Chinese architecture is one of the three greatest architectural
systems due to its superior architectural techniques, unique artistic
design and beautiful decorations. The main structure of traditional
Chinese architecture is made of wood. It has three structural systems
such as the beams-in –tiers structural system (Tai Liang Shi),
the column and tie-beam structural system (Chuan Dou Shi) and the
log-cabin structural system (Jing Gan Shi). The building is supported
by the wood frame work no by the outer walls and inner walls. The
beams, columns, lintels and joists are connected together in a complete
unit. So it is very stable. This kind of structures can satisfy
different needs of the various types of halls and pavilions. For
the inner and the outer walls can be varied depending on the practical
needs. It is also earthquake-proof because most parts of the wood
frame are joined by tenon and mortise and the connections are all
flexible. Some ancient buildings experienced many times of earthquake
but can still stand till today that is really a miracle of construction.
Wood is a natural material and it is easy to get and to process
that makes the construction easier. But wood lacks strength and
durability and it is also easy to rot and to catch fire. So wooden
structures can not last very long like brick structures and stones
Dou-gong The notable architectural components in
traditional Chinese architectures are “dougong” (wood brackets).
refers to the use in the frame of several layers of short bow-shaped
arcs called gong at the top of the columns where they meet the crossbeams.
The gong was cushioned with a block of wood called dou. Dou-gong
was used under the eaves to make the eaves out from the roof in
an overhang thus to reduce the span of the cross beams. It can transfer
the load of the roof from the beams to the vertical pillars. Dou-gong
can add to the magnificence of the buildings. Owing to hierarchical
restrictions in feudal society, the number of layers of Dou-gong
used in a building depends on the importance of that building. Dou-gong
appeared in 7th century BC, During the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD),
the form was fully developed. Not only the style became unified
but also the size was standardized. From the point of view of structural
mechanics, the Dou-gong structure is also highly resistant to earthquakes.
The layout of traditional
Chinese architectures was mainly the court yard style. This style
was the most common style of architecture used in building homes.
Si he yuan (quadrangle) was very popular residence in northern part
of China, which derived its name from its four buildings set on
four sides and enclosed a courtyard. Generally speaking, the building
in the north was called the “principle building” which was always
live by the senior generation. The buildings on the east and west
are called “side buildings” which were lived by the younger generations.
The entrance of the complex was always opened at the south east
corner. This layout indicated the feudal hierarchy and ethics in
China. For common people, their quadrangle usually was small but
for rich people and high ranking people, their residence could have
several courtyards in one line or flanked by the main courtyard.
Imperial palace architecture
China experienced a long time of feudal dynasties. The feudal emperors
were both material rulers and spiritual rulers. With their supreme
power they could mobilize the best architects and the nation’s
manpower and material to build their palaces.
So the imperial palaces in different times stood for the highest
level of architecture. The famous palace complex, Epanggong built
for Emperor Qinshihuang 2, 000 years ago was incredible big. Its
Front Palace covering 80,000 square meters could hold 10,000 people.
The Weiyanggong of the Western Han Dynasty had more than 40 palaces
within an outer wall of 11 kilometers. The Forbidden City, also
called the Imperial Palace, which was built during the reign of
the third Ming Emperor Yongle in 1421AD. It still stands intact
today. The Forbidden City covers an area of 720,000 square meters
and consists of more than 800 palaces and a lot of courtyards. It
is the biggest palace in the world. The main palace buildings stood
along the central axis of Beijing in order to emphasis the emperor’s
supreme power and dignity. The Throne Hall was built on a three-tier
marble terrace with the height of 35 meters from the ground. The
palace buildings for office or ceremonies in the front court were
huge and grandeur. Clusters of courtyards were built for the royal
family members to live. They emperor even built a private garden
in the rare palace area. In order achieve good Fengshui (auspicious
atmosphere) even an artificial river was built in the Forbidden
City and one artificial hill was piled behind it. For the decorations
of the Imperial, the palace walls were paint in red, the roofs were
cover by yellow glazed titles, on the eaves builders used mythical
animals’ statues to decorate the roof. Many lions’ statues were
placed in front of the palaces. The stone carvings with dragon motif
were widely used. Even the paintings, the highest level of painting
were applied. (Mainly dragon and phoenix, dragon is the symbol of
the emperor and phoenix is the symbol of empress.) Since ancient
Chinese believed number 9 was the supreme yang number (the luckiest
number) the number of the door studs was 9 by 9. Based on the same
reason, number or size concerning imperial architecture often equals
or multiples nine. The roofs of imperial palace were always lofty
with double eaves and four slopes, which could be used by the common
people in order to differentiate the social class.
Imperial Mausoleum Architecture
Imperial tombs can be regarded as the palaces after their death.
Guided by the traditional thought that “people should be treated
after death as they should be treated when alive”, Chinese
emperors no one exception attached great importance on building
their mausoleum. It was recorded that the tomb of the Emperor Qinshihuang
was built with palaces for a hundred officials, rooms contained
gems, and rivers of mercury were made. Whether it was true or not
was still uncovered. But according to the archeologists’ findings,
the tomb was considerably big and it was true a lot of clay soldiers
and horses were buried for the diseased emperor. The layout of the
imperial tombs also followed the principle that court was in front
and sleeping quarter was in back. Actually the sacrificial hall
for the emperor’s tomb was like the court and the burial chamber
was like the sleeping chamber. The sacred way was universal for
the emperor’s tomb and it is one important part of the royal mausoleum.
There were used to place big stone statues of mythical animals or
officials for safe guarding the way leading to the emperors’ tombs.
Religious structure Religion played an important
role in ancient time of China. For many dynasties, Chinese emperors
were Buddhists or Taoists. Many temples were built all over China.
The temples built under the imperial orders were splendid as palaces.
Buddhist Architecture Chinese Buddhist architecture
follows symmetric style strictly. Usually main buildings will be
set on the central axis, facing the south. Annexed structures will
be on the west and east flanks. Temple gate, Heavenly King Hall,
the Main Hall and Sutra Library successively stands on the axis.
Dorm, kitchen, dining hall, storehouse and antechamber usually cluster
on the right side while left side remains for the visitors.
Pagoda originated from India stupa which was used to bury the relics
of Buddha. When it was introduced in China, it became the main integrating
part of the Buddhist architecture, Later it combined traditional
Chinese architectural style, the pagoda with varied styles and strong
local flavors came into being. Roughly, there are four kinds of
pagodas in China such as the Multi-storey or Tower Pavilion Style
Pagoda, the Multi-eave Style Pagoda and Lama Style Pagoda and single-layer
tomb Pagoda. Now the highest pagoda existing stands 40 meters high
and enjoy a 1400-year lifespan after survival of several earthquakes.
Among the 3000 existed pagodas, there are all-timber pagoda, brick
pagoda, stone pagoda, bronze pagoda and iron pagoda. The shape of
the pagodas can be quadrangle, hexangle or octagonal.
The Other Buddhist architecture is grotto complex which is excavated
on cliff walls, usually huge projects and with exquisite engravings.
It came from India with Buddhism too and boomed during the Northern
and Southern dynasty. The famous Mogao Caves, Yungang Grottoes and
Longmen Grottoes were all carved then.
Taoist architecture includes various structures according to different
functions, categorized as palace for oblation and sacrifice, altar
for praying and offering, cubby for religious service, residence
for Taoist abbes and garden for visitors.
During the last period of the East Han Dynasty when Taoism was introduced,
Taoist ascetics mostly lived in huts and even caves in remote mountains
under guidance of their philosophy of nature.
Taoist architecture During the Jin dynasty and
the Northern and Southern Dynasties (265-589AD), Taoism experienced
reforms and was accepted by the rulers. Many Taoist temples were
set up in the capital under imperial orders. Taoist architecture
reached a rather large scale then.
Taoism reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty and the Song Dynasty.
Later Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism influenced each other, so
that certain structures in Buddhism and Confucianism architectures
were transformed into Taoism architecture. As a result, there remained
similarities in designing among the three systems.
Taoist architecture applies two architectural styles - traditional
style and Bagua style. In the former style, traditional architectural
layout, which is symmetric, will be applied. Main halls will be
set up on the central axis. Annexes like dining hall and accommodation
will be located at the back or the flank of the complex.
The second is the Bagua style in which all structures surround the
Danlu (stove to make pills of immortality) in the center according
to Bagua's position request. The center axis from the south to the
north is very long and structures flank the axis. The style reflects
Taoist philosophy that the human cosmos follows the natural cosmos
to integrate energy, qi and spirit. Most Taoist architectures resort
to nature topography to build towers, pavilions, lobbies and other
garden structural units, decorated with murals, sculptures and steles
to entertain people, fully interpreting Taoist philosophy of nature.
Gardens Architecture The ancient Chinese garden
originated in the Shang and Zhou dynasties, when monarchs began
to build parks for their own leisure and pleasure. During the Spring
and Autumn period and the Warring States period, it was a fashion
to build gardens. Until the Han dynasty private gardens appeared.
After the Jin, and Northern and Southern dynasties, private gardens
came into vogue as the rich and powerful sought to express their
sentiment in landscaping. During the Tang and Song dynasties, a
poetic touch was added to the layout and scenes of a garden, and
became a general feature. In the Qing dynasty, garden architecture
reached its peak. In the evolution, Chinese gardens have acquired
a set of unique traits and traditions. In one simple word, Chinese
gardens are artificial scenery style gardens on a limited space
to resemble a natural landscape view with hills, rivers, flowers
and trees. There are two types of traditional gardens in China which
are imperial gardens and private gardens.
Imperial gardens These gardens, usually spacious,
exquisite and grandiose, were built for royal families by thousands
people. The summer Palace in Beijing is the biggest imperial garden,
which was built in the Qing Dynasty.
Private gardens These gardens were usually built
in urban areas, neighbored with residences. Since land was limited
in cities private gardens were generally small and simple but delicate
and looked pretty. Most famous private gardens were situated in
Suzhou, Jiangsu. Actually they are mostly the homes of the officials
and rich merchants.
The construction of traditional Chinese gardens followed
1. Making good use
of the terrain. Water and mountain were very important factors should
be taken into consideration when building a garden. It is very common
to make a hill on the highest point and to dig a lake on the lower
2. Reasonable to arrange the scenery and buildings. Depending on
the function of the gardens, the scenery and functional buildings
must be arranged properly. A nice garden should have rich levels
of scenery. The scenery should be balanced also avoiding so dense
scenery in one area and so sparse in the other area. The scenery
and buildings should be in harmony which should give people a nice
3. The scenery and the style of buildings must be in varied changes.
Gardens, especially the imperial gardens should not be very formal
because it is a place to relax. So the style of the buildings should
be in different forms and the colors should be more amiable and
joyful. Generally speaking, the building like pavilion, terrace,
veranda near the water, pagoda, corridor, different shaped bridges,
different shaped windows and gates and temple should be built in
the imperial gardens. Gardens should be dotted with nice looking
stones and it should be planted with trees such as cypress tree,
and different flowers to crate natural scenery in different seasons.
4. Paintings and Chinese couplets are very necessary for the buildings
in the gardens in order to add the interest to scenery. Actually
a nice garden is a nice picture.
China Great Wall was also one architectural wonder in the world.
It is famous for its long history and massive length as well as
the unique structural style.
China Great Wall was also one architectural wonder
in the world. It is famous for its long history and massive lenght
as well as the unique structural style.
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