With a couple newly found hours to explore more of the Peabody, Joseph and I asked about the Chinese House all the tour guides talked about. The Yin Yu Tang house was almost booked for the day. The next opening wasn’t until almost 4pm. It was a little later than we wanted to be in Salem, but the timing would put us on the other side of rush hour, so that worked for our travel plans.
We got the tickets. And am I glad we did!
Yin Yu Tang Ancestral home was amazing!! Originally located in a mountain region of southeastern China, the two-story 200-year-old house was home to eight generations of the Huang family. It’s sixteen bedrooms and the common areas all opened to the main courtyard of the house, were for the Huang men and their spouses and children. Whole families lived in rooms that weren’t much bigger than a large master bedroom closet. The house was up for sale when one of the museum’s docents was there. The PEM bought the house. They dismantled it, piece-by-piece, tagged every piece and painstakingly reconstructed it in the PEM.
Because I’m so engaged in American history, and love walking through centuries-old houses, I sometimes forget that every country has homes that give historical context. The Yin Yu Tang house was built in 1800. It had no running water or electricity. Family members heated their rooms with hot bricks which they had to carry from a central location to their room.
Here’s one of the two big things that stands out in my mind: When a woman married into the family, she was expected to cook, clean, do laundry and everything else – including emptying the chamber pots. All I could think about was how my mother-in-law and I weren’t fond of each other. And she was mean. So the idea of having to empty her chamber pot made me so grateful that I live in the US and in a different time!
The other thing was the speaker that was in one of the common areas. It was put there at the beginning of the Mao Tse-Tung era. It blasted only Mao-approved news and commentary, could not be turned off or turned down, and ran 24/7. It’s purpose was not as much to inform or entertain but to erase “ideological impurities” – which was anything that didn’t support Mao’s communist ideology. When I heard that, all I could think about was how our politically correct society lends itself to the same goal.
After the fascinating tour of the house, we were so captivated by the place that we sat through two of the three films about the Chinese House. The documentary-style film about how the house was moved was amazing.
Here are a couple links that give you a good look at the Yin Yu Tang house:
We left the Peabody and Salem around 6pm and headed for Portland ME.