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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.

As the central structure of spreading Buddhism in China, the temple is where cenobites preceding their religious life. Since emperors of dynasties believed in Buddhism, temples erected like mushrooms, usually splendid like palaces, for many were built under imperial orders. In the Northern Wei Dynasty, there were more than 30,000 temples scattered in the country. Later as architectural techniques improved, glazed tiles, exquisite engravings and delicate paintings were applied in the construction of temples, which came to be more magnificent and splendid.

Chinese Buddhist architecture follows symmetric style strictly. Usually main buildings will be set on the central axis, facing the south. Annexe 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, dinning hall, storehouse and antechamber usually cluster on the right side while left side remains for the visitors.

Pagoda is also the main integrating part of the Buddhist architecture, with varied styles and strong local flavours. Pagoda followed Buddhism into China around the first century, and developed into pavilion-like pagoda on which one can view scenery after immediate combination with traditional Chinese architecture. Now the highest pagoda existing stands 40 meters high and enjoys a 1400-year lifespan after survival of several earthquakes. Among the 3000 existing pagodas, there are all-timber pagoda, brick pagoda, stone pagoda, bronze pagoda and iron pagoda.

Most Chinese pagodas are multistoried ones. Early pagodas were usually wooden and had quadrangle, hexangle, ocatagonal and twelve sided ichnographies. During the Sui and Tang dynasties, pagodas tended to be stone and brick. In the Liao Dynasty, solid pagoda appeared. After, in the Song, Liao and Jin dynasties, flower pagodas were introduced which were decorated with assorted carved flowers, honeycombed shrines, animals and Buddha and disciple sculptures, looked like flowers. Generally speaking, pagodas became more and more decorative.

Though there are various types of pagodas, they have a common structure, a palace underground. The most famous palace underground lies at the Famen Temple in Xian, Shaanxi.

Another Buddhist architecture is grotto complex which is caves hewn 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.

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