Gao, Yun (2003) Houses of Dai Nationality in Yunnan, South China. Beijing University Press, Beijing, China. ISBN 7301065000

The aim of this work is to demonstrate how Dai vernacular architecture in South China developed within the context of an integrated traditional cultural system, despite the absorption of neighbouring cultural influences from Southeast Asia and the Han, and thereby contribute to an improved understanding of vernacular architecture. Besides considering the physical determinants, climatic constraints, and aesthetic meanings of the Dai vernacular architecture in South China, I try to demonstrate how “the house”, “social structure”, “kinship and marriage”, “politics”, “economics” and “religion” are ideologically integrated just as they are also inextricably bound together in concrete behaviour.
In the work, four related sections form the primary discussion of the Dai house. The first addresses Dai religious cosmology, which is a mixture of largely Theravada Buddhism and “animism”. By examining concepts of time, space and classification of spirits in the Dai cosmology, this part reveals how a traditional Dai house is constructed as part of an idealised order. In the second part, historical influences are taken into account to show how Dai houses in Sipsong Panna and Dehong, sharing identical social and climatic backgrounds, finally evolved into two different forms. The third part deals with the Dai social categorisation, which was largely reflected in the spatial arrangements of the houses. The social categorisation considered in this section includes both asymmetrical relationships within the household within a house, and the hierarchical relationship between the lower domestic unit, the village, and the higher level, the state. The final part considers the effects of modernisation on Dai houses. This section aims to show the tension between respect for local customs and calls for the abandonment of “old and backward ways” reflected in the Dai houses. At the same time, it is argued that the modern Dai house shares more common features in its spatial arrangement and structural system with Han vernacular houses than the houses of other Tai groups in Southeast Asia do.
It is argued that Dai vernacular architecture in these pre-industrial societies cannot be reduced to static, timeless object, but is varied and has been both cumulative and changing over time. This point addresses the more basic issue of the preservation of traditions within the modern world. In addition, the cultural and material constraints in pre-industrial societies must be understood in terms of the cultural logic of these societies, and not interpreted according to ideas which emerged from entirely different kinds of society.
This work has tried to provide comprehensive material about the houses of Dai people of South China and the bordering countries of Southeast Asia. This contribution is considered to be valuable because too little is known about the history of this architecture, and also because the fieldwork for this work has been conducted at a strategic time, when the Dai people are encountering the forces of modernisation, and are at the cross-roads of the confrontation of modernisation with their traditional culture, which is leading to new formulations and affirmations of their ethnic identity.
The framework and conceptual tools for the analysis of the house in this work derive from many anthropologists and architects. One contribution of this work may be to complement studies of the relationship between houses and societies in Southeast Asia.

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