Gao, Yun (1996) On the Development of the Houses of the Dai Villagers and Aristocrats. Edinburgh Architecture Research (EAR), 23. pp. 50-64. ISSN 0140-5039

The Dai-Lue people, Chinese people of Tai ethnic origin, live in the Sipsong Panna Daii Nationality Autonomous Prefecture of the Yunnan Province. Sipsong Panna is also called Xishuangbanna in Chinese. The development of Dai architecture in Sipsong Panna is related to both Dai religions – Dai original religion and Theravada Buddhism – and the adoption by the Dai, of Han techniques from the Central Plain of China.

Theravada Buddhist beliefs were adopted as the basis of the world-view of the people throughout Southeast Asia in the period approximately between the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries. Thereafter, Buddhist temples were built in majority villages. Because the organisation al structure of the Sangha (the Buddhist order of monks) and the Dai feudal administration system were similar and closely connected, the temples and the houses of the Dai aristocracy used essentially the same structures to represent their positions in the social order. At the same time, an essential distinction existed between the houses of the villagers and those of the aristocracy. Han building techniques were first introduced to the houses of the aristocracy and the temples of Sipsong Panna at least in the Yuan dynasty (1271 – 1368 AD). These techniques were widely used in the villagers’ houses in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, perhaps even earlier, but resulted in structures which were different from those of the houses of the aristocracy.

Many aspects of the Dai people’s social life are reflected in their houses. Often, a change in social organisation appears to correspond to a change of house structure; it was, therefore, felt that a study of changes in land ownership, which is connected with Dai religious cosmology, would shed some light on the changes which occurred in Dai house structures. This article aims to discuss some transformations in the structure of the houses of the Dai people at the Sipsong Panna Prefecture of the Yunnan Province. I shall argue that houses have always been regarded as deeply significant structure, even though what the house is held to signify might have changed with time.

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