This Chen Clan Academy was organized by two Chinese-Americans who wanted Chen clan students to have an academy in Guangzhou. It was built just before the end of the Qing era between 1890 and 1894. It became a museum in 1957, and the remaining artwork and traditional architecture and decorations were deemed to be so valuable that in 1988 it was named a National Key Cultural Heritage Protection Unit by the State Council of China. It now is a Chinese folk art museum. It is one of Guangzhou's best tourist highlights.
Chen Ancestral Shrine (陈家祠, Chén Jiā Cí) is also called the Chen Clan Academy. The building has been turned into a folk museum called the Guangdong Folk Art Museum. Two Chinese-Americans who had returned to Guangzhou organized the support for building a place where students in the Chen clan spread all over Guangdong and other places could reside and train for the Confucian Imperial Examinations. These examinations were very difficult, but the academy and dormitories were built at a time when the Qing Dynasty government was failing, and students who passed the exam perhaps knew that they had dim prospects for a stable official position.
It is said that money was contributed by 72 families of the big Chen clan, and that the two Chinese Americans who were named Chen Ruinan and Chen Zhaonan finished the impressive structure in 1894. It has a very traditional look to it, and it is quite big. It is interesting that the structure was built so traditionally at a time when buildings going up in commercial cities in the south often had a Western architectural style. There are intricate wood carvings inside and polished wooden rafters. The building was also a shrine to worship the Chen clan ancestors, and it looks much like a southern Chinese temple shrine.
In 1905, the imperial examination system was abolished, and the building was turned into a practical school for Chen clan students. In 1957, the government of the city of Guangzhou took it under their care. In 1959, the building became a folk art museum. Now, it houses some folk arts and crafts gallery, and is now a museum called the Guangdong Folk Art Museum. It isn't clear how much of the artwork and decorations are original and how much is recent.
The Chen Ancestral is a traditional Chinese academic complex. It is kind of amazing for the intricate artwork that went into everything from the roof that has 11 ceramic ridge crests that look like dragons lying on the roof to the iron castings of the stone handrails. The iron castings are engraved with delicate designs and pictures. There are four different themes to the pictures called "Qilin and the Phoenix," "Dragons and Orbs", "The Three Goats", and "Goldfish in a Pond". A lot of highly skilled craftsmen must have put a lot of work into the artwork and decorations. The building probably cost a lot to build.
The building covers 13,200 square meters or 142,000 square feet. It has 19 buildings with nine halls and six courtyards that are connected in a symmetric pattern. On the main axis are the Main Entrance (头门), the Assembly Hall, and the Rear Hall (后堂). These three main buildings are separated by courtyards.
To the east of the Chen Clan Academy is a garden park area that was made in 1999. It measures about 171,550 square meters or 42.4 acres. There is an underground mall there on Kangwang Road for some shopping and a subway station.
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