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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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Xianling Mausoleum
The qilin, also spelled kylin
The qilin, also spelled kylin (Chinese: 麒麟; pinyin: qílín; Wade-Giles: ch'ilin; Cantonese: kay-lun; Hokkien: kee lin), or kirin (from Japanese), is a mythical hooved Chinese creature that is said to appear in conjunction with the arrival of a sage. It is a good omen that brings rui (Chinese: 瑞; Pinyin: rùi; roughly translated as "serenity" or "prosperity"). It is often depicted with what looks like fire all over its body.
Xuanzhong Temple
Xuanzhong Temple is situated on Shibi Mountain in the northwest of Jiaocheng County, Shanxi Province. It is one of birthplaces of Jingtu (Pure Land) Sect, one of important sects of Chinese Buddhism, and is also deemed the birthplace by Pure Land Sect and True Pure Land Sect in Japan. In 1983, it was designated as one of national key temples in the areas of the Han nationality.
Arch Bridges
There are different views on the origin of arches. Some believe the first arch was a natural formation over the caverns, others claim that it was brought into being by the piling of the collapsed stones, and still others hold that it was evolved from the "false arch" which was formed by the openings in the walls.
Beam Bridges
The earliest reference to the beam bridge in Chinese history is the Ju Bridge dating from the Shang Dynasty (16th-11th century B.C.). King Wu of the Zhou Dynasty launched a campaign against King Zhou (Zhou Wang), and having captured Zhaoge -capital of the Shang Dynasty (now northeast to Quzhou County, Hebei Province), at the Ju Bridge, he ordered a hoard of millet distributed to the relief of the poor. From the Zhou Dynasty through to the Qin and Han Dynasties, bridges with timber beams and stone piers were predominant.
Cable Suspension Bridges
Cable suspension bridges vary in kind according to the material of which the cables are made: rattan, bamboo, leather and iron chain. According to historical records, 285 B.C. saw the zha bridge (bamboo cable bridge). Li Bin of the Qin State, who guarded Shu (256 -251 B.C.), superintended the establishment of 7 bridges in Gaizhou (now Chengdu, Sichuan Province), one of which was built of bamboo cables.
Floating Bridges
Coming soon ...
Zhengzhou Shang City Site
The Shang City Site is located in Zhengzhou City and its suburbs, Henan Province.

Wuxi Old House

Zhen Fei Well
When the Allied Forces forced their way into Beijing in 1900, the favorite imperial concubine of Emperor Guangxu, Zhen Fei (Concubine Pearl), was ordered to be thrown and drowned in this well by Cixi.
Zhaoling Mausoleum of the Tang Dynasty (618-907)
Zoomorphic Ornaments
Chinese palaces, temples and mansions have on their roofs a special kind of ornaments called wenshou or zoomorphic ornaments, some on the main ridges and some on the sloping and branch ridges.
History of Ancient Chinese Architecture
Features of Ancient Chinese Architecture
Ethnic Minority Architecture
Yungang Caves
Yungang Caves, one of the three major cave clusters in China, punctuate the north cliff of Wuzhou Mountain, Datong. The area was excavated along the mountain, extending 1 km (0.62 miles) from east to west, revealing 53 caves and over 51,000 stone statues.

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