Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chinese architecture

Chinese architecture refers to a style of architecture that has taken shape in Asia over the centuries. The structural principles of architecture have remained largely unchanged, the main changes being only the decorative details. Since the Tang Dynasty, Chinese architecture has had a major influence on the architectural styles of Japan, Korea, and Vietnam.

The architecture of China is as old as Chinese civilization. From every source of information - literary, graphic, exemplary - there is strong evidence testifying to the fact that the Chinese have always employed an indigenous system of construction that has retained its principal characteristics from prehistoric times to the present day. Over the vast area from Chinese Turkistan to Japan, from Manchuria to the northern half of French Indochina, the same system of construction is prevalent; and this was the area of Chinese cultural influence. That this system of construction could perpetuate itself for more than four thousand years over such a vast territory and still remain a living architecture, retaining its principal characteristics in spite of repeated foreign invasions - military, intellectual, and spiritual - is a phenomenon comparable only to the continuity of the civilization of which it is an integral part.

The following article gives a cursory explanation of traditional Chinese architecture, before the introduction of Western building methods during the early 20th Century. Throughout the 20th Century, however, Western-trained Chinese architects have attempted to combine traditional Chinese designs into modern buildings, with only limited success. Moreover, the pressure for urban development throughout contemporary China required higher speed of construction and higher floor area ratio, which means that in the great cities the demand for traditional Chinese buildings, which are normally less than 3 levels, has declined in favor of modern architecture. However, the traditional skills of Chinese architecture, including major carpentry, minor carpentry, masonry, and stone masonry, are still applied to the construction of vernacular architecture in the vast rural area in China.


There are certain features common to most Chinese architecture, regardless of specific region or use:

Horizontal emphasis

The most important is the emphasis on the horizontal axis, in particular the construction of a heavy platform and a large roof that floats over this base, with the vertical walls not as well emphasized. This contrasts Western architecture, which tends to grow in height and depth. Chinese architecture stresses the visual impact of the width of the buildings. The halls and palaces in the Forbidden City, for example, have rather low ceilings when compared to equivalent stately buildings in the West, but their external appearances suggest the all-embracing nature of imperial China. This of course does not apply to pagodas, which, in any case, are relatively rare. These ideas have found their way into modern Western architecture, for example through the work of J& .

Architectural Bilateral symmetry

Another important feature is its emphasis on and bilateral symmetry, which signifies balance. Bilateral symmetry and the articulation of buildings are found everywhere in Chinese architecture, from palace complexes to humble farmhouses. When possible, plans for renovation and extension of a house will often try to maintain this symmetry provided that there is enough capital to do so.

In contrast to building, Chinese gardens are a notable exception which tends to be asymmetrical. The principle underlying the garden's composition is to create enduring flow and also to emulate nature.


Contemporary Western architectural practices typically involve surrounding a building by an open yard on the property. This contrasts with much of traditional Chinese architecture, which involves constructing buildings or building complexes that take up an entire property but encloses open spaces within itself. These enclosed spaces come in two forms: the open courtyard and the "sky well" .

The use of open courtyards is a common feature in many types of Chinese architectures. This is best exemplified in the Siheyuan, which consists of an empty space surrounded by buildings connected with one another either directly or through verandas.

Although large open courtyards are less commonly found in southern Chinese architecture, the concept of a "open space" surrounded by buildings, which is seen in northern courtyard complexes, can be seen in the southern building structure known as the "sky well". This structure is essentially a relatively enclosed courtyard formed from the intersections of closely spaced buildings and offer small opening to the sky through the roof space from the floor up.


The projected hierarchy and importance and uses of buildings in traditional Chinese architecture are based on the strict placement of buildings in a property/complex. Buildings with doors facing the front of the property are considered more important than those faces the sides. Building facing away from the front of the property are the least important.

As well, building in the rear and more private parts of the property are held in higher esteem and reserve for elder members of the family than buildings near the front, which are typically for servants and hired help.
Front facing buildings in the back of properties are used particularly for rooms of celebratory rites and for the placement of ancestral halls and plaques. In multiple courtyard complexes, Central courtyard and their buildings are considered more important than peripheral ones, the latter which are typically used as storage or servant's rooms or kitchens.

Geomancy concepts

The use of certain colors, numbers and the cardinal directions in traditional Chinese architecture reflected the belief in a type of immanence, where the nature of a thing could be wholly contained in its own form, without reference to an evanescent belief. Although the Western tradition gradually developed a body of architectural literature, little was written on the subject in China, and the earliest text, the Kaogongji, was never disputed. However, ideas about cosmic harmony and the order of the city were usually interpreted at their most basic level, so a reproduction of the "ideal" city never existed. Beijing as reconstructed throughout the 15th and 16th century remains the best example of traditional Chinese town planning.



*Using even numbers of columns in a building structure to produce odd numbers of bays . With the inclusion of a main door to a building in the centre bay, symmetry is maintained
*The common use of curtain walls or door panels to delineate rooms or enclose a building, with the general deemphasis of load-bearing walls in most higher class construction
*Use of large structural timbers for primary support of the roof of a building. Wooden members, usually large trimmed logs, are used as load-bearing columns and lateral beams for framing buildings and supporting the roofs. These structural timbers are prominently displayed in finished structures. Although, structural walls are also commonly found in Chinese architecture, most are preferred when economically feasible.
*Flat roofs are uncommon while gabled roofs almost omnipresent in traditional Chinese architecture. Three main types of roofs are found
*#''Straight inclined'': Roofs with a single incline. These are the most economical type of roofing and are most prevalent in commoner architectures
*#''Multi-inclined'': Roofs with 2 or more sections of incline. These roofs are used in higher class constructions, from the dwellings of wealthy commoners to palaces
*#''Sweeping'': Roofs with a sweeping curvature that rises at the corners of the roof. The types of roof construction are usually reserved for temples and palaces although it may also be found in the homes of the wealthy. In the former cases, the ridges of the roof are usually highly decorated with ceramic figurines.

Materials and history

Unlike other building construction materials, old wooden structures often do not survive because they are more vulnerable to weathering and fires and are naturally subjected to rotting over time. Although now nonexistent wooden residential towers, watchtowers, and pagodas predated it by centuries, the Songyue Pagoda built in 523 is the oldest extant ; its use of brick instead of wood had much to do with its endurance throughout the centuries. From the Tang Dynasty onwards, brick and stone architecture gradually became more common and replaced wooden edifices. The earliest of this transition can be seen in building projects such as the Zhaozhou Bridge completed in 605 or the Xumi Pagoda built in 636, yet stone and brick architecture is known to have been used in subterranean tomb architecture of earlier dynasties.

In the early 20th century, there were no known fully wood-constructed Tang Dynasty buildings that still existed; the oldest so far discovered was the 1931 find of Guanyin Pavilion at Dule Monastery, dated 984 during the Song. This was until the architectural historians Liang Sicheng , Lin Huiyin , Mo Zongjiang , and Ji Yutang discovered that the East Hall of Foguang Temple on Mount Wutai in Shanxi was reliably dated to the year 857 in June of 1937. A year after the discovery at Foguang, the much smaller main hall of nearby Nanchan Temple on Mount Wutai was reliably dated to the year 782, while a total of six Tang era wooden buildings have been found by the 21st century. The oldest existent multistory wooden pagoda that has survived intact is the Pagoda of Fogong Temple of the Liao Dynasty, located in Ying County of Shanxi. While the East Hall of Foguang Temple features only seven types of in its construction, the 11th century Pagoda of Fogong Temple features a total of fifty-four.

The earliest walls and platforms in China were of rammed earth construction, and over time, brick and stone became more frequently used. This can be seen in ancient sections of the Great Wall of China, while the brick and stone Great Wall seen today is a renovation of the Ming Dynasty .

Classification by structure

classifications for architecture include:
*樓 (楼) ''lou''
*台 ''tai''
*亭 ''ting''
*閣 (阁) ''ge''
*塔 ''ta''
*藻井 ''Caisson'' domed or coffered ceiling
*軒 (轩) ''xuan''
*榭 ''xie''
*屋 ''wu''
*斗拱 ''dougong'' interlocking wooden , often used in clusters to support roofs and add ornamentation.

Architectural types


As for the commoners, be they bureaucrats, merchants or farmers, their houses tended to follow a set pattern: the center of the building would be a shrine for the deities and the ancestors, which would also be used during festivities. On its two sides were bedrooms for the elders; the two wings of the building were for the junior members of the family, as well as the living room, the dining room, and the kitchen, although sometimes the living room could be very close to the center.

Sometimes the extended families became so large that one or even two extra pairs of "wings" had to be built. This resulted in a U-shaped building, with a courtyard suitable for farm work; merchants and bureaucrats, however, preferred to close off the front with an imposing front gate. All buildings were legally regulated, and the law held that the number of storeys, the length of the building and the colours used depended on the owner's class.


There were certain architectural features that were reserved solely for buildings built for the Emperor of China. One example is the use of yellow roof tiles; yellow having been the Imperial color, yellow roof tiles still adorn most of the buildings within the Forbidden City. The Temple of Heaven, however, uses blue roof tiles to symbolize the sky. The roofs are almost invariably supported by s , a feature shared only with the largest of religious buildings. The wooden columns of the buildings, as well as the surface of the walls, tend to be red in color. Black is also a famous color often used in pagodas. They believe the gods are inspired by the black color to descend on to the earth.

The Chinese dragon, an emblem reserved for Imperial China, were heavily used on Imperial architecture - on the roofs, on the beams and pillars, and on the doors. Only the buildings used by the imperial family were allowed to have nine ''jian'' ; only the gates used by the could have five arches, with the centre one, of course, being reserved for the Emperor himself. The ancient Chinese favored the color red. The buildings faced south because the north had a cold wind.

Beijing became the capital of China after the Mongol invasion of the 13th century, completing the easterly migration of the Chinese capital begun since the dynasty, the uprising in 1368 reasserted Chinese authority and fixed Beijing as the seat of imperial power for the next five centuries. The Emperor and the Empress lived in palaces on the central axis of the Forbidden City, the Crown Prince at the eastern side, and the concubines at the back . However, during the mid-Qing Dynasty, the Emperor's residence was moved to the western side of the complex. It is misleading to speak of an axis in the Western sense of a visual ordering facades, rather the Chinese axis is a line of privilege, usually built upon, regulating access - there are no vistas, but a series of gates and pavilions.

Numerology heavily influenced Imperial Architecture, hence the use of nine in much of construction and reason why The Forbidden City in Beijing is said to have 9,999.9 rooms - just short of the mythical 10,000 rooms in heaven. The importance of the East in orienting and siting Imperial buildings is a form of solar worship found in many ancient cultures, where the notion of Ruler is affiliated with the Sun.

The tombs and mausoleums of imperial family members, such as the 8th century Tang Dynasty tombs at the Qianling Mausoleum, can also be counted as part of the imperial tradition in architecture. These above-ground earthen mounds and pyramids had subterranean shaft-and-vault structures that were lined with brick walls since at least the Warring States .


Generally speaking, architecture follow the imperial style. A large Buddhist monastery normally has a front hall, housing the statue of a Bodhisattva, followed by a great hall, housing the statues of the . Accommodations for the monks and the nuns are located at the two sides. Some of the greatest examples of this come from the 18th century temples of the Puning Temple and the Putuo Zongcheng Temple. Buddhist monasteries sometimes also have pagodas, which may house the relics of the Gautama Buddha; older pagodas tend to be four-sided, while later pagodas usually have eight-sides.

architecture, on the other hand, usually follow the commoners' style. The main entrance is, however, usually at the side, out of superstition about demons which might try to enter the premise. In contrast to the Buddhists, in a Daoist temple the main deity is located at the main hall at the front, the lesser deities at the back hall and at the sides.

The tallest pre-modern building in China was built for both religious and martial purposes. The Liaodi Pagoda of 1055 AD stands at a height of 84 m , and although it served as the crowning pagoda of the Kaiyuan monastery in old Dingzhou, Hebei, it was also used as a military watchtower for Song Dynasty soldiers to observe potential Liao Dynasty enemy movements.


Further reading

* Sickman L and Soper A. ''The Art and Architecture of China'' .

Ancient Chinese wooden architecture

Ancient Chinese wooden architecture is the least studied of any of the world's great architectural traditions from the western point of view, and its study is relatively new. Although Chinese architectural history reaches back nearly ten millennia, descriptions of Chinese architecture is often confined to the well known Forbidden City and little else is explored in the west Although even common features of Chinese architecture have been unified into a vocabulary illustrating uniquely Chinese forms and methods, until recently data has not been available. Because of the lack of knowledge of the roots of Chinese architecture, description of its elements is often translated into Western terms and architectural theory, losing its unique Chinese meanings. Generations of builders and craftsmen recorded their work and the collectors who collated the information into building standards and Qing Architecture Standards were widely available, in fact strictly mandated, and passed down. This recording of practices led to the transmitting through the generations the unique system of construction that became a body of unique architectural characteristics.

However, the dependence on text for archaeological descriptions has yielded to the realization that archaeological excavations by the People's Republic of China now provides superior visual evidence of Chinese daily life and ceremonies from the Neolithic times to the more recent centuries. For example, the excavation of tombs has provided evidence to produce facsimiles of wooden building parts and yielded site plans several thousand years old.

As the villages and towns grew they adhered to a symmetrical shapes. the importance of centrality in the layout of homes, alters, and villages.
In traditional Chinese architecture, every facet of a building was decorated using various materials and techniques. Simple ceiling
ornamentations in ordinary buildings were made of wooden strips and covered with paper. More decorative was the ceiling, constructed of woven wooden strips or sorghum stems fastened to the beams.

''Dougong'' is a unique structural element of interlocking wooden , one of the most important elements in traditional architecture. It first appeared in buildings of the late centuries BC and evolved into a structural network that joined pillars and columns to the frame of the roof. ''Dougong'' was widely used in the Spring and Autumn Period and developed into a complex set of interlocking parts by its peak in the and periods. Since the ancient times when the Chinese first began to use wood for building, has been a major focus and craftsmen cut the wooden pieces to fit so perfectly that no or fasteners are ever necessary.

Decorative roof and ceiling

In traditional Chinese architecture, every facet of a building was decorated using various materials and techniques. Simple ceiling ornamentations in ordinary buildings were made of wooden strips and covered with paper. More decorative was the ceiling, constructed of woven wooden strips or sorghum stems fastened to the beams. Because of the intricacy of its ornamentation, elaborate cupolas were reserved for the ceilings of the most important structures such as tombs and altars, although it is not clear what the spiritual beliefs of the early Chinese were, as alters appear to have served as burial sites.

The of the has a coffer in the flat-topped, vaulted ceiling in the back chamber of her tomb. The Baoguo Temple in Yuyao in Zhejiang has three cupolas in the ceiling, making it unique among surviving examples of .

Sanquing Hall is the only period structure with three cupolas in its ceiling.

Architecture of the Song Dynasty

The architecture of the Song Dynasty was based upon the accomplishments of its predecessors, much like every subsequent period of China. The hallmarks of Chinese architecture during the were its towering Buddhist pagodas, enormous , its s, and . Although literary works on architecture existed beforehand, during the Song Dynasty literature on architecture blossomed into maturity and held a greater professional outlook, described dimensions and working materials in a concise manner, and overall had a greater style of organization than previous works. Architecture in Song artwork and illustrations in published books showing building diagrams also aid modern historians in understanding all the nuances of architecture originating from the Song period.

The profession of the architect, craftsman, carpenter, and structural engineer were not seen as high professions equal to the likes a Confucian scholar-official in pre-modern China. Architectural knowledge was passed down orally for thousands of years in China, from a father craftsman to his son . However, there were government agencies of construction and building along with engineering schools. The Song literature of building manuals aided not only the various private workshops, but also the government employees enlisted as craftsmen for the central government.

Buddhist pagoda

During the Han Dynasty of China, the idea of the Buddhist stupa entered Chinese culture, as a means to house and protect scriptural sutras. During the Southern and Northern Dynasties period, the distinct Chinese pagoda was developed, its predecessor being the tall watchtowers and towering residential apartments of the Han Dynasty . During the and periods, Chinese pagodas were reverted from purely wooden architecture into and brick, which could more easily survive lightning fires, arson, and avoid the natural rotting of wooden material over the ages. The earliest existent brick pagoda is the Songyue Pagoda built in 523, while a good example of a Tang era stone pagoda would be the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda constructed by 652. Although Buddhism in China had waned in influence after the late Tang period, during the Song Dynasty there were numerous Buddhist pagoda towers built. Tall Chinese pagodas were often built in the surrounding countryside instead of within the city walls, due to its foreign origin in India, and the Chinese not wanting it to compete with the cosmic-imperial authority embodied in the cities' drum-towers and gate-towers. However, there were pagodas that were built within the city's walls; an example would be the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, built in a city ward of what was Chang'an.

The 'Iron Pagoda' of Youguo Temple in Kaifeng is an excellent example of Song-era architecture, earning its name because of the iron-grey color of the glazed-bricks forming the tower. Originally built as a wooden pagoda by the architect Yu Hao, it was struck by lightning and burned down in 1044 during the Northern Song period. In 1049 the pagoda was rebuilt as it appears today, under the order of Emperor Renzong of Song. This octagonal-base pagoda structure stands at a current height of 56.88 meters , and with a total of 13 story levels. It's glazed tile bricks feature carved artwork of dancing figures, solemn ministers, and Buddhist themes .

However, China also featured real iron-cast pagodas, such as the Iron Pagoda of Yuquan Temple , Dangyang, Hubei Province. Built in 1061 AD during the Northern Song, it holds a weight of 53848 kg of cast iron, at a standing height of 21.28 m . In mock and model after the roofing tiles of actual wooden, stone, or brick pagodas of the Song period, this iron pagoda also features delicate sloping eaves, and has an octoganal-shaped base.

The Liuhe Pagoda, or Six Harmonies Pagoda, is another famous Song-era work of pagoda architecture. It is located in the Southern Song capital of Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China, at the foot of the Yuelun Hill facing the Qiantang River. Although the original was destroyed in 1121, the current tower was erected in 1156, fully restored by 1165. It stands at a height of 59.89 m , constructed from a red-brick frame with 13 layers of wooden eaves. The Liuhe Pagoda, being of considerable size and stature, served as a permanent lighthouse from nearly its beginning, to aid sailors in seeking anchorage for their ships at night . During the Southern Song period, it was one of the crowning pieces of architecture for the capital city.

The Twin Pagodas of Kaiyuan Temple in Quanzhou are also renowned within China. The first pagoda, the Zhenguo Pagoda, was originally built of wood during the period . Its twin structure, the Renshou Pagoda was built in 916 AD. After being destroyed several times by fire and other calamity, the present Renshou Pagoda was built of stone in 1228 AD, while its twin structure of the Zhenguo Pagoda was also built of stone in 1238 AD . The Renshou Pagoda is 44.6 m tall, while the Zhenguo Pagoda is slightly taller, at a height of 48.24 m tall.

The Zhengjue Temple Pagoda in Pengxian County of Sichuan Province is a brick pagoda that was built between 1023 and 1026 AD, according to its inscriptions along the first story of the pagoda. The pagoda has a square base on a sumeru pedestal, stands at thirteen stories in a total of 28 m in height, and its multiple layers of eaves are similar in style to the earlier Tang Dynasty pagodas found in Chang'an, the Giant Wild Goose Pagoda and Small Wild Goose Pagoda. Inside the pagoda the staircase reaches up to the fourth story under a vault ceiling.

The Liao Dynasty to the north was also famous for its Buddhist pagoda architecture. Although many brick and stone pagodas, and brick-stone/wood hybrid pagodas built beforehand have survived the ages, the tallest and oldest fully-wooden pagoda still standing in China was of Liao-Khitan making, the Pagoda of Fogong Temple . Located in Ying County of Shanxi Province, the octogonal-base pagoda was built in 1056 AD, as a crowning architectural masterpiece of the Fugong Temple. The pagoda stands at a height of 67.13 m tall, making it taller than both the Iron Pagoda and the Liuhe Pagoda of the Song Dynasty. The pagoda also features just under sixty different kinds of bracket arms in its construction. The pagoda was built in a similar style to the Liuhe Pagoda, with its delicate wooden eaves and curving tiles, and along with the other pagodas it is a site of tourist attraction in modern times. Apparently, the pagoda was built by Emperor Daozong of Liao at the site of his grandmother's family home. The pagoda reached such fame that it was simply nicknamed the "Mu-ta" in China.

Wood-and-brick hybrid pagodas were also built, such as the 42 m tall Lingxiao Pagoda of 1045. The first four floors of this octagonal pagoda are brick , while the 5th floor up is entirely made of wood. Even fully brick and stone pagodas featured architectural elements that were typical of wooden Chinese buildings, such as the Pizhi Pagoda built from 1056 to 1063, which features the typical ''dougong'' brackets of wooden architecture that hold up pent, shingled roofs and tiers. Both of these pagodas feature interior staircases, although the staircase for the Lingxiao Pagoda only reaches the fourth floor, and the Pizhi Pagoda's interior staircase only reaches the fifth floor. However, the Pizhi Pagoda features winding exterior steps which allow one to visit the top ninth floor where the iron steeple is located.

Although the Pagoda of Fogong Temple is the tallest existent wooden pagoda, the tallest existent Chinese pagoda of the pre-modern age is the Liaodi Pagoda. Completed in the year 1055, it stands at a height of 84 m tall, with an octagonal base on a large platform. It surpasses the height of the 69 m tall , which was earlier the tallest pagoda in China when built in the 9th century by the Kingdom of Dali. Although Liaodi served its religious purpose as a Buddhist landmark in the Kaiyuan Monastery of Ding County, Hebei province, with its great height it served another valuable purpose as a military watchtower used to spot enemy movements of the Khitan Liao Dynasty. Besides watchtowers, towers could also serve as large astronomical . This includes the Gaocheng Astronomical Observatory built in 1276 AD, still standing today.

Iron Pagoda of Kaifeng


Bridges over waterways had been known in China since the ancient Zhou Dynasty, and even floating pontoon bridges were mentioned from the Zhou period . Bridges of the Zhou Dynasty were often built entirely of wood, while some featured stone piers. The first bridge in China to be built entirely of stone was an arch bridge of 135 AD, spanning a transport canal in the Eastern Han capital of Luoyang. With brilliant engineers such as Li Chun of the Sui period, grand bridge-works like the Zhaozhou Bridge of 605 AD were built. In terms of global history, this bridge is famous for being the world's first stone segmental arch bridge. Although the bridge of Emperor Trajan over the Danube featured wooden-built open-spandrel segmental arches on stone piers , the first purely-stone segmental arch bridge built in Europe was the Ponte Vecchio Bridge of Florence, built in 1335. The Zhaozhou Bridge would continue to influence later Chinese bridges, such as the similar Yongtong Bridge near Zhaoxian in Hebei. The Yongtong Bridge is a 26 m long stone segmental-arch bridge built in 1130 by the Song structural engineer Pou Qianer.

During the Song Dynasty, bridge construction reached an even greater height of sophistication and grand extent. There were large trestle-structure bridges built during the Song, like the one built by Zhang Zhongyan in 1158 AD. There were also large bridges built entirely of stone, such as the Ba Zi Bridge of Shaoxing, built in 1256 AD, which still stands today. Bridges with stylish Chinese s crowning their central spans were often featured in painted artwork, like the landscape paintings of Xia Gui . There were also long roof-covered corridor bridges built, such as the 12th century Rainbow Bridge in Wuyuan, Jiangxi province, which has wide stone-base piers and a top-level wooden frame. While he was an administrator for Hangzhou, the famous Chinese poet, travel writer, and government official Su Shi had a large pedestrian causeway built across the West Lake, which still bears his name: ''sudi'' . In 1221, the Daoist traveler Qiu Changchun once visited Genghis Khan in Samarkand, describing various Chinese bridges in his travels there through the Tian Shan Mountains, east of . The historian Joseph Needham quotes him as saying:

'no less than 48 timber bridges of such width that two carts can drive over them side by side'. It had been built by Chang Jung and the other engineers of the Chagatai some years before. The wooden trestles of Chinese bridges from the -3rd century onwards were no doubt similar to those supposed to have been employed in Caesar's bridge of -55 across the Rhine, or drawn by , or found in use in Africa. But where in +13th century Europe could a two-lane highway like Chang Jung's have been found?

In medieval-era Fujian Province, there were enormous beam bridges built during the Song Dynasty. Some of these bridges were built at a length of 1219.2 m , with the length of their individual spans of up to 22.33 m in length, and the construction of which necessitated the moving of massive stones that weighed 203200 kg . The only Northern Song emperors not buried there are Emperor Huizong of Song and Emperor Qinzong of Song, who died in captivity after the Jurchen invasion of northern China in 1127. Lining the avenues of the tomb complex are hundreds of Song Dynasty sculptures and statues of tigers, rams, lions, horse and groom, horned beasts and mythical creatures, government officials, military generals, foreign ambassadors, and others featured in an enormous display of .

The layout and style of the Song tombs resemble those found in the contemporary Tangut kingdom of the Western Xia, which also had an auxiliary burial site associated with each tomb. About 100 km from Gongxian is the well-excavated Baisha Tomb, a grand example of Song era subterranean tomb architecture, with "elaborate facsimiles in brick of Chinese timber frame construction, from door lintels to pillars and pedestals to bracket sets, that adorn interior walls."


During the Song Dynasty, previous works on architecture were brought to more sophisticated levels of description, such as the ''Yili Shigong'', written by Li Ruogui in 1193 AD. One of the most difinitive works, however, was the earlier ''Mu Jing'' , ascribed to the Master-Carpenter known as Yu Hao, written sometime between 965 to 995. Yu Hao was responsible for the construction of an elegant wooden pagoda tower in Kaifeng, one that unfortunately was burnt down by lightning and replaced by the brick Iron Pagoda soon after. In his time, books on architecture were still considered a lowly scholarly achievement since it was associated with a middle-class craft, therefore it was not even recorded in the official court bibliography. Although the Timberwork Manual was lost to history, the scientist and statesman Shen Kuo wrote of his work extensively in his ''Dream Pool Essays'' of 1088, praising the ''Timberwork Manual'' as a work of architectural genius, and that no one in his own time could reproduce such a work. However, several years later, there was such a man, known as Li Jie , who wrote the ''Yingzao Fashi'' . Although others existed before, such as the ''Yingshan Ling'' of the early Tang Dynasty , Li's book is the oldest existent technical manual on Chinese architecture to have survived in full. With his book becoming a noted success, Li Jie was promoted by Huizong as the Director of Palace Buildings. Thereafter Li became well-known for the oversight in construction of administrative offices, palace apartments, gates and gate-towers, the of the Song Dynasty, along with numerous Buddhist temples. Written in 34 chapters, the book outlined units of measurement, , wood carving, About 8% of Li Jie's book took material from preexisting written material on architecture, while the majority of the book documented the inherited traditions of craftsmen and architects. Li's book provided a full glossary of technical terms that included mathematical formulae, building proportions and construction, and incorporated topography in estimations on how to build on different sites. Soon after the book was reprinted in 1925, the institute Zhu had established began studying the book in greater detail, while fragments of other medieval editions were discovered in Qing Dynasty court documents. The 1925 publication spurred worldwide interest in Chinese architecture, with author Paul Demièville, scholar W. Perceval Yetts, and Japanese scholar Takuichi Takeshima. The ''Yingzao Fashi'' was printed again in the years 1932 and 1983.

Shen Kuo on the Timberwork Manual

In his ''Dream Pool Essays'' of 1088, the Song scientist and statesman Shen Kuo was one to praise the architectural and structural written work of Yu Hao, who once had a marvelous wooden Chinese pagoda built at the Song capital of Kaifeng. Below is a passage from one of Shen's books outlining the basics contained in Yu's 10th century work on early Song-era architecture:

In the first quote, Shen Kuo describes a scene were Yu Hao gives advice to another artisan architect about slanting struts for diagonal wind bracing:

When Mr. Qian was Governor of the two Zhejiang provinces, he authorized the building of a wooden pagoda at the Fantian Si in Hangzhou with a design of twice three stories. While it was under construction General Qian went up to the top and was worried because it swayed a little. But the Master Builder explained that as the tiles had not yet been put on, the upper part was still rather light, hence the effect. So then they put on all the tiles, but the sway continued as before. Being at a loss what to do, he privately sent his wife to see the wife of Yu Hao with a present of golden hair pins, and enquire about the cause of the motion. Hao laughed and said: 'That's easy, just fit in struts to settle the work, fixed with , and it will not move any more.' The Master Builder followed his advice, and the tower stood quite firm. This is because the nailed struts filled in and bound together up and down so that the six planes were mutually linked like the cage of the thorax. Although people might walk on the struts, the six planes grasped and supported each other, so naturally there could be no more motion. Everybody acknowledged the expertise thus shown.

In this next quote, Shen Kuo describes the dimensions and types of architecture outlined in Yu Hao's book:

Methods of building construction are described in the ''Timberwork Manual'', which, some say, was written by Yu Hao. , buildings have three basic units of proportion, what is above the cross-beams follows the Upperwork Unit, what is above the ground floor follows the Middlework Unit, and everything below that follows the Lowerwork Unit. The length of the cross-beams will naturally govern the lengths of the uppermost cross-beams as well as the rafters, etc. Thus for a cross-beam of length, an uppermost cross-beam of length will be needed. in larger and smaller halls. This is the Upperwork Unit. Similarly, the dimensions of the foundations must match the dimensions of the columns to be used, as also those of the rafters, etc. For example, a column high will need a platform high. So also for all the other components, corbelled brackets, projecting rafters, other rafters, all have their fixed proportions. All these follow the Middlework Unit . Now below of ramps there are three kinds, steep, easy-going, and intermediate. In places these gradients are based upon a unit derived from the imperial litters. Steep ramps are ramps for ascending which the leading and trailing bearers have to extend their arms fully down and up respectively . Easy-going ramps are those for which the leaders use elbow length and the trailers shoulder height ; intermediate ones are negotiated by the leaders with downstretched arms and trailers at shoulder height . These are the Lowerwork Units. The book had three chapters. But builders in recent years have become much more precise and skillful than formerly. Thus for some time past the old Timberwork Manual has fallen out of use. But there is hardly anybody capable of writing a new one. To do that would be a masterpiece in itself!

Architecture in Song Artwork

Ayuwang Pagoda

The Ayuwang Pagoda of Daixian, Shanxi province, China, is a pagoda first built during the Sui Dynasty in 601. During the next six hundred years it was destroyed three times before finally being built in its surviving form during the Yuan Dynasty. During the Qing Dynasty, it was heavily damaged in an earthquake.

Baoen Temple

Bao'en Temple is a well-preserved fifteenth century monastery complex located in northwestern , China. It was built by Wang Xi, a local chieftain, between 1440 and 1446 during 's reign in the Ming Dynasty .


As is typical in Chinese Buddhist temples, the major halls were constructed along a central while the minor halls and other structures were built along axes. The many galleries connecting the halls form rectangular courtyards. Numerous other buildings are part of the complex including a meditation hall, a fasting hall, and storage halls. Stele pavilions stand on the east and west sides. As is characteristic of the Ming style, in every hall part of the ceiling is exposed.

At the centre of Dabei Hall is a golden statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy, carved out of a nanmu tree. The figure is nine metres tall and has 1,004 clusters of hands and eyes. At the centre of Huayan Hall is the revolving sutra cabinet, a huge octagonal wooden structure that turns like a lever and even today can still turn smoothly.


The Caisson , also referred to as a caisson ceiling, or ''spider web ceiling''
The caisson is generally a sunken panel set into the otherwise largely flat ceiling. It is often layered and richly decorated. Common shapes include square, octagon, hexagon, circle, and a combination of these.


The ''caisson'' is a general name for any sunken panel placed in the ceiling. In the case of East Asian architecture, however, the caisson is characterised by highly developed conventions as to its structure and placement.

These are the following:


The caisson is a sunken panel placed in the centre of the ceiling. It is raised above the level of the ceiling through the use the ''dougong'' structure, which, through interlocking structural members, as beams were not used, creates successive levels of diminishing size. Beams may also be used to create a hexagonal or octagonal caisson surrounded by a square border. These beams, and the ''dougong'' members, are usually visible, and richly carved and often painted with deities.

The centre of the caisson is decorated with a large ''bas-relief'' carving or painting. Common themes include "two s chasing the pearl. Caissons in the throne rooms of the Forbidden City feature a large, writhing dragon, from whose mouth issue a chandelier-like structure called the Yellow Emperor Mirror, a series of metal balls which are said to be able to show reflections of evil spirits.

Caissons were originally used to support s. Therefore they are a relatively recent structure in the Chinese architectural history. However, they became increasingly intricate and formalised, and were in later periods a standard item of interior decoration in formal buildings.

Use in other structures

The caisson has been found in tombs of the Han Dynasty dating the use of this architectural feature back at least 2,000 years. Besides subterranean structure, the oldest existent caisson in an above-ground structure is the one located above the 16 m tall statue of Guanyin in the Guanyin Pavilion of Dule Monastery, Jixian, Hebei province, built in the year 984 during the Liao Dynasty. Without the use of interior columns, this ceiling is held up by a hidden second floor four-sided frame with a hexagonal ceiling frame on the third floor.

As the caisson became increasingly standard in formal architecture in ancient China, similar structures also appeared in grottos, such as in Dunhuang. These sunken panels in the ceiling of grottos would be carved to imitate the ''dougong''-based structure in wooden buildings.

Cultural significance

Caissons where highly decorative and used only for the most richly decorated structures. They had no specific cultural significance, since in structure they are equal to cupolas and domes constructed around the world. However the rich oramentation often conveyed cultural significance in the themes chosen.

Chinese pagoda

Chinese Pagodas are a traditional part of Chinese architecture, and is evolved from the stupa which is from India. 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.


The modern pagoda is an evolution of the Indian stupa, a tomb-like structure where sacred relics could be kept safe and venerated. The architectural structure of the stupa has spread across Asia, taking on many diverse forms as details specific to different regions are incorporated into the overall design.

The Chinese word for stupa, ''ta'', is an abbreviated translation of the Sanskrit Stupa. The origins of the word Pagoda are obscure. In modern usage, the word Stupa and Pagoda refer to the same thing.

The Pagoda's original purpose was to house relics and sacred writings. This purpose was popularized due to the efforts of , pilgrims, rulers, and ordinary devotees to seek out, distribute, and extol Buddhist relics. Although it no longer stands, the tallest pre-modern pagoda in Chinese history was the 100 m tall wooden pagoda of Chang'an, built by Emperor Yang of Sui. The Liaodi Pagoda is the tallest pre-modern pagoda still standing, yet in April of 2007 of Changzhou was opened to the public; this pagoda is now the tallest in China, standing at 154 m .

Symbolism and geomancy

Han iconography is noticeable in Chinese Pagoda architecture. The image of the Shakyamuni Buddha in the '''' is also noticeable in some Chinese pagodas, while Buddhist iconography can be observed in the symbolism embodied in the pagoda. In an article on Buddhist elements in Han art, Wu Hung suggests that in these tombs, Buddhist iconography was so well incorporated into native Chinese traditions that a unique system of symbolism had been developed.

The late Ming Dynasty Zhang Tao—a local magistrate of Sheh County in Jiangsu—had a pagoda built precariously at the summit of a large hill, a placement which he believed would influence the success of young students taking the for a civil service degree. When a pagoda of Yihuang County in Fuzhou collapsed in 1210 during the Song Dynasty, all the local inhabitants believed that the unfortunate event was directly correlated with the recent failure of many exam candidates in the , the prerequisite for appointment in civil service. The pagoda was rebuilt in 1223 and had a list inscribed on it of the recently successful examination candidates, in hopes that it would reverse the trend and win the county supernatural, cosmic favor. This curved, circle-based pagoda was built in 523 during the Northern Wei Dynasty, and has survived for 15 centuries.

Sui and Tang

Pagodas built during the Sui and Tang Dynasty usually had a square base, with a few exceptions such as the Daqin Pagoda:

Song, Liao, Jin, Yuan

Pagodas of the Five Dynasties, Northern and Southern Song, Liao, Jin, and Yuan Dynasties incorporated many new styles, with a greater emphasis on hexagonal and octagonal bases for pagodas:

Ming and Qing

Pagodas in the Ming and Qing Dynasties generally inherited the styles of previous eras, although there were some minor variations: