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Ancient Chinese Architecture

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.

- More information click here

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Royal Mausoleum of Ming and Qing Dynasties
Archway (Pailou)
The pailou , also known as paifang , is an archway of a memorial or decorative nature. It could be made of wood, brick or stone, with or without glazed tiles, often carrying some inscriptions on the middle beam.
Nantai Temple
Nantai Temple is situated on Nanyue Mountain, Hengyang City, Hunan Province, and is one of famous temples of Buddhism's Chan Sect (Zen). In 1983, Nantai Temple was designated one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality.
Lhasa's Potala Palace
In Tibet, there was a kind of government structure called "Zong Shan". "Zong" means a local Tibetan administrative unit, equivalent to a county in interior areas. The government center of a "Zong" was mostly constructed on the hill, thus becoming a castle called "Zong Shan". Lhasa's Potala Palace, the greatest building in Tibet, is both the highest "Zong Shan" and the temple of the gods of Tibetan Buddhism.
Chinese Pagodas (Ta)
Chinese Pagodas (Chinese 塔, pinyin ta) are a traditional part of Chinese architecture, introduced from India along with Buddhism as protective structures for Buddhist relics. In addition to religious use, since ancient times Chinese pagodas have been praised for the spectacular views which they offer, and many famous poems in Chinese history attest to the joy of scaling pagodas.
Ningshougong (Palace of Peaceful Longevity)
Ningshougong (Palace of Peaceful Longevity), a group of structures, were first built in 1689, and named. When rebuilt in 1772, the name was replaced with Huangjidian (Hall of Imperial Supremacy). However, the rear hall was still named Ningshougong (Palace of Peaceful Longevity). The structures here were shrunken Forbidden City since it was rebuilt for Emperor's abdication.
Shunling Mausoleum
Dragon and Phoenix
The dragon and the phoenix are the principal motifs for decorative designs on buildings, clothing and articles of daily use in the imperial palace.
Putuo Mountain
Putuo Mountain is situated on an island of Zhoushan Archipelago, Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang Province. It has been reputed as Sea-Heaven Buddha Kingdom for a long time. This mountain and Wutai Mountain in Shanxi Province, Emei Mountain in Sichuan Province, and Jiuhua Mountain in Anhui Province are called Four Famous Mountains of China's Buddhism.
Luoyang City from Eastern Han to Northern Wei
Luoyang City Site is located 15 kilometers east to Luoyang City in Henan Province.

Palace of Earthly Tranquility - Kunninggong of Forbidden City
Kunninggong (Palace of Earthly Tranquility) was first built in 1420 and restored in 1655. It was the only Manchurian architecture in the Forbidden City and residence palace of the empress during the Ming and the Qing dynasties.
Stone Inscriptions of Southern Dynasties Mausoleums
Guardian lions, also called Fu Dogs or Foo Dogs
Guardian lions, also called Fu Dogs or Foo Dogs, and called Shi (獅) in Chinese or Ra shi da, are powerful mythic protectors that have traditionally stood in front of Chinese imperial palaces, emperors' tombs and government offices. Since the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), imperial guardian lions were placed at the entrances to important official buildings and gates, until the end of the empire in 1911. They are still common, popularized as decorative and symbolic elements at the entrances to restaurants, hotels, and other structures.
Shaolin Temple
Shaolin Temple is located at Dengfeng County, Henan Province. It is the birthplace of Buddhism's Chan Sect (Zen) in China as well as the cradle of China's Shaolin Wushu (martial arts). In 1983, it was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality.
Nanjing - Ancient Dynastic Capital
Lying in the southwestern part of Jiangsu Province, Nanjing is the provincial capital and the province's political, economic and cultural center, with an area of 860 square kilometers. The city's strategic position of being on the southern bank of the Yangtze River and the junction close to the Great Canal made it a traffic hub for centuries.
Palace (Gong)
The Chinese word for "palace" is gong. However, it may refer to anyone of several different meanings.
Palace of Heavenly Purity - Qianqinggong of Forbidden City
Inside Qianqingmen (Gate of Celestial Palace), you will see Qianqinggong. Palace of Heavenly Purity, also called Qianqinggong (the Palace of Celestial Purity), is the first building in front of you when you enter the inner court of Forbidden City.
Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum
Imperial Roof Decoration
Chinese imperial roof decoration or roof-figures (檐獸 Pinyin: yan2 shou4) was only allowed on official buildings of the empire. Chinese roofs are typically of the hip roof type, with small gables. Variant versions are still widespread in Chinese temples and has spread to the rest of East Asia and parts of Southeast Asia.
South Putuo Temple
South Putuo Temple is situated in the southeast of Xiamen City, Fujian Province, adjacent to Xiamen University. As one of Buddhist famous sacred spots in the southern Fujian Province, this temple plays a very important role at home and overseas. Now, it is the site of South Fujian Buddhist Academy.
A palace was a structure of the utmost maturity, highest accomplishment and largest scale in China's development, clearly reflecting the characteristics of traditional Chinese culture which stressed a stable social and political order.
A common sight in the country, the Chinese pavilion (ting, which means also a kiosk) is built normally either of wood or stone or bamboo and may be in any of several shapes - square, triangle, hexagon, octagon, a five-petal flower, a fan and more. But all pavilions have columns for support and no walls. In parks or in scenic places, pavilions are built on slopes to command the panorama or they are built by the lakeside to create intriguing images by the water.
Beijing's Hutong and Courtyard
A hutong is a unique form of community that exists only in China. If you are fed up with high buildings and wide streets, enter Beijing's hutongs then. Here, you will find "Hutong Culture" and "Courtyard Culture"."
Palace of Union and Peace - Jiaotaidian of Forbidden City
Palace of Union and Peace, also called Jiaotaidian in Chinese, was the place that the empresses held important ceremonies or celebrations, such as the conferment of honorable titles and birthday celebrations.
Tomb Group of Asitana
Liao Dynasty Street
Yingxian Wooden Pagoda is a world-famous Buddhist pagoda in Yingxia County under the jurisdiction of Shouzhou City, Shanxi Province. Now a new Liao Dynasty Street has been built to the south of the noted pagoda. Running from north to south, the street together with the wooden pagoda constitutes in the county.
Taoism Temple
Taoism temples are so much like their Buddhist counterpart, taking the form of traditional Chinese courtyard and palace structure. You may become confused between these two but from the decorative figures and deities which people pray for, you can identify whether it's a Buddhist temple or a Taoism one.
Shenyang Imperial Palace
The Shenyang Imperial Palace, one of the two most intact imperial group-buildings ever existing in China, is located at Shenyang City, Liaoning Province. It enjoys equal popularity as the Forbidden City. The Shenyang Imperial Palace was built in 1625 by Nurhachi when the Manchus declared Shenyang to be their capital. When Shenyang was in the control of the Japanese aggressors in the 1930s, the name of the palace was changed into Fengtian Palace Museum. On August 5, 1986, it was finally settled down as the Shenyang Palace Museum.
Storeyed Building (Lou)
When the Chinese speak of a lou, they refer to any building of two or more storeys with a horizontal main ridge. The erection of such buildings began a long time ago in the Period of the Warring States (475-221 B. C. ), when chonglou ("layered houses") was mentioned in historical records.
Beijing's Si He Yuan
Courtyard houses of North China, with Beijing's Siheyuan (courtyard with houses on all sides) being the highest level and most typical, are the outstanding representatives of traditional residences of China's Han nationality.
Six Eastern and Western Palaces and Outer Eastern Palaces
The six eastern palaces and six western palaces, located on the east and west sides of the three rear palaces respectively, was the residences of imperial concubines.
Tomb of Prince Yide
Roofs of Ancient Chinese Architecture
Even though it may not seem like roofs are an important part of Chinese architecture, they are very important. Roofs did not only protect residences from the elements, they also had a deeper meaning.
Taoist Architecture
Taoist architecture mainly refers to the Taoist temple buildings, which basically consist of the divine hall, the alter, the room for reading sculptures and practicing asceticism, the living room, the reception room for pilgrims, and the park where visitors can have a rest. The general layout adopts the form of Chinese traditional courtyard, with the divine hall on the mean axis and the reception room and Taoists' living room, etc., on both sides. Together with a park cleverly built on the basis of the architectural complex, a kind of fairyland thus comes into being.
Site of Pingliangtai Ancient City
The Site of Pingliangtai Ancient City is located in the southwest corner of Dazhu Village, four kilometers southeast of Huaiyang County in Henan Province.
Storeyed Pavilion (Ge)
The Chinese ge is similar to the lou in that both are of two or more storey buildings. But the ge has a door and windows only on the front side with the other three sides being solid walls. Ge are usually enclosed by wooden balustrades or decorated with boards all around.
Cave Dwellers of Shaanxi Province
Shilipu in Changwu County, Shaanxi Province, is a village where everyone lives in a cave. The caves were dug out of the hillsides. They are reminiscent of Beijing's courtyard houses in as much as each dwelling consists of a central square cave and subsidiary caves in the three walls.
The Forbidden City or Forbidden Palace
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.
Tomb of Princess Yongtai
Screen Wall
Foreign visitors may have noticed the isolated wall either outside or just inside the gate of a traditional Chinese house to shield the rooms from outsiders' view. Known as a "screen wall" in English, it is called yingbi or zhaobi in Chinese. It can be made of any material-brick, wood, stone or glazed tile.
Wanfo Temple
Wanfo Temple is located at Yuxi Town, Fuqing County, Fujian Province. As a prestigious Buddhist monastery of Buddhism's Chan Sect (Zen) in China as well as the birthplace of Buddhism's Huangbo Sect in Japan, Wanfo Temple has a long glorious history and has produced generations of elite monks. Therefore, it is in a very significant position in the history of Sino-Japan Buddhist culture exchanges. In 1983, Wanfo Temple was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality.
Stunning Capital of Xia Dynasty Unearthed
Chinese archaeologists recently found a large-scale building foundation in Erlitou Ruins of Yanshi, central China's Henan Province, which belongs to the later period of Xia Dynasty. The discovery, the first of its kind in China, again excited the archaeological field after the heated discussion on the division of Xia and Shang dynasties .
Terrace (Tai)
The tai was an ancient architectural sturture, a very much elevated terrace with a flat top. Generally built of earth, stone and surfaced with brick, they are used as a belvedere from which to look into the distance. In fact, however, many well-known ancient tai as we know it today is not just a bare platform but has some palatial halls built on top.
Major Styles of Traditional Chinese Residences
Traditional Chinese residences reflect the national culture, the sub-culture of a specific region and that of the ethnic group within it.
The Imperial Gardens -- Yuhuayuan (in Chinese)
Outside of the Gate of Earthly Tranquility is Yuhuayuan (the Imperial Garden), which was built in 1417 in the Ming Dynasty. The imperial Garden is 90 meters (98.5 yards) long from north to south and 130 meters (142 yards) wide from east to west. The rectangular garden covers an area of about 11,700 square meters and was the private garden of the imperial family. It was the most typical imperial garden in China. There are about 20 structures of different styles. One will be astonished that structures can keep harmony with trees, rockeries, flowerbeds and bronze incense burners in such a small space.
Tomb of Zheng Chenggong
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.
Xiantong Temple
Xiantong Temple is situated in the north of Dabai Pagoda at the center of Wutai Mountain, Shanxi Province. In 1983, it was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality.
The Weiyang Palace of the Han Dynasty
Chang'an (today's Xi'an City of Shaanxi Province) was the capital of China in the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD), and was constructed and expanded on the basis of the Xingle Palace of the Qin Dynasty (221-206BC). The northern rampart was close to Weishui River and southern rampart was built along walls of the palace. Buildings in the Chang'an City were mainly palaces, among which the Changle Palace and the Weiyang Palace were the most famous ones.

Seal-like Compound (Yi ke yin)
Many people are familiar with Si he yuan residences in Beijing and other northern cities. However, the Si he yuan is not limited to just the north of the country. In southern China's Kunming, Yunnan Province, there is a variation of Si he yuan. Here the courtyard compounds are called Yi ke Yin, which is Chinese for 'seal' because when viewed from above the layout resembles the familiar shape of the square seal to be seen on Chinese documents and paintings.
Wumen - Meridian Gate of Forbidden City
Wumen in Chinese, is the southern entrance of the Forbidden City. It is also called Meridian Gate because the emperor believed that they were sons of Heaven, and his residence was the center of universe and that the meridian line went right though the city.
West Mausoleum of the Qing Dynasty
The Number
It may not be common knowledge among Western visitors that the number "nine" carried a special significance in old China. Ancient Chinese regarded odd numbers as being masculine and even numbers as being feminine.
Xingjiao Temple
Xingjiao Temple is situated at Chang'an County in the south of Xi'an City, Shaanxi Province, and is one of Fanchuan Region's Big Eight Temples in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). Bone relics of Xuanzang, an accomplished monk in the same dynasty, were buried here.
Zheng Han Ancient City
The Zheng Han Ancient City is located at the joint of the Shuangji River and the Yellow River near the city gate of Xinzheng City in Henan Province.

The Earthen Buildings of Hakkas
The earthen buildings of Hakkas are considered a wonder of oriental architecture. Spread around Yongding, in the west of Fujian Province , there are 4,000 square buildings and 360 round ones, which are quite breathtaking.
Yunlongshidiao - Marble Ramp Carved with Cloud and Dragon Design
Behind the Hall of Preserving Harmony, in the middle of the stairway, is a huge piece of marble carving of nine dragons playing with pearls.

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