Huizhou society evolved from Dongyue to Shanyue, from Xin’an to Huizhou. In the long course of history, there are many kinds of Huizhou customs with their own characteristics and forms. Some put the Huizhou customs into seven categories: social custom, material folk custom, etiquette custom, season custom, folk art, folk belief and folk literature. Others divide the Huizhou customs into nine types like living custom, diet custom, etiquette custom, season custom, folk game, folk song, folk tale, folk belief, and non-governmental organization. Still others classify the Huizhou custom into production custom, diet custom, garment custom, dwelling custom, travel customs, rural and urban folk custom, etiquette, marriage custom, funeral custom, festival customs, folk recreation, folk belief, folk literature and folklore. The following part is a brief introduction from some selected main contents.
Ancient Huizhou buildings have a unique traditional custom. “Fengshui” (Chinese Geomancy) is a major concern in rural house-building. The door is not supposed to face the chimney; otherwise a mirror and scissors should be hung on the lintel of the door to “avoid the evil spirit”. And the road is banned from facing up to the gate of one’s own house.
The frame of Huizhou residence is put up by the carpenters first. Then the roof and the walls are made. It is a big day to put up the frame. Relatives and friends come to congratulate. The prime beam is of great importance and is forbidden to fall to the ground in the process of cutting and carrying. Both ends of the beam are decorated with red ribbons and golden flowers when it is put up. One is stopped from crossing it. In front of it lay pig, fish, chicken and other offerings and a pair of lighted candles. The house owner burns the incense to pray first. Then the carpenters throw the five cereals, pray and offer sacrifice with wine. Finally, the prime beam is put up in the sound of firecrackers. All the people present cheer together. On the same day, all the tiles on the roof must be laid.
Under the eave of Huizhou residence and above the door and windows is a small eave called “short eave”. The vast majority of Huizhou residences has “Tianjing”(a kind of courtyard), which is in front of the hall of a three-room house, or in the middle of the hall of a four-room house. This design enable the house to admit enough light and fresh air, but its weakness lies in the coldness in winter and damp on rainy days. It is said that the design is related to Huizhou merchants, who are always afraid of the outflow of their wealth. As a result, they have a small yard built to enable the rainwater from the roof to flow inside instead of outside, namely “water in all directions merging into the hall”, just as every miller draws water to his own mill.
Huizhou residences are enclosed by high walls known as “fire-proof wall”. The first row of the interior structure consists of a front court behind the gate, Tianjing in the middle, and a hall in the back. There is a middle door separating the hall from one living room and two bedrooms. Behind them is another fire-proof wall with another Tianjing next to it and win-rooms on both sides. The second row is made up of two halls separated by one ridge between two Tianjing, including four bedrooms and two living rooms, so is the structure of the other rows.
Huizhou private gardens are built in line with its surroundings, and its layout is exquisite with pool water, rockery, trees, flower paths and pavilions, creating a little quiet world. The interior decoration is elegant generally with a central scroll painting and couplets on the central wall, four scrolls on the two side wooden walls, an old-fashioned square table and palace chairs. Exquisite wood carvings can be found everywhere, especially on the beams, windows and doors. The patterns of the two eave props are usually “pine and crane” on the left and “coconut tree and deer” on the right. Hollow carving is used to make it more vivid.
Huizhou private gardens are not as grand as palace gardens, but it is small and exquisite, primitively simple and elegant. Because the garden has many irregular sharp edges which block the view of an outsider, one can’t feel its interior magnificence without entering it.