Sunday, September 7, 2008

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

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