Yaodong: Exploring China’s Cave Houses
China is one of the world‘s power houses, it has one of the biggest economies in the world, and it has no equal in the tech world. China is huge, the growth of the country is amazing and its cities are a beauty to behold, but, China still has something that is barely seen even in the remotest parts of Africa. About 40 million Chinese people still live in caves.
It is the twenty first century, and to say that a particular set of people are cave men might make them seem a little backward. But, in the case of china, especially if you consider the fact that these cave dwellings are equipped with all the facilities you will find in a modern house.
The caves, also called Yaodong in Chinese, are, well, caves. Yes, caves dug into the sides of mountains. There are no euphemisms for these hollows that have been carved into homes. You usually will not need too many building materials to construct a cave. The caves are usually energy efficient, much more than the modern conventional homes, as the earth surrounding them serve as insulators, keeping out most of the cold during winter and also keeping the rooms cool during winter.
You should not think of living in one of these caves unless you are content with living without some amenities you should have in modern homes. Although, the caves usually have electricity and phone reception, but, if you have enough money, you can get plumbing, else, you will have to make do with a cave without portable water or sewage system.
Most of the caves‘ entrances are covered by woven blankets or rice papers which serve as makeshift doors. The caves are not so much of something to brag about, but the dwellers are content with the minimal lifestyle the caves offer, they also enjoy some natural bonuses like high ceilings.
Cave homes are most common on the Loess Plateau of China. And they are found in four provinces: Gansu, Henan, the Hui Autonomous regions of Ningxia, and Shanxi. There are, however, three different kinds of Yaodong homes.
The most common type of yaodong is the Cliffside yaodong. They are simply caves dug in the cliff of the loess slopes. The floors of Cliffside yaodong are rectangular with arched tops. There is usually an open space in front of the cave for lightening and ventilation.
The second type of yaodong is the Sunken Yaodong, usually dug around an excavation conducted at the surface, serving as interior courtyard, called yaodong-well. This kind of courtyard is often called the ‘pit yard‘ in most parts of western Henan.
The third type is the Hoop Yaodong, also known as the independent yaodong. It is the most valuable kind of cave home. This is because of the manner of its construction. A Hoop yaodong is usually built. Especially where there are no conditions for excavations of cave dwellings. The hoop yaodong is usually only modeled after the real cave dwellings.
The cave dwellings are not all beautiful and cheap though, there is always that Achilles hill. You are right to be afraid of natural disasters. For a country prone to landslides and earthquakes, it seems that the cave dwellers are toying with fire, especially when you remember that the death toll of about 810,000 from the 1556 Shaanxi earthquake was because it was centered on the Loess Plateau,
and it collapsed many yaodongs. But, disasters are everywhere, why border about something you cannot control. So, enjoy your cave while it lasts.
This is one of the most amazing sights of China. You may want to add this to one of the destinations on your visit list.