Baojiatun Watermill in Guizhou Province

Professor Qingzhou Wu

South China University of Technology, School of Architecture

No. 381, Wushan Road, Tianhe District, Guangzhou

Guizhou Province, China
2011 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation, Award of Excellence

The Heritage Conservation Practical Case: Baojiatun Watermill

In the north-east of An'shun town, Guizhou province, there is an ancient village. It is called "Baojiatun" because more than 90% residents share one family name "Bao". Baojiatun has a history of more than 600 years since the Ming Dynasty.

In the year 1368, ZHU Yuanzhang the emperor sent his troops to invade Guizhou province. The troops occupied everywhere they conquered for supply and logistics needs. Bao Fubao, the leader of one troop, chose where Baojiatun current locates as his garrison station. After the war, they started farming, multiplied and lived there; and that is the origin of Baojiatun. Thus, their architectures and costumes reflect obvious traditional style of Ming Dynasty.

As soon as Bao Fubao chose the place for his troop, he brought rich knowledge and experience of water conservancy from his hometown (South of Anhui). When Baojiatun was gradually being formed in the old ages, the ancestors built a dam to store floodwater for irrigating crops, and to overflow for flood discharge as well. A systemic water conservancy work was established gradually. By fully considering the local condition, the work was designed with a "fish-mouth dividing dike" that created a a new canal (1.33 kilometers) to separate the upper river into two, and formed several circuitous sub-canals, 5 diversion dams and 5 approach channels could irrigate all cropland (30 km2) in different elevation Later, 6 mills driven by water energy for grinding grain were built next to the 6 dams.

But owning to the impacts of the various social changes and the misuses, most mills were seriously damaged while only one survived and is still capable of working. The damages are mainly the structure parts, including the roof (broken), the west wall (collapsed), the windows and doors. It creates unsafe condition for the ordinary use of the mill.

In order to preserve the last watermill as a witness of Baojiatun''s past glory, the restoration project was initiated in 2008. The object of the project is the only mill which is still in use now. It is the 1 of 6 which is the nearest to the village, with the longest history and best quality, linked the man-made canal and the entrance of the village.

The reason why selected the mill is because it is the key part of the whole system in Baojiatun water facilities.

From a historic point of view, the mill keeps the original part of the water facilities built in the history, which is still functional. The restoration makes the culture of using nature resources to be the energy of the daily life. The fallen water caused by the dam drives the roller in the mill for grilling grain. The traditional sustainable philosophy is simple but very efficient.

From an architectural point of view, the mill keeps the vernacular tectonic methods and materials. The local people can still work properly to do the restoration project. Also the professional designers help to instruct and record the progress of the project.

From a social point of view, after 600 year's mutual adaptation, the water conservancy facilities have been well harmonized with the local environment and ecology. It helps the canal system for the second-phase of production.

From a disaster proof point of view, the mill connects the canals, and creates a whole system of dams, dykes and water gates. During the terrible draughty and flood disaster, there are no severe negative influences in Baojiatun thanks the water conservancy work. For the daily life, the capable coverage of the irrigation is 153.3 ha. It is very efficient by using the dams and canals. Yielding two crops a year is possible, like paddy, wheat, broad bean, etc.

The clients and the scholars set the conservation project's goals:
  • To display the history of Baojiatun and to establish the complete landscape system by restoring the watermill. The watermill is a main building in one of the 24 sight spots in the village, and it's on the left side of the only way for entering the village. Therefore, the restoration of the watermill is of great importance to the view and the history of the village. As it shows in the pictures, the villagers in Baojiatun sill keep the tradition of playing JUN NUO for the worship of the God of water, to pray for the harvest. The social culture and the man-made water facilities is one of the most important parts to show the local activities and spirits.
  • To show the integrity of the water conservancy facilities in Baojiatun. The watermill is an integral part of Baojiatun''s water conservancy system. There once were 6 watermills in history, but most of them were abandoned. In 3 of the remaining watermills, it is the only one that was well preserved and still functional.
  • To play a positive and exemplary role in the conservation of nearby villages . Nowadays, some historic villages are so enthusiastic about modernization that they pulled down decorated archways and widen the main streets to let more vehicles in, and even changed the folk houses into big pseudo-classic style buildings, which completely changed the historical villages'' original character. In comparison, this restoration project sticked to the principal of "rehabbing historical buildings as what they had been", which sets a silent example for the conservation work of neighbouring villages.
  • To ensure the sustainable use of the watermill. The watermill needs no fuel to drive, which conforms to current trend of energy-saving and low-carbon. As a result, the watermill should keep it's original function, and provide possibility of eco-tourism.
The project is mainly the repair of the main structure (chuandou system: A special kind of structure in traditional Chinese architecture), of the building envelops (including walls and the roof), of the water conservancy facilities, and of the decorations. The methodology of restoration is Safety first, Restore to what it was, Apply traditional technique, Use original and local material for construction as far as possible, Consider sustainability.

All the techniques adopted in this project are strictly in accordance with Baojiatun''s traditional crafts. Specific techniques are as following: Horizontally-sliced stone slabs, Eaves-even-wall, Roof slates, Zhuba-wall.

To show respect for the building''s character, the project also adopted only local materials and constructed strictly in accordance with traditional techniques. Any new elements or modern technical solutions are excluded. Only the following appropriate materials are used during the construction.
  • Timber: Used in structure and some partitions. Specific techniques are as follows: clean dust out first, then polish with sandpaper, and at last brush over with anticorrosive tung-oil.
  • Slates: Used for roof. Keep slates'' irregular shapes and overlap them as the way fish scales fit together.
  • Stones: Used in walls and the plinth. New stones need to be reworked into antiquated forms and bound together with lime mortar. Besides, dry-brick building can also be used in non-load bearing parts.
  • Bamboo splints cow dung: Used to constitute zhuba-wall which is placed in the end wall. To form this wall, bamboo splints are tightly weaved together to fit in its timber framework and lime mortar mixed with cow dung is smeared on surface as plastering.

By the efforts of the experts together with the villagers, the mill was successfully restored in the year 2009. In the project, keeping and returning to its original appearance and function was placed as a high priority. For that, traditional techniques and local materials were used. Unsafe impacts were also eliminated by the restoration.

From 2009 to 2010, the mill and the surrounding water facilities facing the extreme droughty weather and successfully offer the village an efficient irrigation and production system. Furthermore, the potential ecological tourism may increase the village income to well protect the legacy and the traditional culture.

After the project on conservation, Baojiatun has successfully applied for the province-listed historic and cultural village. The application of the state-listed historic and cultural village was approved in 2010. The ancient water conservancy in Baojiatun has applied for the 7th important cultural relic sites under state level protection and received high opinions from scholars. The restoration method of keeping them as what they are plays a positive and exemplary role in the conservation of nearby villages.


Browse by year

Browse by category

Browse by country

View all