For this past year I tried to develop a friendship with William Halfpenny’s “Rural Architecture in the chinese Taste”. With this very last task, we were asked to reflect this past year and our relationship with our books. To be honest what I developed with this book was more like an acquaintanceship than a friendship. We have had our up’s and down’s but looking back I am happy with the experience. But let’s start from the beginning.
It all started when I was assigned this book with the very promising title “Rural Architecture in the Chinese Taste”. My expectations were to really get to know the ancient Chinese architecture from a perspective of a person who has dealt with the matter for a long time. Also I expected to get a better and deeper insight into the history and the background. But somehow I think I got tricked.
After acquiring some basic information I found that this book is basically a manual to build your own “rural Chinese architecture” in your backyard. The Halfpenny duo (written by the father and son team) created an instruction or pattern book, designed to assist those erecting chinese structures in regional areas. He provides you with “fourteen copper Plates together with full instructions to workmen, a near estimate of their charge, and hints where, with the most advantage, to be erected”. I think this short excerpt explains the concept pretty good. So what I was confronted with was neither a book about the deep history of Chinese architecture nor a insight of a true master of Chinese construction genius. I was holding a book written by a Englishman who never even had visited china!
Altough after holding the book in my own hands and scrolling through the pages I have to say that it is a beautifully illustrated book of many unbelievable exact drawings.
After all I think I had wrong expectations on this book. I went a little hard with my critique. Maybe I misunderstood the true value that it had back in the days when people did not have access to so many things like we do today.
Concluding I want to say that I think I now understand the importance of this book back in the days. I can imagine what value and variety you have brought into the lives of some people. I am glad that I have got the chance to meet you