miss Swiss House" built in 1897 is the most representative one.
Wang Xuegong, deputy director of the Beidaihe Cultural Relics Depository: Why do we call it “Miss Swiss House”? This villa is said to have been a birthday present from Joehee, the consul general of Switzerland in Tianjin, to his daughter. It seems that Joehee ran around all of Beidaihe before finally choosing this place.
With a building area of 1,065 square meters, it is one of the largest existing villas in Beidaihe. It is a European-style two-story granite building. It has two exterior three-sided cloisters with an open view and a separate garden.
Wang Xuegong, deputy director of the Beidaihe Cultural Relics Depository: This garden is quite distinctive. Joehee built it in order to comfort his homesick little daughter. It is said that in building this garden, Joehee planted some trees that are particulmaensar in Switzerland, which shows Joehee’s love for his daughter.
Like “Miss Swiss House”, most of the old villas in Beidaihe were built by foreigners, so the architectural style is mainly Western with Chinese elements, and the beach climate is fully considered. In the field of Chinese architecture, the architectural style of a Beidaihe Villa can be generally summarized as having “blue sky & green trees, a red roof & simple walls with a large cloister”.
Wang Xuegong, deputy director of the Beidaihe Cultural Relics Depository: “Red Roof” mainly refers to the roof of the villa which is covered with red lacquered iron tiles. The “simple walls” means most of the walls are built with rough stones. The "large cloister" means the villa's cloisters are particularly spacious.
Zhang Na: Why is a cloister included in the design of the villa?
Wang Xuegong, deputy director of the Beidaihe Cultural Relics Depository: Mainly for sightseeing and relaxation.
Zhang Na: Since most of the Beidaihe villas are built in a Western style, this villa is very different. It has many oriental features. You can see it has a wave-like double-layer roof and floor-to-ceiling Chinese windows. The most amazing feature is that there is not a single nail in the whole villa, which was completely made of wooden wedges.
Feng Shuhe, chairman of the Beidaihe District Folk Literature and Art Association, who has been studying the history and culture of the villa for many years, told us that this villa is unique, both architecturally speaking and historically speaking. A former guest of the villa is very famous in modern Chinese history: Mrs. He Xiangning, the wife of the democratic revolutionary activist Liao Zhongkai.
Feng Shuhe, chairman of the Beidaihe Folk Literature and Art Association: After the founding of the People's Republic of China, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China usually held meetings in Beidaihe, many of which were devoted to the study of the economy. Therefore, at that time, the Central Political Bureau invited many democratic parties and famous democrats to the meetings in Beidaihe, among which were He Xiangning and Shen Junru. So Mrs. He Xiangning stayed in this villa during the meetings. Therefore, many people call the villa He Xiangning Villa.
Just like Mrs He Xiangning, many famous people in modern Chinese history, such as Zhang Xueliang, Xu Shichang, have spent their holidays here and lived in these villas.
In the decades after the exploitation of Beidaihe, many Europeans and Americans, nobles and aristocrats, literati and writers came here, but since they were only passing through, they did not leave many signs to mark their stay. However, with the arrival of the famous architecture expert and industrialist, Zhu Qiqian, who served as the Prime Minister of Beiyang Government, the history of Beidaihe entered into a new stage. In 1927, Zhu Qiqian initiated the organization of the Beidaihe Seaside Public Welfare Association with local self-government functions, and he was elected as the president. From then on, Beidaihe, which was originally badly organized, had a unified plan.
Feng Shuhe, chairman of the Beidaihe Folk Literature and Art Association: The earliest roads ever built here were the Xijing Road and the Dongjing Road. At that time, the Dongjing road was a major road running through Beidaihe. Soon after they built Lianpeng Hospital (Lotus Hospital), Wanquan Primary School, which was later called Caochang Primary School. They also set up the post office, and built Lianhuashi (Lotuses and Stones) Park, which is now Lianfengshan Park.
Since then, although the size of the town of Beidaihe has continued to expand, the urban structure laid by Mr. Zhu has not changed much. In addition, the later urban planners and builders did not forget the original design of the villas and continued to demonstrate it in their architectures: red roofs and simple walls. Today the general view of Beidaihe is the combination of the red roofs and simple walls of the new and old buildings set against blue sky, blue sea, golden sand and green trees. All these combine to create a colourful, beautiful and poetic city.