Ancient Chinese houses – Early China

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Chinese mudbrick house out in the country with a tile roof: Ancient Chinese houses

Ancient Chinese houses: Outside a typical Chinese house

How much house could you afford?

There were really two kinds of houses in ancient China. There were poor people’s houses (which is most of them).

And there were rich people’s houses (there were not very many of these).

A house in China built of mud-brick with a tile roof

Ancient Chinese houses: a typical Chinese house

Poor people’s houses

Poor people’s houses were small and made out of cheap materials. They generally had just one room, made of rammed earth (like mudbrick). The roof was usually made of thatch.
These houses were a lot like poor people’s houses in West Asia or Egypt or Greece, India, or Africa.

 (Read more about the history of houses)

clay model of a two-story house with a small courtyard: Ancient Chinese houses

Ancient Chinese houses: a  model of a two-story house (China, ca. 100 AD)

Rich people’s houses

Rich people’s houses were much bigger. They had a high wall made of rammed earth all the way around them, with no windows and just one door, to keep the family safe.

As soon as you went through this door, you would see another short wall in front of you. This was the screen wall. The screen wall kept people from seeing into your courtyard as they walked by, for privacy.

All around the courtyard there were rooms. In a very fancy house there were two storys, and there was a balcony on the inside of the upper story overlooking the courtyard.

Bathrooms in Chinese houses

Chinese clay model of a pigsty

A Han Dynasty outhouse-pigsty model (Art Institute of Chicago)

A lot of people had no bathroom at all in their house. They just went outside, or they used a clay chamber pot inside the house. Someone would carry the chamber pot outside to empty it later.

(Read more about chamber pots)

But some Chinese houses had a pig sty – a place to keep pigs – built in the corner of the courtyard. Over the top of the pig sty, they built a latrine with a hole in it.

(More about Chinese bathrooms)

So if you went to the bathroom in the latrine, the poop would fall down through the hole to the pigs. In China, pigs ate people’s poop to get fat. That kept food from being wasted, but sometimes it spread dysentery and cholera and typhoid.

Inside the Chinese house
More Chinese Architecture

Want another source? Read this University of Washington article about houses in China

Bibliography and further reading about ancient Chinese architecture:

Chinese food
More about Chinese families
Chinese schools
Ancient China Home

By |2018-05-17T13:43:29+00:00June 4th, 2017|Architecture, China|6 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. Ancient Chinese houses – Early China. Study Guides, June 4, 2017. Web. August 17, 2018.

About the Author:

Dr. Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Facebook, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.


  1. Will May 25, 2018 at 5:52 pm - Reply

    great website I found this really helpful for my Assignment on Ancient Chinese culture and lifestyle. Keep up the good work!

    • Karen Carr May 25, 2018 at 5:59 pm

      Wow, that’s great, Will! Thanks for letting us know. We will keep writing articles!

  2. Jake May 17, 2018 at 2:45 am - Reply

    What was Chinese houses like before and after the opium trades with Britain

    • Karen Carr May 17, 2018 at 8:38 am

      Hi Jake! If the Opium Wars had an effect on what kind of houses people in China lived in, I don’t know about it. You can read more about the Opium Wars here (trade isn’t what I would call it, exactly):

  3. Dan April 20, 2018 at 1:39 pm - Reply

    not helpful needs more informaton

    • Karen Carr April 20, 2018 at 3:22 pm

      What information were you looking for? I’d be happy to answer your questions, Dan.

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