Caobian is a village of the Leung clan, located in Zhongshan prefecture. A school was built there in the 1920s with funds donated by villagers living overseas, including many living in Townsville and Cairns in Queensland, Australia. Today the school building is used as a community centre and a village office. One of the upstairs classrooms houses a museum containing historical documents and photographs that tell the story of the village’s history. The prominence of the school’s position facing the village square, the grandeur of its neo-classical hybrid façade, and its sheer size (until the late 20th century it was by far the largest building in the village) all testify to the importance of education to the villagers of the early 20th century and to their relatives overseas.
The upper level of the school, showing the interior courtyard
The two-storey school has an interior courtyard which would have allowed cool air to circulate to the classrooms which all open into the courtyard. There is a cupola on the roof of the school, topped by a flagpole. The school building was constructed using reinforced concrete, a technology that was becoming widespread in the Pearl River Delta by the 1920s and which had become a symbol of modernity. The floors, roof and pillars are of reinforced concrete, while the interior and exterior walls consist of brick covered with cement render and plaster. Like the multi-storey flat-roofed houses that had begun to appear in the villages of Zhongshan around this time, the school has a flat roof from which one can look down across the village.
The rooftop cupola. The railings below the cupola and around the courtyard well are all of reinforced concrete
The building’s fabric shows little sign of deterioration, except on the rooftop cupola and its railings where the iron reinforcing rods have rusted, causing the surrounding concrete to crack and spall. Also, in places the cement render layer is peeling off (exfoliating) from the exterior walls, leaving the underlying bricks exposed.
Exterior wall, showing exfoliating render
On the school’s front balcony a brass bell hangs from the ceiling. If the bell was an original feature of the school, in the past it would have been rung to mark out the intervals of school day. The sound of the school bell would have been one of the many ways in which modernity and overseas migration changed the village environment.
The front balcony, showing the school bell, and the reinforced concrete pillars and beams