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:

Chinese pavilion

Chinese Pavilions are covered structures without surrounding walls and are a traditional part of Chinese architecture. While often found within , pavilions are not exclusively religious structures. Many Chinese parks and feature pavilions to provide shade and a place to rest.


Pavilions are known to have been built as early as the Zhou Dynasty , although no examples of that period remain today. The first use of the Chinese character for pavilion dates to the Spring and Autumn Period and the Warring States Period . During the Han Dynasty they were used as watchtowers and local government buildings. These multi-story constructions had at least one floor without surrounding walls to allow observation of the surroundings.

During the and dynasties wealthy officials and scholars incorporated pavilions into their personal gardens. During this period the function of pavilions shifted from the practical to the . Pavilions provided a place to sit and enjoy the scenery, and they also became a part of the scenery itself, being attractive structures. Brush-and-ink landscape scrolls of the Song Dynasty show the isolated pavilions of scholar hermits in mountainous regions. Under the impetus of scholarly tastes for the simplicity of a rustic life, while previously pavilions were constructed from stone, other materials such as bamboo, grass and wood came into use.

Types of Chinese Pavilion

Pavilions are often classified according to their shape when viewed from above. Round, square, hexagonal and octagonal pavilions are common, while more unusual designs also exist such as the Nanhai Pavilion located at the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, which consists of two round pavilions joined together.

Origin of the name

While the name is commonly believed to be related to its purpose as a place to stay and rest , the fact that the earliest pavilions were used for military and governmental purposes casts doubt on this interpretation.


The diaolou are fortified multi-storey towers, generally made of reinforced concrete. These towers are located mainly in Kaiping County, Guangdong province, China. Kaiping together with its neighbouring counties of Enping, Taishan and Xinhui are collectively known as the "". It was from the four counties that many of the Chinese labourers to North America, Australia, and Southeast Asia originated from.

Also known as the "Kaiping diaolou", the first towers were built during the early Qing Dynasty, reaching a peak in the 1920s and 1930s, when there were more than three thousand of these structures. Today, approximately 1,833 diaolou remain standing in Kaiping, and approximately 500 in Taishan. Although the diaolou served mainly as protection against forays by bandits, a few of them also served as living quarters.

Kaiping has traditionally been a region of major emigration abroad, and a melting pot of ideas and trends brought back by overseas Chinese. As a result, many diaolou incorporate architectural features from China and from the West.

In 2007, UNESCO named the Kaiping Diaolou and Villages in China as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO wrote, "...the Diaolou ... display a complex and flamboyant fusion of Chinese and Western structural and decorative forms. They reflect the significant role of émigré Kaiping people in the development of several countries in South Asia, Australasia, and North America, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the close links between overseas Kaiping and their ancestral homes. The property inscribed here consists of four groups of Diaolou, totaling some 1,800 tower houses in their village settings."


Ruishi Diaolou, located behind Jinjiangli Village, Xianggang Township. Constructed in 1921, it has nine floors and is the highest diaolou at Kaiping. It features a Byzantine style roof and a Roman dome.

The Majianglong diaolou cluster spread across the villages of Nan'an li, He'dong li, Qing lin li, Long jiang li and '''.

Li Garden, in Beiyi Xiang, was constructed in 1936 by Mr. Xie Weili, a Chinese emigrant to the United States.

Fangshi Denglou - Built in 1920 after contributions from villagers, this denglou is five stories high. It is referred to as the "Light Tower" because it had an enormous searchlight as bright as the beam of a lighthouse.

Bianchouzhu Lou , located in Nanxing Village was constructed in 1903. It has seven floors and overlooks a pond.

Tianlu Lou , located in , was built in 1922 and is seven storeys tall plus a roof top floor.

Dismounting stele

A dismounting stele, in East Asian architecture, was a stele erected outside an important building or group of buildings giving notice for mounted travellers to dismount and for passengers of vehicles to exit the vehicle.


Dismounting steles were placed in front of the gates to important buildings or institutions. These include imperial tombs, important temples and shrines, especially shrines to Confucius, important government offices, palaces, and the . They can be placed singularly or in pairs. Whether such steles are placed in front of a particular building is dictated by rules of protocol. In imperial times, this was generally controlled by the Board of Rites. The may also grant the placement of a dismounting stele as a sign of favour towards an institution, group or person.



Door god

A door god is a decoration placed on each side of an entry to a temple, home, business, etc., believed to keep evil spirits from entering.

"The custom dates back to the Tang Dynasty, whose founder Emperor Tang Taizong honoured two of his most loyal generals - Qin Shubao and Yuchi Jingde - by having their painted portraits hung on his front door. Ordinary families soon adopted the imperial custom, putting woodblock prints of the ever-vigilant generals on their front gates in the hope of attracting good luck and fending off evil spirits. The Door God business soon spread throughout China, adding other folklore heroes and mythological figures to the repertoire."

The door gods usually come in pairs, facing each other; it is considered bad luck to place the figures back-to-back. There are several different forms of door gods. The most frequently used are Qin Shubao and Yuchi Jingde . The poster depicting Wei Zheng or Zhong Kui are used on single doors.

Origins of Door Gods

''Qin Qiong and Yuchi Jingde'' - Qin Qiong has pale skin and usually carries swords; Yuchi Jingde has dark skin and usually carries batons.
Qin and Yuchi , in a Tang dynasty lengend, were told by the emperor to guard the door because of a ghost harassing him, thus resulting in sleepless nights. When Qin and Yuchi were called, they guarded the emperor's door. Thus, the emperor had a blissful sleep. The next day, the emperor, not wanting to trouble his two generals, called on men to hang portraits of the two men either side of his door.

Other door gods

''Shentou and Yulei'' carry a battle axe and a , respectively. Shentou and Yulei were immortals who were ordered by the Jade Emperor to guard peach trees which demons were gnawing at. The people of China thus respected the two immortals for their ability to ward off demons.

Ghost catcher

''Zhong kui'' - strictly speaking not a Door God but a mythical ; nonetheless his image is often displayed as the "backdoor general".

The practice of placing door god figures is fading as of late, after a brief revival in the 1980s.

In the novel ''Journey to the West'' a fictional account of Li Shimin's invention of the Door god is mentioned.

Fawang Temple

Fawang Temple is a temple located 5 km northwest of the town of Dengfeng in Henan province, China. The temple is situated at the bottom of the Yuzhu Peak of Mount Song. This ancient temple features Chinese pagodas that were built during the Tang Dynasty . The most prominent of these early Tang era pagodas is a 40 m tall square-based stone tower with eaves, its ground floor measuring 7 m on each side with 2 m thick walls. Inside this pagoda is a shrine and a jade statue of the that was presented to the pagoda in 1409 by a member of the royal family stationed in Luoyang during the Ming Dynasty. This pagoda follows the similar design style of other Tang pagodas, such as multi-eaved, square-based Xumi Pagoda and Small Wild Goose Pagoda. Other Tang pagodas include three one-story style brick pagodas, each about 10 m high. Each one of these is capped with a conical roof with arc eaves. Other pagodas of the temple were built during the Yuan Dynasty .

Fujian Tulou

Fujian Tulou is a unique Chinese rammed earth building of the Hakka and other people in the mountainous areas in southwestern Fujian, China. They are mostly built between the 12th to the 20th centuries. Tulou is usually a large enclosed building, rectangular or circular in configuration, with a very thick weight supporting earth wall and wooden skeletons, from three to five storeys high, housing up to 80 families. These earth buildings usually have only one main gate, guarded by 4-5 inch thick wooden doors reinforced with an outer shell of iron plate. The top level of these earth building have gun holes for defense against bandits.

46 Fujian Tulou sites including Chuxi tulou cluster, Tianluokeng tulou cluster, Hekeng tulou cluster, Gaobei tulou cluster, Dadi tulou cluster, Hongkeng tulou cluster, Yangxian lou, Huiyuan lou, Zhengfu lou and Hegui lou have been inscribed in 2008 by UNESCO as World Heritage Site,"as exceptional examples of a building tradition and function exemplifying a particular type of communal living and defensive organization, and, in terms of their harmonious relationship with their environment".


In the 80s, Fujian Tulou had being variously called "Hakka tulou", "earth dwelling", "round stronghouse" or simply "tulou". Since the 90s, scholars in Chinese architecture have standardized on the term Fujian Tulou. It is incorrect to assume that all residents of tulou were Hakka people, because there were also large number of southern Fujian people lived in Tulous. Fujian Tulou is the official name adopted by UNESCO.

Part of Hakka tulou belong to Fujian Tulou category. All south Fujian Tulou belongs to
Fujian Tulou category, but do not belong to "Hakka tulou".

Furthermore, "Fujian Tulou" is not a synonym for "tulou", but rather a special subgroup of the latter. There are more than 20,000 tulous in Fujian, while there are only three thousand plus "Fujian Tulou".

Fujian Tulous is defined as: "A large multi storey building in southeast Fujian mountainous region for large community living and defense, built with weight bearing rammed earth wall and wood frame structure."

There are about three thousand plus Fujian Tulous located in southwestern region of Fujian province, mostly in the mountainous regions of Yongding county of Longyan City and Nanjing county of Zhangzhou City.

Famous Fujian Tulou

Chuxi Tulou cluster

Chuxi Tulou cluster, located as Yongding county Xiayang township Chuxi village. Inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage site 1113-001.
*Jiqinglou, the largest rotunda tulou also the oldest in this cluster, built in 1419 during the reign of Emperor Yongle Ming dynasty. It consists two concentric rings, the out ring building is 4 storey tall, with 53 rooms on each level. The outer ring has 72 staircases. The second ring is one storey building.

Zhengcheng lou

Zhenchenglou 振成楼, nicknamed "the prince of tulou", belongs to Hongkeng Tulou cluster. It is located in Hongkeng village, Hukeng township of Yingding county. Inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage 1113-002 It was built in 1912 by the descendents of a rich tobacco merchant. Zhenchenglou is a double ring tulou, its outer ring is 4 storey high, total 184 rooms, the inner ring is 2 storey with 32 rooms. The outer ring was partitioned into four segments according to of Chinese Fengshui.

Western influence is evident in the Greek style columns of the ancestral hall, and in the wrought iron railing of the second level corridor.

Chengqi lou

Chengqilou 承启楼 nicknamed "the king of tulou", of Gaobei Tulou cluster at Gaotou village was built in 1709. Inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site 1113-003 in 2008. It is massive rotunda tulou with four concentric rings surrounding an ancestral hall at the center, the outer ring is 62.6 meter in diameter and 4 storey tall 288 rooms, with 72 rooms on each level, circular corridor on 2nd to 4th floor, with 4 sets of staircases at cardinal points connecting ground to top floors. A big roof extending out ward covers the main ring. The ground floor rooms are kitchens for family branches, the second level rooms are grain storage rooms, and the 3rd and 4th floor rooms are living quarters and bedrooms. The second ring of 80 rooms is 2 storey high, with 40 rooms on each level, the third ring served as community library, one storey with 32 rooms; there are 370 rooms in all. The 4th ring is a circular covered corridor surrounding the ancestral hall. If a person stay only one night in each room, it would take more than a year to go through all the rooms. The ancestral hall is at the center. Chengqilou has two main gates and two side gates. 15th generation Jiang clan with 57 families and 300 people live here. At its heyday, there were more than 80 family branches lived in Chengqilou.

Other buildings in this cluster include: a three ring Shenyuanlou, outer ring 70m diameter; a Wujiaolou with irregular pentagonal floor plan and a rectangular tulou, the Shi-Ze lou

Tianluokeng Tulou cluster

Tianluokeng Tulou cluster is tulou quintet cluster located at Fujian province, Zhanzhou City, Nanjing County, Shuyang Township, Tian Luo Keng Village in southern China, about four hours drive by motor coach or taxi from Xiamen, through winding and bumpy narrow mountain roads. It consists of five tulous with a square "Buyunlou" at the center, surrounded by three rotunda tulous and an oval tulou, forming a pattern of "four dishes and a soup".The five earth buildings at the Snail Pit village are:
*The square Buyunlou at the center of the quincunx. It was the first tulou at this site, built in 1796. It is three storeys high, each storey has 26 rooms, four sets of stairs, and a go around corridor in front of the rooms at each level. The Buyun building was burnt down by bandits in 1936, rebuilt in1953 according to the original plan.
*The Hechang building, a three storeys high round earth building,
*Zhenchang building, three storeys, round shape, 26 rooms per storey, built in 1930
*Ruiyun building, built in 1936,3 storey, 26 rooms per floor.
*The oval shape Wenchang building of 1966, 3 storey, 32 rooms per floor.

Yuchang lou

Yuchanglou 裕昌楼 is a 5 storeys tulou located at Nangjing county Shuyang district Xiabanliao village. It was built in 1308Yuan dynasty by Liu family clan. It is one of the oldest and tallest tulou in China. Yuchanglou has a nickname:"zigzag building", because the vertical wooden post structure is not straight and perpendicular, but zigzag left and right. It was built that way due to error on measurement of material length. But in spite of apparent infirmity, this tall tulou stood 700 hundred years of natural elements and social turmoil. Yuchanglou's outer ring is 36 m in diameter, five storeys with 50 rooms on each floor.
The 25 kitchens on the ground floor at the back half of the circle have private water well for each beside a stove. This is the only tulou in all Fujian with such convenient water supply.

There was a one storey inner ring house surrounding the ancestral hall as late as 2003.Unfortunately this part of the building stood nearly 700 hundred years intact was dismantled after 2003


Eryilou 二宜楼 of Dadi Tulou cluster is located at Zhanghou City Hua-an County Xiandu township Dadi Village. Built in 1770 it consists of a 4 storey outer ring and a one storey inner ring. The outer ring is 71 meter in diameter, with 48 rooms on each level. Eryilou has no circular corridor at the front of each upper level, instead it has a back corridor adjacent to the wall. The outer ring rooms are partitioned vertically into separate households, each household partition has its own set of staircases not share by other families; some partition has a frontal width of 3 rooms, others has width of 4 rooms. The partition of the inner ring is attached to the partition of the main ring via covered verandah as antechamber.


The layout of Fujian tulou followed the Chinese dwelling tradition of "closed outside, open inside" concept: an enclosure wall with living quarters around the peripheral and a common courtyard at the center. A small building at the center with open front served as an ancestral
hall for ancestry worshipping, festivals, meetings, weddings, funerals and other ceremonial functions. Ground floor plan includes circle, semicircle, oval, square, rectangle, and irregular pentagon.

The foundation of tulou building was built with paved stones on top of compacted earth ground, in two to three tiers. There is a circular drain around the top tier foundation to prevent rainwater from damaging the tulou wall.

In most cases, the weight bearing outer wall of tulou consists of two sections, the lower section is built from cut stone blocks or river cobbles held together with a lime, sand and clay mixture to a height of about one or two meters, depend upon the regional flood water level. The compacted earth wall stacked on top of the stone section. The construction of earth wall from compacted earth mixed with sticky rice and re-enforced with horizontal bamboo sticks was described first in Song dynasty building standard the ''Yingzao Fashi''.

The walls were built inclined toward the center, such that the natural force of gravity pushes the wall together. This inward inclination method was also used in the construction of Pagoda of Fogong Temple. The thickness of the Tulou wall decreases with height as specified in Yingzao Fashi. The bottom two storeys of tulou are solid with no window nor gun hole, windows are open only from 3rd to 5th storey, because rooms at the bottom storey served as family storage rooms and the upper storeys were living quarters.

The rooftops were covered with baked clay tiles, arranged radially;λ insertion technique was used at regular intervals to compensate for larger circumference at the outside.. This technique allowed the tiles to be laid radially without visible gaps, and without the use of small tiles at top, larger tiles at bottom.

The eaves usually extend about two meters, protecting the earth wall from damage by rainwater pouring from the eaves.

The wooden frame supporting the rooftop had no dougong elements common in traditional Chinese building.

Circular corridors from 2nd to uppermost level were made of wood boards laid on horizontal wooden beams with one end inserted into the earth wall. The corridors are protected with a circle of wooden railing.

Stairwells are distributed evenly around the corridors, four sets of stairwells being the usual number. Each stairwell leads from ground floor to the highest floor.

Public water wells in groups of two or three are usually located at the center court; more luxurious tulou has in-house water well for each household in ground floor kitchen.

Housing for Community of Equal

Unlike other housing types around the world with architecture reflecting social hierarchy, Fujian Tulou exhibits it unique characteristic as model of community housing for equal. All rooms were built the same size with same grade of material, same exterior decoration, same style of windows, doors, and there was no "penthouse" for "higher echelon", small family owned a vertical set from ground floor to "penthouse" floor, larger family own two or three vertical sets.

Tulou was usually occupied by one large family clan of several generations; some larger tulou had more than one family clan. Beside the building itself, many facility such as water wells, ceremonial hall, bathrooms, wash rooms, weaponry were shared property, even surrounding land and farmland, fruit trees were shared. The residents of tulou farmed together, this continued
to the 60s even during the people's commune period, at that time a tulou was often occupied by
one commune production team. Each small family has their own private property, and every family branch enjoy their privacy closed door.

In old days, the allotment of housing was based on family male branch, each son was counted as one branch. Public duties such organization of festival, cleaning of public area, open and close of main gate etc was also assigned to family branch on rotational basis.

All branches of a family clan shared a single roof, symbolizing unity and protection under a clan, all the family houses face the central ancestral hall, symbolizing worship of ancestry and solidarity of the clan. When a clan grew, the housing expanded radially by adding another outer concentric ring, or build another tulou close by as a cluster, a clan stayed together.

Now a day, newer housing with modern facility popped up in rural China, many residents bought more modern houses and moved out, or live in larger town or city for better jobs, however they keep their ancestral tulou apartment homes under padlock, only return home during festival for family reunion.

Effective Stronghold for Defense

From the 12th century to 19th century, armed bandits plagued southern China. The people of southern Fujian, first built strongholds on top of mountain as a defense. These early strongholds later evolved in to Fujian Tulou.

The thick outer wall of tulou was immune to arrows and gunfire. The lower one to two meter section of the outer wall sometimes was built with granite blocks or large river cobbles. This granite or cobble section was immune to digging, since the outer layer of cobbles were purposely laid with their smaller end pointing outwards, it would be futile for any attacker to dig out such cobbles. Digging a tunnel under the wall was not possible either, because the cobble section wall was extended deep down more than one meter.

The earth wall section was built with rammed earth together with lime-sand-clay mixture and re-enforced with horizontal bamboo strips for lateral binding. It was solid as a castle, immune even to canon fire. In 1934, a group of uprising peasants of Yongding county occupied a tulou to resist the assault of army, who fired 19 cannon shots at that tulou, but made only a small dent on the outside wall.

The weak link in a walled system was usually the gate. But the gate of Fujian tulou was specially designed for defense. The doorframe was built from large solid block of granite, the double doors were built with fire resistant solid wood boards up to 13 cm thick, reinforced with thick iron armor plate. The main gate door was barred with several horizontal and vertical strong wood posts inserted into granite. To guard against enemy to destroy the front doors with fire, some doors were equipped with water tanks on top to quench fire set by
the enemy.

Fujian Tulou residents used firearms for active defense, shooting at enemy from gunhole on top level of the building. Some Fujian tulou are fitted with a circular corridor along the inside
wall to facilitate the movement of armed men and ammunition.


The term "tulou" first appeared in a 1573 Zhangzhou county record of Ming dynasty, it was on record that due to the growth of bandits, many villagers built walled strongholds and tulous
as means of defense, many families banded together in a stronghold, and several strongholds or tulous joined hand in hand with sentinels constantly on guard and lookout, loud drums and gongs were sounded as alarm signal for any sign of approaching bandits or invaders. Due to massive solidarity of tulou residents, even large powerful bandit gangs with tens of thousand men strong dared not attack the inhabitants of tulou.

The term "tulou" also came out occasionally in some poems, other than that, the existence of tulou bypassed main stream literature, and was not mentioned in literature dedicated to the study of people's habitat.

In 1956 professor Liu Guo-zhen was the first scholar to carry out research on Fujian Tulou,
his article ''Hakka dwellings in Yongding county of Fujian Province'' was published in
''The Journal of Nanjing Polytech Institute''.

In 1980 Chengqi tulou appeared in a book titled ''History of Ancient Chinese Architecture''. From then on, streams of scholars from mainland China, Taiwan, Japan, Europe and America came to Fujian Zhangzhou and Yongding to explore and study tulou; tulou has walked out from seclusion into the world stage. In particular Chinese scholar Huang Han-min has spent more than twenty years on research of Fujian Tulou; his master degree thesis ''The Tradition Characteristics and Regional Style of Fujian Civilian Residence'' was completed in 1982 and published on the Chinese magazine ''Architect''. Japanese scholar published a report ''Study on Chinese Civilian Housing-- The Square Tulou and Round Tulou'' followed by photo exhibition in Japan and a book in 1989. In 1997, Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger inspected Fujian Tulou, and in 1999 Dr. Neville Agnew of the Getty Conservation Institute inspected Tianluokeng, Yuchanglou and Heguilou

The book ''Fujian Tulou'' by Huang Han-min published in Taiwan in 1994, revised and republished in China in 2003 is at present one of the more authentic studies on Fujian Tulou, covering the history of tulou, its characteristics and style, its geographic distribution, folklore about tulou etc, with hundreds of color plates and drawing. English literature on this topic is still absent.


The Fujian tulou buildings are scattered in mountainous SE region of Fujian province, connected to Longyan City and Zhangzhou City by winding mountain roads. However there are highways from
these two cities to Xiamen or Fuzhou. There are commuter buses from these cities to
Longyan or Zhangzhou, about 4 hours drive each way.

Guoqing Temple

The Guoqing Temple of Tiantai Mountain, Zhejiang province, China is a Buddhist temple originally built in 598 AD during the Sui Dynasty, and renovated during the reign of the Yongzheng Emperor of the Qing Dynasty. It is located roughly 220 km from the city of Hangzhou. It was the initial site for the creation of the Tiantai Mahayana Buddhist sect, founded by Zhiyi . The temple covers a square surface area of some 23000 square m . The temple features 600 rooms in a total of 14 different halls, including the Grand Hall of Sakyamuni, the Hall of Five Hundred Arhats, the Hall of Monk Jigong, etc. The exterior of the temple features Chinese pagodas such as the Sui Pagoda, the Seven Buddha Pagoda, and the Memorial Pagoda of Monk Yi Xing .


This mountain temple is the site where indigenous Chinese Buddhism branched away from Buddhist teachings and doctrine commonly found in India. From there, the Tiantai sect of Buddhism spread to both Korea and Japan during the Tang Dynasty . The tall brick Guoqing Pagoda built at the temple in the year 597 is still standing, making it one of the oldest surviving brick pagodas in China .


Hakka architecture

Hakka architecture is a building style in southern China unique to the Hakka people. They are typically designed for defensive purposes and consist of one entrance and no windows at ground level.


The Hakka were originally immigrants from northern China who settled in the southern provinces. From the 17th century onwards, population pressures drove them more and more into conflict with their neighbours . As rivalry for resources turned to armed warfare, the Hakka began building communal living structures designed to be easily defensible. These houses, sometimes called ''tulou'', were often round in shape and internally divided into many compartments for food storage, living quarters, ancestral temple, armoury etc. The largest houses covered over 40,000 m² and it is not unusual to find surviving houses of over 10,000 m².


The materials used for Hakka architecture can either be brick, stone, or rammed earth, with the latter being most common.. The external wall is typically 1 metre in thickness and the entire building could be up to three or four stories in height. Often turrets were also built to extend the range of defensive power and to cover otherwise indefensible points. Battlements were also constructed on the top floor for muskets. The gate was the most vulnerable point and it was usually reinforced with stone and covered with iron. A number of smaller gates followed, in case the outer one was breached. With the exception of a few excessively large forts, Hakka houses usually only had one entrance. The round shape of the walls, which became popular in later stages, added to the defensive value of the fortifications and reduced the firepower of artillery against it. A Hakka fort could withstand a protracted siege, since it was well stocked with grains and had an internal source of water. They often also had their own sophisticated sewage systems.

The architectural style of Hakka forts is largely unique in China and around the world. The typical Chinese house contains a courtyard and other than pagodas, does not often contain any structures higher than two stories. The origins of Hakka architecture have been traced to older forms of fortifications in southern China, as seen in Han Dynasty and Three Kingdoms tomb models unearthed in Guangzhou, Guangdong and in Ezhou, Hubei.

Tu lou

The Hakkas who settled in mountainous south western Fujian province in China developed unique architectural buildings called ''tu lou'', literally meaning ''earthen structures''. Because of the undesirable mountainous regions, the Hakkas set up these unique homes to prevent attack from bandits and marauders. The ''tu lou'' are either round or square, and were designed as a large fortress and apartment building in one. Structures typically had only one entranceway and no windows at ground level. Each floor served a different function - the first hosts a well and livestock, the second is for food storage and the third and higher floors contain living spaces. ''Tu lou'' can be found mostly in south western Fujian and southern Jiangxi provinces.
buildings have been inscribed in 2008 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.


The largest communities of Hakkas worldwide, live mostly in eastern Guangdong, in particular the so-called Xing-Mei Area, whereas most the oversea descended Hakkas came from Huizhou. Unlike their kin in Fujian, the Hakkas in the Xingning(興寧,Hin Nin) and Meixian(梅縣,Moi Yen) area developed a non-fortress like unique architectural styles, most notably the weilongwu and sijiaolou .

Imperial roof decoration

Chinese imperial roof decoration or roof charms or roof-figures or or 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.

Along the unions between the roof panels, near the corner, a row of small figures is placed. These are often made of glazed ceramic and form an outward marching procession. Here we see the imperial yellow glaze reserved for the emperor.

At the tail of the procession will be an imperial , representing the authority of the state.

At the head of the procession will be a man riding a , one legend suggests that this represents a minon of the emperor who grew greedy for power and was hanged from the roof gable for treason. Another version of this figurine is an immortal riding a fenghuang-bird or qilin. Yet another intrepretation is that this is a person serving the emperor, being watched by the following beasts.

In between will be mythical beasts, usually an of them. The mythical beasts are set to pounce upon the man and devour him should he stray from performing his duties with faithfulness and rectitude.

In the illustration at the top there is only one beast; the number of beasts indicating the importance of the duties performed within the building or within the courtyard protected by a gate. The maximum number of beasts is nine, including evil-dispelling bull, courageous goat-bull , wind- and storm-summoning fish , mythical lion , auspicious seahorse, heavenly horse, lion, and chiwen . The maximum number is seen in the lower image, taken at the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Note the addition of an immortal guardian in front of the dragon holding to a sword like a cane.

These examples are found within the Imperial Palace Museum of the Forbidden City, Beijing, China. Other examples can be found on functional structures such as gates and baracks of the Great Wall of China.

With the fall of the empire such decorations are now seen on commercial structures and tourist boats.

Jiaohe Ruins

The Jiaohe Ruins is the site of ruins found in the Yarnaz Valley, 10 km west of the city of Turfan, Xinjiang province, China. Both the Nara National Cultural Properties Research Institute and the Xinjiang Cultural Relics Bureau have been cooperating in a joint venture to preserve the ruins of the site since 1992.


From the years 108 BC to 450 AD the city of Jiaohe was the capital of the Anterior Cheshi Kingdom , concurrent with the Han Dynasty, , and Southern and Northern Dynasties in China. It was an important site along the Silk Road trade route leading west, and was adjacent to the Korla and Karasahr kingdoms. From 450 AD until 640 AD it became Jiao prefecture in the Tang Dynasty, and in 640 AD it was made the seat of the new Jiaohe County. From 640 AD until 658 AD it was also the seat of the Protector General of the Western Regions, the highest level military post of a Chinese military commander posted in the west. Since the beginning of the 9th century AD it had become Jiaohe prefecture of the Uyghur Khaganate, until their kingdom was conquered by the Kyrgyz soon after in the year 840.

The city was built on a large islet in the middle of a river which formed natural defenses, which would explain why the city lacked any sort of walls. Instead, steep cliffs on all sides of the river acted as natural walls. The layout of the city had eastern and western residential districts, while the northern district was reserved for Buddhist sites of temples and stupas. Along with this there are notable graveyards and the ruins of a large government office in the southern part of the eastern district.

It was finally abandoned after its destruction during an invasion by the Mongols led by Genghis Khan in the 13th century.

The site has been protected by the PRC government since 1961. There are now attempts to protect this site and other Silk Route city ruins. The Silk Route is applying for listing as a .

The ruins of Jiaohe are mentioned in the mystery novel '' Mrs. Polifax on the China Station'', by Dorothy Gilman.


Lingnan culture

Lingnan culture refers to the culture of Guangdong and the nearby in China. It is the subject of research at institutions such as the Center for Lingnan Culture. It is typically contrasted with Zhongyuan culture, that of China's .


Lingnan architecture is concentrated at Xiguan. Built at the end of the Qing Dynasty, Baomo Garden is located at Zini Village near Shawan town of Panyu and is a fine example of classical Lingnan architecture. Once inside, exotic buildings, gardens, hills, lakes and bridges are found - a place that reveals interplay between nature's art and man-made art in forms of sculptures and edifices, which boast intricate clay, porcelain, brick, wood and carving. Chen Clan Temple is another representative of Lingnan architecture. The Temple was built in the sixteenth year of Guangxu Emperor of the Qing Dynasty and served as an academy for families in 72 counties of the . It comprises all sorts of folk architectural and decorative arts, and is famous for its "Three Carvings" , "Three sculptures" and "One cast" . Therefore, it is called the best of all the clan temples in neighbourhood.

Today, some building elements of Lingnan architecture are adapted in constructions of commercial districts in Guangzhou. In streets like Beijinglu Commercial Street, Zhongshan Wulu Road and Hui Fulu Road, old-fashioned shops of Lingnan architecture are found in heaps. Attached to the second storey from the pavement, numerous pillars were built in front of the stores. Similar building styles are still common in some torn-down areas both in Hong Kong and Taipei.

Longhua Temple

The Longhua Temple is a Temple dedicated to the in Shanghai , China. Although most of the present-day buildings date from later reconstructions, the temple preserves the architectural design of a Song Dynasty monastery of the . It is the largest, most authentic and complete ancient temple complex in the city of Shanghai.

Building history

The temple was first build in 242 AD, during the Three Kingdoms Period. According to a legend, Sun Quan , King of the Kingdom of Wu, had obtained relics, which are cremated remains of the . To house these precious relics, the king ordered the construction of 13 pagodas. Longhua Pagoda , part of the Longhua temple complex, is said to have been one of them. Like the function of the pagoda, the name of the temple also has its origin in a local legend according to which a dragon once appeared on the site.

The temple was destroyed by war towards the end of the Tang Dynasty and rebuilt in 977 AD, during the . Later in the Song Dynasty, in 1064, it was renamed ''Kong Xiang Temple'', but the original name ''Longhua Temple'' was restored in the Ming Dynasty during the reign of the Wanli Emperor.

The present architectural design follows the Song Dynasty original. However, whereas the core of the present Longhua Pagoda survives from that period, most buildings in the temple proper were rebuilt during the reigns of the Tongzhi Emperor and the Guangxu Emperor in the Qing Dynasty. A modern restoration of the entire temple complex was carried out in 1954.

The temple and monastery were originally surrounded by extensive gardens and orchards. Viewing of the peach blossom in the Longhua gardens was an annual attraction for people in surrounding cities. These gardens have since been entirely absorbed into the neighbouring Longhua Martyrs Cemetery and have been extensively reconstructed in a contemporary monumental style.

Architectural design and artwork

The Longhua Temple occupies an area of more than 20,000 square metres, the main axis of the compound has a length of 194 metres. The tallest structure is the Longhua Pagoda, it stands 40.4 metres high.

The layout of the temple is that of a Song Dynasty monastery of the Buddhist Chan sect, known as the ''Sangharama Five-Hall Style''. Five main halls are arranged along a central north-south pointing axis. From the entrance, the buildings are:

* The Maitreya Hall housing a statue of Maitreya buddha and another in his manifestation as "Budai", or ''Cloth bag monk''.
* The Heavenly King Hall housing statues of the Four Heavenly Kings.
* The Grand Hall of the Great Sage is the main hall, housing statues of the historical Buddha and two disciples. At the back of the hall is a base relief carving, including a depiction of Guanyin, or the Buddistava Avalokite& in his female manifestation. Around the front portion are arranged the twenty Guardians of Buddhist Law, and around the back the sixteen principal arhats. The hall also features an ancient bell cast in 1586, during the era of the Ming Dynasty.
* The Three Sages Hall houses statues of the Amitabha buddha, and the Buddistavas Avalokite& and Mahāsthāmaprāpta.
* The Abbot's Hall is a place for lectures and formal meetings.

A Bell Tower and a Drum Tower are arranged off the central axis. The Bell Tower houses a copper cast in 1382, the bell is 2 metres tall, has a maximum diameter of 1.3 metres, and weighs five tons. The bell is used in the ''Evening Bell-Striking Ceremony'' conducted on New Year's Eve. Also situated off the main axis is a shrine to Ksitigarbha .

The Library houses various versions of Buddhist sutras and other Buddhist works, as well as ceremonial instruments, antiques, and artefacts.

Artworks in the temple include statues of the Maitreya Buddha in his Bodhisattva form and in his ''Cloth Bag Monk'' incarnation, statues of the 18 arhats and 20 Guardians of Buddhist Law, as well as statues of the 500 Luohans.

The temple grounds also contain a small traditional garden.

Site history

The temple grounds have been used as a site for internment as well as for executions. Public executions were held on the site in the 19th century. In 1927, the Kuomintang carried out a purge of suspected communists in Shanghai. Thousands of victims of this purge were brought to the temple grounds to be executed. They are commemorated today by the Longhua Martyrs Cemetery behind the temple. During the Second Sino-Japanese War, the Japanese operated their largest civilian internment camp in the area, where , , as well as nationals of other were held under poor conditions.

Longhua pagoda

The Longhua Pagoda is the only remaining pre-modern pagoda in Shanghai city. It has an octagonal floor layout. The size of the seven storeys decreases from the bottom to the top. The pagoda consists of a hollow, tube-like brick core surrounded by a wooden staircase. On the outside, it is decorated with balconies, banisters, and upturned eaves. These outer decorations have been reconstructed in keeping with the original style.

Although previous pagodas existed on the same site, the current brick base and body of the pagoda was built in 977 during the Song Dynasty , with continuous renovations of its more fragile wooden components on the exterior. Because of its age, the pagoda is fragile and is not open to the public.

Temple fair

The ''Longhua Temple Fair'' has been held since the Ming Dynasty period on the third day of the third month of the Lunar Calendar, the on which - according to the local legend - the dragons visit the temple to help grant the people's wishes. It coincides with the blossoming of the peach trees in Longhua Park. Since its inception, the fair has been an annual event interrupted only by the Cultural Revolution and the outbreak.


The Longhua Temple is located on the Longhua area of Shanghai . Its street address is No. 2853 Longhua Road . It is open to the public for a fee which includes incense.

The coordinates of Longhua Pagoda and Longhua Temple are 31°10,545'N, 121°26,842'E .

Cultural references

J.G. Ballard in his WWII-era autobiographical novel Empire of the Sun describes the Japanese military use of the Longhua pagoda as a flak cannon tower. In Steven Spielberg's film adaptation of the book, the pagoda is clearly visible above the prison camp.

Moon gate

A moon gate is a circular opening in a garden wall that acts as a pedestrian passageway, and a traditional architectural element in Chinese gardens. Moon Gates have many different spiritual meanings for every piece of tile on the gate and on the shape of it. The sloping roofs of the gate represent the half moon of the Chinese Summers and the tips of the tiles of the roof have talisman on the ends of them. Chinese Gardens are often used as a display of class and beauty in many different Western Cultures. Often, the Moon Gate is mistakenly thought to be a Japanese architectural structure, even though the Japanese discovered Moon Gates when they went into China. The purpose of these gates is to serve as a very inviting entrance into gardens of the rich upper class in China. The gates were originally only found in the gardens of wealthy Chinese nobles.

Pagoda of Tianning Temple (Beijing)

The Pagoda of Tianning Temple , located in Guang'anmen of Beijing, China, is a Liao Dynasty pagoda built from around 1100 to 1119 or 1120 CE, shortly before by and . This thirteen story, 57.8 m tall, octagonal-based Chinese pagoda is made of brick and stone, yet imitates the design of from the era by featuring ornamental ''dougong'' . It rests on a large square platform, with the bottom portion of the pagoda taking on the shape of a sumeru pedestal. The pagoda features a veranda with banisters, yet is entirely solid with no hollow inside or staircase as some pagodas feature. Other ornamental designs include arched doorways and heavenly guardians. Its design inspired that of later pagodas, such as the similar Ming Dynasty era Pagoda of Cishou Temple of Beijing built in 1576.

The structure and ornamentation have remained the same since the pagoda was built, but caused the original pearl-shaped steeple of the pagoda to break off and fall. It has since been restored. The temple grounds surrounding the pagoda have also been renovated and rebuilt several times over the course of the and dynasties. The architectural historian Liang Sicheng —known for discovering and documenting the still standing in China—lauded the Pagoda of Tianning Temple as a pristine architectural design of antiquity.


Paifang , also called pailou , is a traditional form like an archway.

The word Pai-fang originally was a collective term used to describe the top two levels of administrative division and subdivisions of ancient Chinese city. The largest division within a city in ancient China was a ''Fang'' , equivalent to current day precinct. Each fang was enclosed by walls or fences, and the gates of these enclosure were shut and guraded every night. Each fang was further divided into several Plate or ''Pai'' , which is equivalent to current day community. Each pai , in turn, contained an area including several hutongs. This system of urban administrative division and subdivision reached an elaborate level during Tang Dynasty, and was remained in the following dynasties. For example, during Ming Dynasty, Beijing was divided into a total of 36 fangs . Originally, the word ''Paifang'' was used as a term to describe the gate of a fang and the marker for an entrance of a building complex or a town; but by the Song Dynasty ''Paifang'' had evolved into a purely decorative monument.

Paifang comes in a number of forms. One form involves placing wooden pillars onto stone bases, and bound together with wooden beams. This type of Paifang is always beautifully decorated, with the pillars usually painted in red, the beams decorated with intricate designs and Chinese calligraphy, and the roof covered with coloured tiles, complete with mythical beasts - just like a Chinese palace.

Another form of Paifang is in the form of true archways made of stone or bricks; the walls may be painted in white or red, or decorated with coloured tiles; the top of the archways are decorated like their wooden counterparts.

Yet another form of Paifang, built mainly on religious and burial grounds, consists of plain white stone pillars and beams, with neither roof tiles nor any coloured decoration, but feature elaborate carvings created by master .

Outside of China, the Paifang has long been the symbol of Chinatowns.

, "Chastity Paifangs" were given to widows who remained unmarried till death, praising what was seen as loyalty to their deceased husbands.