Photography & art / March 2016 (Issue 31)

Rural Homes of China's Loess Plateau: Where Only Ghosts Live Now

by Shara K. Johnson


Yao are the traditional cave-home dwellings of peasants across the Loess Plateau. Many stand neglected and in ruins now as farmers can find easier and better paying jobs in the cities.



Beautifully carved windows were lined with translucent rice paper on the inside to let in light.



Niches were built into the stone exterior to burn incense and place other offerings to the gods.



The villagers who remain behind often use abandoned yao to temporarily store harvests.



Abandoned courtyard with multiple yao for an extended family.



Abandoned courtyard. The orientation of courtyards and their fences and gates within the hillside was determined by a feng shui master.



Very old yao, more primitive, abandoned long ago. They speak to centuries of habitation, in which people utilised earth as insulation for their homes.



Many personal items are left abandoned with the homes themselves. Shoes in particular, which the villagers never threw away while living there, can be found lying all around.



A small shed inside a family's courtyard; it may have sheltered their livestock at one point, but now it is littered with the tools they left behind.



Small rock-carved totem left sentinel in the earth above a decaying yao.


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