Chinese architecture refers to a style of architecture that has taken shape in Asia over the years. Over the centuries, the structural principles of Chinese architecture have remained largely unchanged, the main changes being on the decorative details. Since the Tang Dynasty, Chinese architecture has had a major influence on the architectural styles of Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.
Ancient Chinese architecture enjoys a long history and great achievements, and created many architectural miracles such as the Great Wall. In the process of its development, superior architectural techniques and artistic design were combined to make unique Chinese architecture be one of the three greatest architectural systems.
An ancient civilized nation and a great country on the East Asian continent, China possesses a vast territory covering 9.6 million sq. km. and a population accounting for over one-fifth of the world's total, 56nationalities and a recorded history of 3,OOO years, during which it has created a unique, outstanding traditional Chinese Culture. China's architectural art is a particularly beautiful branch in the tree of Chinese civilization.
Generally speaking, there were about seven main independent architectural systems in the ancient world, some of which had long been interrupted, or had not been widely circulated. Therefore their achievements and influence were relatively limited, such as ancient Egyptian, West Asian, Indian and American structures. Only Chinese, European and Islamic structures are considered to be the world's three major architectural systems. The Chinese and European structures continued over the longest period of time and spread over the widest area and therefore they gained more brilliant achievements.
Traditional Chinese buildings are always found in pairs or groups, whether they are residences, temples or palaces.
The siheyuan (courtyard house or quadrangle) in Beijing is the typical form of residenct in north china. It is a compound with houses around a square courtyard. The main house in the courty is occupied by the head of the family, and the junior members live in the wings on each side. This layout not only conforms to the feudal Chinese family moral principle of distinction between the older and younger, and male and female members. but also provides a quiet and private environment for family life. In the north, the land is vast and the population is not so large, and so the courtyards there are large, and the buildings one-storied; in the south-in Zhejiang, Anhui an Jiangxi provinces - there is comparatively little land for the large population, and so the courtyards are small, and the buildings two-storied and located on all four sides of the courtyard house. In the case of very large families, several tianjing courtyard house can be connected to make a large residence with several courtyards.
Temples and palaces also sometimes display this layout. In the Forbidden City in Beijing, there are nearly 1,000 halls of varied sizes which are all grouped around large or small courtyards.Of there courtyards, the biggest is in the Outer Palace. formed by the Taihemen(Gate of Supreme Harmony), the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Tirenge (Hall of Manifested Benevolence) and the Hongyige (Hall of Enhanced Righteousness). It has an area of over 30,000 sq m. In the Inner Palace in the rear section of the Forbidden City, the Six Eastern Palaces and the Six Western Palaces were the redidences of the imperial concubines, the empress and the empress dowager. They are all small-scale separate courtyards connected by lanes,and compose the largest palatial complex in the world.
In some mountain areas and other places with complicated landforms. structures or courtyards cannot be connected with each other regularly and symmetrcally. They can only be laid out according to the local topography. In the mountain ares in southeast Guizhou Province, the Miao and Dong peoples build their houses on wooden or bamboo stilts. Built according to the rise and fall of the landform and arranged in rows with the mountain contours, these houses compose one village after another in picturesque disorder.
In garden architecture, in order to create an environment with hills and waters of natural beauty in a limited space, structures are usually carefully separated and laid irregularly to make variable spaces and different land scapes. Although occasionally grouped around courtyards, the pavilions,terraces, towers and halls are often separate scenes with a tenuous connection between them.
In both regular and irregular architectural complexes, decorative archways, pillars, screen walls, and stone lions and tablets besides small buildings play an important role in dividing space and forming scenes.
Most structures in Chinese architecture are simple rectangles, and it is the architectural complex composed by single structures rather than the single structures themselves that expresses the broadness and magnanimousness of ancient Chinese architeture.
Fengshui, a special Chinese tradition in architecture, usually links the whole process from site selection, designing, construction and interior and exterior decorating in ancient times. Feng means wind and shui is water.
Fengshui combines the trinity of the Heaven, the Earth and humans, and seeks harmony between selected site, orienting, natural doctrine and human fate. It repulses human destruction of nature and stresses cohabitation with the environment, which is regarded as perfect and occult.
In China, a fengshui practitioner, or a diviner, usually applies theories as Yingyang, Sixiang, Wuxing and Bagua, based on the principle of the Heaven and the Earth in harmony, to select an optimum place for burial site or accommodation.
Qi, deemed as the basic element of the physical world in ancient Chinese philosophy, is the essence of fengshui. The art of fengshui advocates there is a certain field, sort of like magnetic field, termed as qi field. An auspicious qi field is what fengshui practitioners seek while an evil one is what they strive to avoid. There are five elements - long (dragon), xue (cave), sha (sand), shui (water) and xiang (orientation). They are used to avoid evil qi and gain auspicious qi. In order to keep qi of the Heaven and the Earth in harmony in the construction of a new structure, earth vein should not be spoiled. The best orientation is a building with its face facing a river or a lake in the south and back against a hill in the north.
Most ancient cities in China were built under guidance of fengshui, which was the main principle used to select locations based on their environmental surroundings. Fengshui helps to plan placement of structures of significance and confirm the location of city central axis. Usually the central axis of a city, or certain other architectural complex, ought to face certain peak of mountains nearby to make the city magnificent and solemn. For example, the Imperial Palace in Beijing was placed on the very center of the city, and its central axis points at Jingshan Mountain which was called Guard Mountain of the Palace.
Fengshui practitioners also emphasize pagodas and their site location since pagodas are believed capable of protecting residents around them.
Although there are still many people who believe it, many people now doubt this theory.
- Detailed information about Fenshui
The Great Wall - Monument to the Chinese Nation
The human race is rich in creative power but has never been content with its lot, with material limitation, but instead has tried hard to transcend it spiritually. A batch of ancient artistic creations such as oral literature, dances, music, drawing and sculptures, were admirable evidence of this in the distant past. Architectural art, considered to be the earliest art of mankind, naturally also found expression. China's Great Wall is a famous example that transcends ideology.
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|Baima Temple |
Baima (White Horse) Temple is situated in the east of Luoyang City, Henan Province, and is the first Chinese place where Buddhist rites were performed. In 1983, it was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality.
|Buddhist Architecture |
Chinese Buddhist architecture consists of temple, pagoda and grotto. Localization starts right after Buddhist architecture was introduced into China with Buddhism during the Han dynasty, interpreting Chinese architectural aesthetics and culture.
|Buddhist Temple |
Buddhism spread into China in the first century AD during China's Eastern Han Dynasty (25 AD - 220 AD). Two kinds of Indian Buddhist buildings were also introduced into the country. One was Buddhist caves excavated into cliffs, hills or mountain sides, which housed a large amount of Buddha images, pagodas and monk residences. The second was architectural groups, which have temple halls, pagodas and monk residences. Architects at that time combined the second one with traditional Chinese architecture style and created Chinese style temple buildings.
|Daci'en Temple |
Daci'en Temple is located in the southern suburb of Xi'an City, Shaanxi Province, originally Jinchang Lane (the First Street of Capital's East) in the southeast of Chang'an City, the capital of the Tang Dynasty (618-907). It was the largest temple in China's Tang Dynasty as well as one of the three Buddhist scriptures translation places of Chang'an City in the Tang Dynasty.
|Daming Temple |
Daming Temple is situated in the northwest of Yangzhou City, Jiangsu Province, and was the place where Jianzhen, an accomplished monk in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), performed Buddhist rites. In 1983, it was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality.
|Ancient Capital Changan |
Changan, former name of Xi'an, the capital of Shaanxi Province today, was a famous ancient city of culture in China. Surrounded by mountains and rivers, in a location favoured by nature, it was successively the capital of eleven dynasties in Chinese history, including Zhou, Qin, Han, Sui and Tang. The Chinese characters "chang" and "an" stand for "eternal, peace" in English, indicating that the emperors and kings wished that their descendants could forever live there in peace.
|Famen Temple |
In China, many temples house treasures and artifacts, but the sheer quantity and quality of treasures in the Famen Temple is rare. Situated in Famen Town of Fufeng County, about 120 kilometers (about 74.57 miles) west of Xian, Famen Temple is renowned for storing the veritable four slivers of the finger bone of the Sakyamuni Buddha.
|Ancient City of Jiaohe |
The Ancient City of Jiaohe is one of the world's architectural wonders hiding in the Yarnaz Valley, 10 kilometers west of Turpan City. Shaped like a willow leaf, the ancient city of Jiaohe has a history of 2,300 years and lies between two rivers on a loess plateau atop a cliff of over 30 meters. Jiaohe is 1,760 meters long from northwest to southeast and is 300 meters at its widest, with an area of 430,000 square meters.
|Fayuan Temple |
Fayuan Temple is situated in Fayuansiqian Street, Xuanwu District of Beijing. It is the oldest extant temple in Beijing. In 1983, it was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality. Now, it is the site of the Chinese Buddhist Academy.
|Fengxiandian (Hall for Ancestral Worship) |
Fengxiandian (Hall for Ancestral Worship) was built in 1656 during the Qing Dynasty. It has a front hall and a rear hall, which are connected, by a lobby. Its main function was to offer sacrifices to imperial ancestors. Grand sacrifices ceremonies would be held in its front hall on important occasions. On the days of their ancestors' birth, death and traditional festivals, ceremonies would be held in the rear hall.
|Ganlu Temple |
Ganlu Temple is situated on Jiuhua Mountain in the south of Anhui Province, and is one of important temples on the mountain. In 1983, it was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality. Now, it is the site of Jihua Mountain Buddhist Academy.
|Gate of Divine Prowess - Shenwumen in Chinese |
Gate of Divine prowess (Shenwumen) is the north gate of the Forbidden City. On its tower were bells struck in the morning and drums beaten in the evening in the old days to mark time. The empress and imperial concubines left the palace through this gate to attend the ceremony of starting silkworm-breeding season.
|Guangji Temple |
Guangji Temple, situated in Fuchengmennei Street, Xisi, Beijing, is a famous ancient Buddhist temple in Beijing. In 1983, it was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality. Now, it is the site of Chinese Buddhism Association.
|Ancient Gaochang City |
The Ancient Gaochang City is located about 40 kilometers east to Turban City in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region.
|Gate of Heavenly Purity - Qianqingmen of Forbidden City |
Gate of Heavenly Purity, also called Qianqingmen (Gate of Celestial Purity) is the main entrance to the inner court. In front of the gate, there is a square which runs 200 meters long from east to west and extends only 30 meters from north to south. The square separates the Outer Court and the Inner Court and integrates them.
|Guoqing Temple |
Guoqing Temple is located at the foot of the southern side of Tiantai Mountain, Zhejiang Province, China, and is the cradle of Buddhism's Tiantai Sect in China and Japan. In 1983, this temple was designated one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality by China's State Council.
|Capital City of Shang at Yanshi |
The ruins of an ancient city some 3,600 years old have been dug out after 15 years' exploration and excavation in Yanshi, Henan Province. The intact city walls and palaces reveal it to have been the capital city of the early Shang Dynasty. The area was named Yanshi Shang City Ruins.
|Islam Mosques |
Islam was introduced into China during the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907) and the Islamic mosques built at that time inherited the Arabian style, featured vaulting roofs and tall thin minarets.
|Kaiyuan Temple |
Kaiyuan Temple, situated in West Street of Quanzhou City, Fujian Province, is the largest temple in Fujian Province. It was equally as famous as Baima Temple in Luoyang City, Lingyin Temple in Hangzhou City, and Guangji Temple in Beijing City, and has strong influence upon Taiwan and overseas Buddhists. In 1983, it was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality.
|Changle Palace |
Chang'an (today's Xi'an City in Shaanxi Province) was originally a county neighboring Xianyang on the southern side of Weihe River in the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC). As a communications hub, it later became a strategic place many military commanders scrambled for.
|Hall of Preserving Harmony -- Baohedian of Forbidden City |
Architecturally, this hall has no supporting pillars in its front part, something typical of Ming architecture. Baohedian, the Hall of Preserving Harmony, sits on the northern end of the three-tiered marble terrace, similar in style but a bit smaller than the Hall of Supreme Harmony and larger than the Hall of Central Harmony. It was first built in 1420, rebuilt in 1625 and renovated in 1765.
|King Asoka Temple |
King Asoka Temple is situated on King Asoka Mountain in the east of Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province, and is one of the Five Mountains of Buddhism's Chan Sect (Zen) in China.
|Forbidden City |
Lying at the center of Beijing, the Forbidden City, called Gu Gong in Chinese, used to be the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911). It is called the Palace Museum now. It lies 1 kilometer north of the Tian'anmen Square, with its south gate, the Gate of Devine Might (Shenwumen), facing the Jingshan Park.
|Hall of Supreme Harmony - Taihedian |
Entering Taihemen, you will see Taihedian (Hall of Supreme Harmony) across the spacious square, which covers a space of 30,000 square meters. Sitting on a three-tier marble terrace, the grandest timber framework ever in China will overwhelm anyone.
|Lingyin Temple |
Lingyin Temple is situated in the northwest of West Lake, Hangzhou City, Zhejiang Province, as one of big ten temples of Buddhism's Chan Sect (Zen) in China. It is also a famous scenic spot. When tourists arrive in Hangzhou City, most of them will make a tour to Lingyin Temple. Therefore, Lingyin Temple is one of the top temples in China in terms of the number of received tourists.
Capital of Zhejiang Province, Hangzhou is a well-known tourist city at home and abroad. It lies on the lower reaches of the Qiantang River and is the southern end of the l794-kllometer-long Grand Canal (Beijing-Hangzhou Canal). With an area of 16,596 square kilometers, it embraces six urban districts and seven suburban counties.
|Mogao Caves |
The traveler finds the Mogao Caves, a shrine of Buddhist art treasures, 25 km (15.5miles) from downtown Dunhuang on the eastern slope of Mingsha Shan (Mount Echoing Sand). A network of plank reinforced roads plying north to south 1600 meters (5, 249 feet) long lead to the cave openings, which are stacked five stories high some reaching up to 50 meters (164 feet). By the way, Mogao means high up in the desert.
|Jinan City of Chu State |
The Jinan City of the Chu State is located 5 kilometers north to Jiangling County in Hubei Province.
|Leshoutang (Hall of Happiness and Longevity) |
The hall was Emperor Qianlong's study after his abdication. It is spacious and has lobbies around. In 1894, Emperor Dowager Cixi, pretending to return power to Emperor Guangxu, lived here also and slept in the west warmth chamber. Her 60th birthday celebration was also held here.
|Anecdotes about Huabiao |
Huabiao, as something typical Chinese, is actually an ornamental or symbolic column erected in front of palaces, bridges, city gates, tombs or other places. They used to be made of wood, hence their other name--Huabiaomu. They were difficult to preserve, however, and the Haubiao we see today are mostly made of marble.
|Kaifeng -- Ancient Capital |
The city of Kaifeng is one ht East Henan Plain south of the Yellow River. During the Spring and Autumn Period, the place became the fief of Duke Zaung (757-701 B.C.) of the State of Zheng, who started to build a city and named it Kaifeng, meaning "opening up new territory." It was also called Bianliang after the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.).
|Nine-dragon Screen - Jiulongbi |
At the entrance to the outer Eastern palaces, there is a Nine-dragon Screen, erected in 1773 during the reign of Emperor Qianlong as a decoration. In china, there are altogether three Nine-dragon Screens. The biggest one is in Beihai Park, and a third one is in Datong, shanxi province.