Moving House: Preserving Huizhou’s Vernacular Architecture
An Interview with Nancy Berliner
In 1996, art historian Nancy Berliner, working with the Peabody Essex Museum, purchased a vacant Qing dynasty merchant’s house from the Huizhou region of China and, piece by piece, moved it to the United States to be meticulously reconstructed at the museum in Massachusetts. Now, houses in the same graceful vernacular style are becoming collector’s items for China’s wealthy, who dismantle, relocate, and repurpose them, with little attention to their history. Experts like Berliner worry the trend endangers the identity of the Huizhou region, prompting them to call for better protection of the cultural heritage they feel should belong not just to a handful of collectors but to the Chinese people.
When, in 1996, art historian Nancy Berliner purchased a late Qing dynasty merchants’ house from Huangcun, a village in Anhui province, it was just one ordinary house among thousands like it in the picturesque Huizhou region of China. It took Berliner seven years to oversee the...